We are Captivated by Voyeurism


Saint Paisius Monastery Church

I have just returned from a St. Paisius Monastery retreat weekend. It was so packed with prayer and spiritual direction that it is going to take a while to hang everything on the spiritual/mental hooks needed to access later.

One of the highlights was our group meeting with the resident monk. The last thing he said to us is the first thing I am reflecting on. He said, “Movies are a plague.” The problem he laid out was that we are a people captivated by voyeurism. Voyeurism can have a sexual connotation but our friendly neighborhood monk was defining it in the more general sense; to refer to someone who habitually observes others without their knowledge. He said we are captivated by the movie industry so that it is “normal” to hear people talk about watching videos everyday to relax, calm down, veg out and escape. Let me make sure to say that this is not a critique about the content of the movies we watch. The plaque that the monk spoke about was the serial movie watching bug that has bit so many people.

Essentially, we are becoming a people who constantly watch fictional characters live out scripted lives of love, triumphs, challenges, defeats and victories. They chase bad guys through Moroccan bazaars jumping from cranes to buildings. They fall in love. They have to be “wheels up in 10 minutes.” I used to say, “I never have to be wheels up in 10 minutes.” It was a statement that fictional CIA double agents were living more exciting lives than me. We watch fictional characters live better lives than us. And we are doing it all the time. We are voyeurs.

What are we doing wrong by watching movies everyday? We are avoiding living our own lives. We are avoiding divine providence. Something has got to change.



Filed under Beaches, Canyons, Deserts, Mountains and Monasteries, Orthodox Christianity

11 responses to “We are Captivated by Voyeurism

  1. Maybe were are just bored seeking a pastime. We are separated from our natural environment and the need to make much effort to provide for our basic needs to live. So we seek a way to use our “free” time. Movies can be an escape from boredom.

  2. why are we bored seeking a pass time? seeking a passtime indicates WE are bored. boredom is a big part of the problem. we are spiritually sick, boredom is a symptom.
    movies/tv are escapes to a “better world”. but it is escape into fantasy, man made paradise. fantasy is not real, not reality, therefore evil?

    But movies and tv can be redemptive, they are not evil in and of themselves.
    It seems to be a problem of excess, habit, passion; as the monk said.
    What is the answer? Moderation? Great discernment in watching? Total abandonment of a medium?

  3. It seems the simulation of life is all around us. From the overly academic approach to knowledge to the desire to live out the lives of others instead of actually living our own.

    One of the most profound moments in my life was realizing that I should live my life and leave others to study me if they wanted to, instead of failing to live because I spend my life studying others.

    This is not to say that some study isn’t good, or that scholars aren’t an important part of life in the Church (for example), but that we do not all need to be scholars, nor do we need to exalt scholarship beyond its due respect for the function it performs in the life of the Church.

  4. Another huge result of being so involved in movies (books, audio and other information inflow) is that our mind is occupied with images/thoughts all the time even when we’re not watching/listening/reading, and that makes us incapable to pray.

  5. In general I agree; we spend way too much time on entertainment. I remember speaking with that same monk (I think), and he mentioned that novels are harmful for similar reasons, especially suspense novels. St. Augustine felt similarly about the theatre of his day. But I think it also depends on how and why we watch movies or read novels; it it individualistic escape, or an opportunity to add to our shared understanding with others?

    The other day I was watching The Nightmare Before Christmas with some friends and it’s not a fantastic movie, but one of the friends was saying why she likes it so much, and how it’s like the way we sometimes approach church, which helps me understand her a bit, and is an interesting thought. Besides, it’s a good excuse to get together. But if I’d watched it by myself at home it probably would have been worthless. The same has been true of other movies and TV shows I’ve sometimes watched with others – they’re not *necessarily* more voyeuristic than other stories provided the lives of the characters are not being used as a substitute for our own.

  6. demetrios1

    The distraction from our spiritual self is much larger than just being voyeuristic with movies.

    What is the measure of how we value ourselves and others: How many followers on Twitter? Number of Facebook friends? Our sports teams’ records? The auto we drive? The clothes we wear?

    Our culture is overwhelming focused on the visual and material. The exploding trend to define our value by these influences makes us have the sense of worth, turning our attention from what truly makes us have any worth, away from God.

    And I will admit, I am towards the front of the line at being distracted from the spiritual nourishment I need.

  7. Chris

    The entire time the Elder was talking about voyeurism, all I could hear in my pea-sized brain was, “Facebook, Facebook, Facebook!” :o)

  8. s-p

    Oh man, don’t get me started…. Good post. ‘Nuff said.

  9. There is, I think, an aspect of boredom that results from overindulgence in the created. We have either forgotten or ignored our calling to live with and in Mystery.

  10. The monk has a point. For 20 years I’ve never been to the cinema. For 15 years I don’t have a TV. However, I have a computer and internet and get to see everything necessary with a little forward planning. It means you choose more carefully what to see.
    I guess we run away from ourselves by chillin’ in front of a TV. Silence allows us to hear our thoughts (or lack of them!) and prayer helps us to get in touch with our thoughts in the presence of God so that we are at peace in the silence.
    If you want to really live, throw away the box..

  11. AR

    I grew up without tv or movies for a long portion of my youth. We lived out in the country, so we had plenty of room to roam about having adventures of our own. Everything seemed possible to me then. Trees were for climbing and producing fruit; we alternately played with and ate our animals; the seasons changed under our feet and around our ears; dirt was clean and rocks were what the world was made of; water had moods; the spatial dimmensions – up on the tops of trees and buildings, down underneath them in ancient cellars, round the perimeter, through the orchard and the barn and hidden between rows of corn and rasberry and swinging from branches in glorious arcs – these dimmensions of our own place were the range of exploration and conquest that was our birthright as human beings. We knew our own bodies without having to think about them in any special way: feet did not need to be coddled and legs were for running and climbing and one didn’t even need to think about the functioning of one’s lungs. I was part of a small community. Most of my friends lived nearby; we drove a few minutes out to see them (or they came to see us) nearly every day because we were all homeschooled. We went to the same church so we all spoke, dressed, thought, and felt alike (with personal variations of course.) We had a strong sense of identity and purpose. It was not good enough in the end but it was more than most people had.

    Now I live in the city and I have no friends nearby; very few people think alike to me and I find myself wearing unflattering jeans for convenience and staring mournfully at the computer screen wishing for a level of communication that I may never know again in this world. And I watch a lot of film. And yes, it’s substitution for a reality that I can no longer find. It makes constant noise in my head so that I can’t pray. It makes me think of myself objectively instead of subjectively – twice removed from my own processes, watching myself think, pray, and feel, ever more removed from myself and the world around me.

    I have a theory that most of us use tv and movies as a substitute for community, or culture, that we don’t even know we lack but our brain is screaming for, to fill in experiences that our nature teaches us to expect but we don’t even understand, intellectually, that we are missing. Normal human experience involves the sense of identity grounded in community that I grew up with. It is culture that gives us the normal attitudes about food, family, religion, and friends that most spiritual disciplines assume we are starting from. But most of us never have that at all and we substitute for it by compulsively feeding our mind with electronically generated substitute culture so that we know how to think and feel and have some connection with something that, at the moment, feels like a unified society.

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