Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just a Measly Video

Dear Friends and Readers,

By now I'm sure you've read last week's two disturbing news items involving our town, Westborough, MA.
I never imagined my sleepy New England town would make national or even statewide news. Not once, but twice in one day!

Most fascinating is the common theme of these two stories.

Here's news item number one:
A teacher in our local middle school was suspended after allegedly showing an objectionable video called "Superman" to a class of seventh graders.
Click here for Boston Globe story, or here to view all 35 news stories.

News item number two:
A case of measles in Westborough -- an employee at the local Bose Corporation has allegedly fallen ill with the contagious and potentially fatal disease. Here's a link about it.

Now, I must first state that I do not know the teacher or students personally, nor have I ever watched the Eminem video in question. In fact, until today, I didn't even know who "Eminem" was, nor do I care to know. All I know is what I've read, that the video contained lots of immodest, explicit and violent scenes. The superintendent acknowledged that the video was (sic) inappropriate.

As a rabbi in the community where this occured, I would like to make two comments and ask several questions:

Comment #1:
Isn't it uncanny that both news items reflect a contagion that threatens the health and well-being of not just Westborough locals, but our entire modern society?

Comment #2:
We immunize to protect people from diseases like measles. Should we be "immunizing" children to protect them from negative societal influences by exposing them to it in the form of Eminem videos? By doing so, are we immunizing them or predisposing them, or worse, poisoning them? A vaccine contains weakened or dead virus particles. Imagine injecting a healthy patient, child or adult, with live, virulent pathogens. Are you protecting your unsuspecting patient, or infecting him? Perhaps the best way to provide immunity to the diseased behaviors glorified in Eminem's videos is by teaching kids to avoid exposure entirely. Teach them to "Just say No."

Some questions about the video:
1. Is it only inappropriate for children, or is it inappropriate for adults too?
2. Is it only inappropriate for a teacher to show in school, but ok for kids to view at home?
3. Eminem is referred to repeatedly in the news articles as an "artist." Is "Superman" artwork?

A NY congressman recently lost his job and reputation because he sent inappropriate images of himself to a few individuals via electronic media. Why? Isn't he just an "artist" like Eminem? Of course, the latter is a much more seasoned "artist" because he sends similar images to not just several, but millions of individuals. And while the congressman reserved his "artwork" for several adult acquaintances, Eminem's "artistic" imagery and lyrics target minors, and lots of 'em. So why does a teacher and politician get canned, but the "artist" makes millions? What am I missing?

I know some of you are rolling your eyes. Come on, rabbi. It was just a measly video (pun intended) It's not for real. It's just harmless "art."

So let's consider the second news item about measles. What's the commotion? So what if one person caught the disease from a migrant worker in an isolated plant on Route 9. Why is that newsworthy?

The answer is obvious. This is a highly contagious disease. We are all at risk. If it's at Wall Street, it will trickle down to Main Street.

For the youth who is growing up watching videos by Eminem (and others of his ilk), the behaviors showcased in such pieces of "art" are now part of the young viewers' reality. His or her pure mind has now been infected with images of licentiousness, vulgarity, violence and misogyny. And thanks to the wonders of modern media, the contagion now spreads rapidly from friend to friend, tainting the minds of countless other young people.

Will all the young people who watch "Superman" try to emulate that behavior? Hopefully not. But then again, most people will survive measles too. Can we afford to take the risk?

The Torah exhorts us "Do not stray after your heart and after your eyes..."

Watching a video or listening to music is like consumption of food or drink. Just like the food has to be clean, healthy, nourishing and kosher, so too the videos we view need to be fit for consuption. Indeed, every image or lyric we consume becomes indelibly etched into the whiteboard of our mind, conscious and subconscious, in permanent ink.

Ever hear the cliche "You are what you eat?" Well, it really ought to be: "You are what you watch."

PS With regards to the Gibbons Middle School class, the facts have still not emerged, and it is entirely possible that the teacher is blameless. What I have written above is not an indictment against the teacher or school, nor is it an opinion about what has actually occured. Rather, it is a commentary on the reality that children all over (perhaps many children in that very class) are in fact viewing this video (and others like it) at home or elsewhere.

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