The Media and the Millennium

Article excerpt

At midnight on December 31, 1999 the church will begin to celebrate the third millennium of Christ's Incarnation, the third millennium that will dawn on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

It is entirely possible, however, that most of the world will be watching the ball drop in Times Square.

We are living in the midst of a secular society, one that might well be more interested in a hotel room overlooking 42nd Street than one with a view of St. Peter's.

This is the world to which Pope John Paul II sent Tertio Millennio Adveniente, an Apostolic Letter that could be seen as a master public relations plan for celebrating the birth of Christ. One might wonder how well the plan can be executed, given the world's competing systems of information distribution and control. Will the Incarnation be the focus of the turn of the century? Will December 31, 1999 signal a holy year, the Jubilee Year 2000? Or will the world's eyes be turned by the various communication media to the issues and icons of four years hence: the replacements to Michael Jackson, Brad Hunter, Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson?

The answer lies within predictions about the ways in which the world media will develop and be controlled in the next few years, about whether print or broadcast or computer will dominate information systems.

For the most part, print media-brooks, magazines, newspapers--are products of their societies. They reflect the individual and collective points of view within language groups. In some cases, their views are significantly common to humanity, and so they are translated, initially to cognate language groups and perhaps eventually to cultures farther and father away. In most countries, there is still a broad range of opinions and outlooks available through print media, but print media are slow to respond and expensive to access. Insofar as print is being transmuted into electronic systems, it will survive and possibly surpass broadcast media as purveyor of concepts. This is a sign of hope, because free access to publishing and its products has traditionally been seen as the means to both develop and maintain a free society.

Broadcast media are not so well received by those who value intellectual and, consequently, religious freedom. The leavening of print is replaced by the leveling of television in world discussion forums. Today, American cables are tightly wrapped around all broadcast media. World broadcast media outlets are if not American controlled, at least controlled by what society politely calls "secular" values, values confusingly if closely identified with the alleged American dream. This is not the 19th century American dream of westward expansion, of freedom, and of dignity. Those gifts of this democracy are now seen as rights. No, it is the aging 20th century dream of consumerism and escapism, not entirely reality-based, a dream often seen as therapy for a reality that increasingly echoes the media fantasies which fill the circuits and the airwaves.

Media-borne political, economic and social fantasies do not mean that broadcast media are wholly antagonistic toward religious belief. To be fair, many media professionals are often confused as to what precisely constitutes religion. It can be argued that the secular society's broadcast media can be a positive vehicle for religion if a mutual understanding can develop. For as much as media needs to learn about religion, so religion needs to learn about media. Each might find the other useful. If religion serves to teach us how to deal with God, with self, and with community, then it might well use broadcast media to help in its task; likewise, broadcast media might well become fascinated with religion. We know, of course, this is not presently the case, except where televangelists fill both real and electronic arenas, and where scandal coverage contributes a few Nielsen rating points to the local news.

Still, the initial question of religion, "Who is God? …