By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 11, 2008
Those of you who were blessed with the great good fortune of attending the St. Agnes High School presentation of Good News, a Wayne Bryan and Mark Madama musical comedy, this past weekend or the weekend before, enjoyed, I am sure, an evening of fun that will linger in your memory for a long, long time to come, as you don't need me to tell you! Set in the year 1928 (a year for which I hold a certain self-centered predilection) the production was a splendid success with a huge cast (including, as always at St. Agnes a large number of children from St. Agnes Grade School and some of the area's home-schooled children as well, among them Alexandra and Benjamin Fischer, Cassandra, Daniel and Maria Humphrey, Eliza Knapp, and Jessica and Sarah Tarnowski from our parish, who sang and danced with great eclat in the Children's Chorus, and Julia Knapp, who sang in the High School chorus). In the principal male role St. John's parishioner (and St. Agnes Senior) John Humphrey sang college football hero Tom Marlowe's set-to-song soliloquies with passion and authority, and he was an attentive and effective partner in a memorable duet. It was only after the performance that I learned that John was bravely soldiering on despite an illness that he concealed very successfully from the audience. His classmate Charlie Lehnen's flair for madcap comedy provided just the right fit for the role of Bobby Randall, campus playboy and aspiring (though perpetually sidelined) football star. And the four young ladies who with remarkable stage presence and beautiful singing voices vied with one another in competitive leading roles-Sarah Adam, Michelle Johnson, Catherine Noble and Elizabeth Windnagel- contributed glamour, energy, and drive. The "Flapper Age" costumes were colorful and clever, and with admirable economy Andrew Johnson gave the show its imaginative sets. Donna (Mrs. James) May, assisted by Barbara Schulz, made sure that the songs came through loud and clear and with exactly the right timing, and at the piano St. John's own Mary Smisek, with a nod of the head or an uplifted hand, led a combo of half a dozen or so musicians, to provide a near facsimile of a full-pit orchestra. And Director-Choreographer David Johnson's knockout dance routines repeatedly brought down the house. Mr. Johnson, who has directed St. Agnes musicals for twenty years, displayed once again his trademark genius in working with younger children and with teenagers to produce dance scenarios- solo, small ensemble, and full-scale production numbers-that glitter and sparkle with invention and wit The night I was there the members of the cast (whose many hours of after-school rehearsal had allowed their roles to become second nature) seemed to be having the time of their lives, as did the large and appreciative audience. But then that's always been the case with the St. Agnes musicals. (And in its own right the St. Agnes High School Choir, under Donna May's direction, has earned an enviable prestige).
All in all this was a night to remember. And it showed what "kids" can do with the right inspiration and guidance. In stark-and horrifyifig--contrast with the infectious "innocent merriment' I have just been describing is the Satanic appeal to the most bestial instincts of fallen human nature that so much of today's degenerate "entertainment" industry offers in exchange for enormous financial profits. A spectacular example is the just released video "game" --with an anticipated immediate profit of perhaps $400,000,000--called "Grand Theft Auto: IV", a successor to previous "Grand Theft Auto" games and one that evidently surpasses its predecessors in its potential for degradation. This whole new world of video games, often pandering to a craving for lust and sadistic violence, is something that should evoke serious parental concern.
May I share with you Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten's review of "Grand Theft Auto: IV". Her comments appeared in last Sunday's paper (May 4th).
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Grand Theft Auto's Heist of the American Character
By Katherine Kersten
Grand Theft Auto IV hit the stores last week like a tsunami, and is expected to become one of the biggest sellers in video game history. Commentators agree that the game, with its sophisticated graphics, sets a new standard for realistic violence and sex.
News reports and game-related websites give the flavor of what avid gamers are getting for their 60 bucks. GTA IV opens with an S&M sex scene. Players can gun down ordinary citizens, beat up prostitutes, murder cops and enjoy lap dances from strippers. This mayhem is accompanied by what the Associated Press called a "nearly constant stream of filthy language."
"[T]eenage boys of America," wrote one reviewer."...you can kill and maim and plunder and screw until your heart is full, "but now "the violence is no longer cartoonish." Thanks to GTA IV's new realism. when G-stringed strippers grind the main character's lap. the player's controller vibrates in response.
The launch of a game like GTA IV-labeled "M" for sale only to buyers 17 and over-always seems to provoke the same debate. Critics charge that the game harms children, who can easily get their hands on it.
Research confirms that violent media increase young people's aggressive thought and behavior and decrease their self-control and the inclination to help others. Adolescents who play violent video games tend to be more hostile, to argue more with teachers, to get into more physical fights, and to do more poorly in school, one national study reports.
Video game representatives make two arguments when faced with such data. First, they insist that parents are the gatekeepers of their children's play.
Sounds good, but ask any 15-year-old male if it's really true.
Second, industry, spokes-people downplay the youth problem's relevance, pointing to surveys that suggest that the average gamer is somewhere between the ages of 29 to 32.
Let's assume that's true. It is supposed to be comforting that millions of grown men get their "entertainment" from pretending to blow away cops and hook up with prostitutes?
Anyone who has raised a child. or worked for a boss--or looked honestly at his or her own shortcomings-- knows that we human beings have both good and bad instincts and impulses. We have the potential to be kind, generous and self-controlled, but we also can be selfish, power-hungry violent and cruel.
History amply illustrates humanity's dark side. In ancient Rome, crowds of thousands of people-not too different from us-cheered with frenzied blood lust as animals and human beings were torn to pieces....
Our own age has witnessed the horrors of genocide in Nazi Germany and Rwanda. These atrocities were not perpetrated by a handful of human monsters, but by thousands of ordinary people.
Contemporary Americans are not immune from sadistic impulses. The renegade U.S. soldiers who humiliated and maltreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib were reportedly imitating the pornified culture from which they came.
Games like GTAIV stimulate and glamorize our dark impulses. They create a taste for the psychological thrill that can come from dominating and degrading others. They encourage us to strip our fellow human beings of their dignity, and view them merely as objects of violence or sexual desire.
The hazards of violent games will only increase as new, more advanced technologies like the Wii system take hold. With Wii, for instance, you can go beyond punching buttons or manipulating a joy-stick-you can act out a game physically. As more games gain the technology that lets players go through the motions of stabbing opponents, pummeling prostitutes and simulating sex, they are likely to exert an even stronger psychological hold on thrill-seekers.
Am I suggesting that those who spend hours playing violent video games are on the way to becoming real-life killers, torturers or rapists? Of course not.. But all of us have a potential for coarseness and cruelty that may emerge after months or years of immersion in lurid and prurient games.
The average 32-year old man who plays violent video games-and spends his free hours fantasizing about murdering passersby and roughing up strippers-is likely to be someone's husband and father. What qualities of character will his wife find when she looks to him for love, steadiness and fidelity?
And when his young son looks to Dad as a role model-well, that's the problem, isn't it?