Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Friendship: Low expectations vs. High expectations

I set before you today 2 stories; One from current, popular culture; the other, from antiquity. I would suggest only two differences set them apart:  First, their time in history and the second, our familiarity with the saints mentioned in the latter.  Lest we forget:  Human nature has not changed.  The message & the challenge therefore, remains the same.  We are responsible for our neighbor. We are obligated to elevating ourselves, and our friends beyond the dung heap.  We have tools. (We don’t have to be tools; to use a popular euphemism.)   And if we are going to be a “tool” we should set our sites on sainthood, because WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

The Problem of Low Expectations.
Excerpted From Fox News, 12-8-11

Think most of the misogyny on MTV comes from men? Guess again, says a new study of the network’s shows, which finds women engage in a whopping 88 percent of the shows’ sexual dialogue, insult each other much more than the men, and offer themselves up in positive portrayals only when they’re talking about physical appearance and their ability to bounce back from getting ridiculed.

Television watchdog group The Parents Television Council (PTC) releases its jaw-dropping report “Reality of MTV: Gender Portrayals on Reality TV” on Wednesday, and got an exclusive first look at its findings. They're not pretty.  Nielsen data were used to identify the most-watched prime time reality shows on cable among the 12 to 17 demographic in 2011, which included MTV showsJersey Shore,” “Real World,” “Teen Mom 2,” and “16 and Pregnant.” Analysts then analyzed the content on the most recent full season of each show, logging the language and context of the language used.
Here are their bombshell findings:
-- Only 24 percent  of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows combined.
-- Positive dialogue between females focused on their appearance, sense of accomplishment and emotional resilience.
-- While terms men used for each other were often viewed as complimentary (e.g., big man, dawg, superhero, McGyver, winner), women used far more degrading language when talking about other females (e.g., rodent, skank, trash bag, trick, ho and much worse). 
-- Females talked about sex acts more than men, talked about sex more graphically than men, mentioned sexual body parts more than men, and talked about intercourse and foreplay more than men.
-- Although 88 percent of the sexual dialogue between females and males across all shows focused on intercourse and preliminary activities leading to intercourse, the topics of virginity (0.2 percent), contraceptives (1.4 percent) and STDs (2 percent) were only mentioned 4 percent of the time.
-- “Jersey Shore” made up 47 percent of the disparaging remarks (mostly coming from cast members Ronnie and Sammi) and 59 percent of the sexual references across all four shows.

The most shocking finding – or at least the most disturbing – was the way the two genders spoke of themselves. The women were overwhelmingly more disparaging when speaking of themselves. With so much being invested and so much at stake in empowering one’s self, especially for girls, the overwhelming message from reality television targeted at teen girls is to be overly negative to yourself,” PTC President Tim Winter told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “After so many years of pursuing equality for women, our study suggests a glamorized, but grossly distorted view, of what it means to be feminine.”

According to the study, the issues surrounding negative media models of female and male behavior have only been exacerbated by the increase in reality television shows over the past few years, particularly as networks strive to reach the next level of shock value for their audiences. The report also claims that the continued success of these shows is dependent upon the “outrageousness of the content,” and that this can have serious implications on teens and tweens in the middle of establishing their own identity and core social values.

The PTC hopes that the study will intensify the national dialogue that has already begun with regards to the sexualization of women and girls in the media, and is urging parents to pay closer attention to the potentially harmful media images and messages their children may be consuming. They are also calling out advertisers, claiming that the media dollars underwrite television programming which contains “sexualized and narrowly defined gender portrayals.”

“Collectively, we must call upon media makers to present a more balanced view of ‘reality.’ We must demand more responsible depictions of how females and males resolve conflict and broader perspectives of what it means to be a female or male beyond the limits of current stereotypes,” the study concluded. “The saddest commentary is how ultimately these media themes and images serve to paint a very vivid picture of low expectations. The fear of setting low expectations for our young girls and boys is that they may fulfill them.”

MTV reps declined to comment until they had a chance to see the report.

So while the Fox article expounds on the idea that media is ultimately responsible for the steady downhill progression of self-esteem and poor view of reality; I would say that it is more symptomatic of a deeper spiritual wound….read on.

The Hope of High Expectations
From Mr. Bryan Y. Norton, SJ: 

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Our Lord's sweet promise of repose in today's Gospel passage immediately makes me think of St. Augustine (354-430). In the opening paragraph of his Confessions-the first, true "autobiography" in all of Western literature and a perennial source of humanistic, philosophical, spiritual, and theological wisdom-Augustine famously writes: "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts our restless until they rest in You." The connection between this Gospel reading and Augustine's own spiritual journey proves especially fitting on today's memorial of St. Ambrose. After all, Augustine recognizes Ambrose as a pivotal figure in his own journey of conversion:

"To Milan I came, to Ambrose the Bishop, known to the whole
world as among the best of men, Thy devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did then plentifully dispense unto Thy people the flour of Thy wheat, the gladness of Thy oil, and the sober inebriation of Thy wine. To him was I unknowing led by Thee, that by him I might knowingly be led to Thee" (V.13.23).

Tradition teaches that saints come in clusters. We can easily make the mistake of isolating the saints, as though December 7th were dedicated solely to the memory of St. Ambrose. Truth be told, though, the life of one saint always intersects inseparably with the lives of other saints. This realization should spur each of us on to sanctity: God sanctifies us through the most ordinary of ways, namely Christian friendship. This wisdom profoundly shaped the young Society of Jesus, for example. Long before the founding fathers of the Society were the "first Jesuits," they were simply "companions," "friends in the Lord"-amigos en el Señor.

Today's readings, clothed with the Tradition of the Church, bid us to consider our own experience of Christian friendship. Do we have, among the members of Christ's Body, true "friends in the Lord," with whom we can intimately share the joys and sorrows of Christian life? Perhaps we have lost touch with them. Perhaps we need to ask the Lord to send new companions into our lives. Such bonds of friendship strengthen us to receive Christ's yoke and enter into His rest. They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. Amen. 

While it may be a factor in better living and healthier productivity, the idea of unplugging form MTV still falls short of solving the age-old dilemma of bad alliances. Some of the most heinous acts in history have been committed by people who have never watched MTV; (Judas, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, to name but a few).  We must attack the root, for there is where the problem resides.

Where do our expectations reside?  Do we have any standards for friendship, or are we just available for anything?  Could we be counted on to deliver a tough message to a friend if we knew it was a matter of their integrity, or their eternal destination?  Do we encourage one another to follow the narrow path or do we simply sustain them on the broad highway?  The company that we keep is revealing of the interior life we engender. 

Food for thought. 


  1. Sirach Ch.6 - vs. 14-17 reading these verses... A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure...this sums it all up.