I've been sitting on this post for a few months. I hope that everything comes across the way it's meant to be. Please let me know what you think.
One day a Sunday school teacher walked into class carrying a big plate of brownies. The teenagers in the class pounce on them like a pack of rabid hyenas. They start devouring them right after the opening prayer and the teacher sits back and smiles.
"I've got a secret." she says coyly," There is a special ingredient in those brownies." Her students look up interested.
"That's right, dog poop."
Immediately each student turns a pale green and gags at the thought. Normally the lesson then continues discussing how media consumption needs to be watched and monitored and if there are any "bad parts", or dog poop, then it should be avoided all together.
This lesson always made me cringe just a bit. I love movies. Media have inspired me to be a better person, to help out those in need. It may sound cliché, but it changed my life. The problem is the films and television shows that promoted the most change were ones that contained what many would consider "dog poop". Were these changes really for the better? Or was I being deceived by the amount of "feces" I had consumed?
I wrestled with this idea for quite a while and one day I realized the flaw in this metaphor.
Brownies are not good for you.
If our diet consisted of solely brownies then we would die from obesity and malnutrition. We could not survive. I realized that what many well-intended Sunday school teachers were talking about was filling our lives with harmless media. Media clear of any bad language, violence, sex, or anything at all that might harm an individual in any way. While these movies are often funny and decent media, the often lack what I refer to as "nutritional value". They are the media equivalent to marshmallow fluff, mostly air and a bit of sugar to help it go down. However, doesn't For the Strength of Youth pamphlet say that we are to "select only media that uplifts you"? Is marshmallow fluff really that uplifting?
Nutrient dense films are often like eating a plate full of sprouts or a bowl full of spinach. They might not taste very good. You also might not enjoy it. However, they're also really good for you. Also, like most vegetables, once you eat them enough you actually will grow to like them. They will become delicious and delightful to your mind. They will uplift and inspire you to do difficult things and to change your life. Nutrient dense media will also challenge you in ways that you would not be challenged with harmless media. That is because often times they contain a bit of dirt or "dog poop" as well.
Remember when we were kids and we would load up pie tins with mud? Did you ever try a bite just to see what it would taste like? I did. Then again, I wasn't the brightest kid in the universe. The funny thing about that is I lived. Even with the dirt and poop and all sorts of bacteria that were squirming around in the mud, I still lived. And you know what? It wasn't that bad. Would I try it again? Never. But would I say that it harmed me? Never. A little bit of poop is far less harmful than a diet filled with brownies, no matter how good those brownies might be.
Media that have a high nutritional value are a rare find. It has been my experience that they also challenge audiences by depicting violence, crime, extramarital sex, or even sex in general. However, there is one key feature that cannot be ignored. Nutrient dense media rarely, if ever, condone the illicit behavior. They illuminate the consequences for the negative behavior. They show the loneliness and pain that follows it. They show the reality behind the sin. Is this bad for our families?
One of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is the story of Korihor. He is one bad guy. So why does Mormon, with his limited space and resources, chose to quote Korihor? Mormon intentionally puts false teachings into the Book of Mormon rather than keep the book completely free of anything harmful. He does the same thing earlier when Alma and Amulek watch as the believers are cast into a pit of fire. Or later when the Nephites sacrifice virgins to their idolatrous gods. This pattern continues throughout The Book of Mormon and all of the scriptures. Why does God want us to continually read graphic depictions of wickedness, which if seen in a movie would warrant the movie full of dog poop?
God never intended the scriptures, gospel, or our lives to be marshmallow fluff. He wants us to wrestle with ideas or concepts that make us queasy. He wants us to understand sin, while not experiencing it. He wants us to know the pain that sin and wickedness cause. By showing us these illustrations via proxy in the scriptures he hopes that we will learn from others experiences. Is it too difficult to believe that there are those in the media who want us to learn the real consequences of bad behavior without experiencing it first hand?
Filling our lives with brownies and fluff and media with low nutritional value will only cause us to become fat, lethargic and slothful servants. This is not to say that any depiction of violence, sexuality, and foul language is appropriate for everyone. We are to seek for "anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy". However, just like sprouts and vegetables that do not taste good in the interim, but provide our bodies with essential nutrients for our growth, media that causes us to wrestle with ideas and beliefs will lead to growth, development, and a greater understanding of our place in God's plan.