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Try a media fast this Lent

March 3, 2012
Lent! Ahhh yes… the sweet smell of suffering! If you are fully embracing our great Catholic tradition of penance, I have a suggestion for a different kind of “fast” this year, one very appropriate for our age - A fast from media!
“But Mark, we don’t want to put you (or S+L) out of a job!”
No worries. This fast simply requires you to set a time limit and consume only good media. I only make good movies, so you won’t be putting me out of a job. You’ll achieve greater self-control, and transform the world as a result.
“Unbelievable! I’m in. How does it work?”
First, you must give up mortal sin: all pirated media! Actually, it’s probably not mortal (unless I was pope!) but the general rule is if you haven’t paid or suffered through advertising for it, it’s likely immoral, and therefore a sin. Nothing good comes from sin. In particular, the consumption of pirated media has NO influence on what gets produced in Hollywood.
Given some of the excellent alternatives out there, there’s no excuse to pirate. Both Netflix and Blockbuster have mail order DVDs and online streaming options. Hulu  (not available in Canada) allows you to watch TV online for free (with commercials) and iTunes offers streaming movies and TV shows.
Next, set a time limit on your media consumption. I always find it easier to go cold turkey rather than consuming only a small amount of something – so this is actually going to make it harder for you. But this is how you achieve self-control.
For example, try something like: 3 hours of television, movies or gaming a week. Or maybe: no TV, and one movie every two weeks. The point being – have a specific time limit. Write it down if you have to. This will help you avoid mindless channel surfing.
Given how precious your media time is going to be, you’ll to want to plan it out carefully. There are some excellent resources out there to help you do so.  I’d start with Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic which are meta review sites – they aggregate and average other reviews. Hollywood pays a surprising amount of attention to sites like these.  Even though they aren’t specifically Christian, you’ll be light years ahead of mindless channel surfing. Don't forget to check my S+L Radio columnist-colleague, Sr. Marie-Paul Curley's blog, Windows to the Soul. She also offers great reviews with a Catholic twist.
For a list of good films, start with the Academy’s list of best picture winners (http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/best-pictures.html) or the inflation adjusted all time largest grossing films (http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm). Again, these films don’t necessarily reflect Christian values, but given their cultural relevance, they are worth seeing.
For Christian recommendations, start with the Vatican’s list of 100 suggested films and wealth of other documents on media (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/pccs/index.htm). Then look at the USCCB’s movie reviews, or the National Catholic register’s list of 100 Pro-Catholic Films Finally, Focus on the Family has an excellent review site called Plugged In which I also highly recommend.
Since you removed something from your life, you’re going to have a void to fill. Be sure to fill it with something good! It might be a bit of a challenge, but you won’t regret finding new things to do. Take up a new hobby, get outside for a walk, or start a new exercise regime. Better yet, socialize with real people, play with your children or spend time in prayer or adoration. Again, it really helps to think concretely and write it down.
Where will you find yourself on Easter Sunday this year? Hopefully not in front of a TV! I believe you’ll find yourself with greater self-control, awareness of your media habits, and just how impressionable we really are. If you’ve chosen to watch some of masterpieces you’ll be a transformed person because of their great art! And perhaps you’ll even have greater physical stamina or a better prayer life because of what you filled the void with.
The best result I can think of though, is that the world will be transformed. I know for a fact that Hollywood executives pay very close attention to what people are watching. If people stop watching trash, they will stop producing it. If there’s less trashy media in the world, it’ll simply be a better place – It might not be the aroma of Christ yet, but our TVs certainly won’t stink as much.
Your Hollywood Undercover Missionary,
Mark Matthews
Mark Matthews is a graphic designer and animator working in Hollywood.  Listen to his "What's Good About Hollywood?" column once a month on  S+L Radio.
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