Posts Tagged ‘Plutarch’

Guiding Media?

In 14 Book Corner on 2011/05/23 at 11:18 PM

Have you ever noticed that when a death occurs in movies or TV, or is portrayed in a novel, there never seems to be any consequences for the deceased. He or she is just dead and gone. The death is seen as the logical result of a series of prior actions or events. More often than not, the deceased had previously, perhaps even for a long time, engaged in actvities which 75 years ago would have been called “sin”: a word that is totally taboo in the media today….and in too many churches.

In 1960 Harold Gardiner, SJ, wrote an outstanding book: NORMS FOR THE NOVEL. (his observation apply equally to the TV and movies.)  This book was and should be considered the best guide for evaluating novels from a moral perspective.

In teaching World Literature, I used his principles to guide students in gaining knowledge and understanding.   After analyzing and synthesizing the themes, they could apply moral principles in order to make right judgments which were consistent with objective reality, truth, and moral standards.

Fr. Gardiner explained how a novelist can deal with any moral deviation correctly if he presents a moral deviation.  In other words,  fornication, adultery, incest, lying, stealing, coveting, for example, may be included in a novel or story if they are shown as moral deviations.  Unfortunately sin is a part of the human drama and should be recognized as such.

Two powerful examples: In Count Leo Tolstoyʼs ANNA KARENINA, the illicit adulterous relationship of a woman destroy not only her, but her son, husband, lover, and leads her to despairing suicide.

In the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Sigrid Undset, who wrote the trilogy: KRISTIN LAVERNSDATTER, shows the three stages of bride, mother, and widow, her painful, slow, but satisfying transformation and transfiguration, from wrong living to right perspectives put into action.

One of the more precocious students tackled the second century brilliant social history of the ancient world by Plutarch: THE LIVES OF THE NOBLE GRECIANS AND ROMANS. Plutarch was interested in the personalities of his subjects and on the manner in which their characters adopted their actions, leading them on to tragedy or victory. He was a moralist of the highest order. Plutarch wrote: “It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking-glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life”

Plutarch was a man of immense erudition who had traveled widely throughout the Roman Empire, and the LIVES are richly anecdotal and full of detail. They were the principal source of Shakespeare’s plays set in Rome.

The problem today is clearly obvious. Man, having made himself God, and relegated God to the refuse heap of history, now decides what is right and what is wrong. He has given himself the authority (so he thinks). It comes down to what he decides. In the last analysis it is mere humans, self-appointed to determine what is true or false, worth or unworthy, moral or immoral, necessary or unnecessary. It is the media that now dictates our cultural and moral norms, and, they are totally unequipped intellectually or morally to do so. This is why most of the media offerings are on a par with what used to be called “rotgut whiskey”.

Consequently evil is presented as good, praised and presented in such a way that it is glamorized so attractively that it confuses and seduces the reader/viewer into accepting wrong values, and causing unease to his conscience….if it has not already been number. At best, it is presented as morally neutral.  Then the reader often will experience what the worldly military man, Ignatius Loyola experienced: that while he saturated himself in the things of the world, he felt great pleasure, but later went into a depressed state. However, when he reflected on wholesome things, he experience joy during and after reflecting on them.

We can learn from the THIS later-converted founder of the Jesuit order, that what the world calls important and attractive can never give us the joy or happiness but instead usually leave us lonely and empty and morally confused.

Note: an interesting contrast. Franklin Delano Roosevelt when to Harvard, but spent most of his time socializing and both Churchill and De Gaulle were appalled at his basic lack of understanding and judgment, particularly in regard to Stalin and what motivated that man. However, Harry S. Truman, who was unable to go to college because he had to work on the farm during the Depression, was a voracious reader. He once said that he never met a man in Congress whose character he had not seen described in Plutarch. Roosevelt called Stalin “Uncle Joe” and later tragically admitted the “Joseph Stalin lied to me every time he spoke to me.”

Unfortunately, the same disorientation is taking place in the representation of classical works of literature, drama, and opera. Shakespeare would be appalled at how the Metropolitan Opera has mutilated Verdi’s operatic version of Macbeth.

Will things ever change back to a better time? History does not give much hope. Societal moral decline does not reverse. Too many members of the society are quite content with the status quo. Some are too ignorant to do more than bleat about “changing times”.

It may be time to walk up the gangplank to the modern Noahʼs ark called the Catholic Church. No matter what happens, the ark will still float.