A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Nunsploitation": The Media's Bad Habit

Having exited the proverbial Notre Dame “bubble,” in which the extent of my access to popular media was limited to when I passed by the dorm lounge on my way to the shower, I’ve now been inundated with an excess of popular media. In fact, while I was repairing my blog (the sidebar pictures hadn’t been functioning for quite some time) yesterday, I had the TV on as some “background noise.” My attention from the computer screen was sidetracked when the TV showed actor Jack Black donning a lovely Franciscan habit. This wasn’t a guest-appearance on EWTN- it was part of a trailer for a film called “Nacho Libre.” According to the International Movie Database, it’s about a Franciscan friar who becomes a pro-wrestler in order to save his monastery. The images on the screen weren’t as inspiring as the premise sounds….and supposedly the plot involves an insipid romance with a religious Sister- sounds rather irreverent to me. I’d like to call that sort of thing “Franciscansploitation.”

However, such a film seems to be only the latest in a trail of media about nuns/consecrated religious that thrives on irreverence- “Nunsploitation.” The archetypical “Nunsploitation” movie is Sister Act. While it might seem cute on a tangential level, it is really rather disrespectful of the Catholic tradition. First of all, it implies that we show completely throw traditional Catholic liturgical music out the window and insinuates that only newer, “hip” music truly reaches the people. Thus, it totally disrespects the Catholic tradition of beautiful liturgical music such as chant that nuns worked so hard to develop. Secondly, in the movie Whoopi Goldberg’s character encourages the nuns to leave their cloister and interact with the community, implying that they can only truly touch other people’s lives by means of physical interaction with them. In that regard, the movie completely misunderstands and disrespects the charism of nuns.

This, and many other movies and sources of media, tend to unfairly stereotype nuns as stuffy, dogmatic women with no “fun” in their lives, causing the public to make that unfair assumption. Why do we laugh when we see calendars such as “Nuns Having Fun”- an innocuous calendar that shows pictures of nuns/sisters on roller skates, nuns on roller-coasters, etc.? It’s because we’ve formed this impression that nuns’ lives are so colorless so that it becomes paradoxical to see them having what we call “fun.” As a disclaimer, I’m not saying that such calendars or other pictures like that are necessarily “Nunsploitation,” but the fact that they are a source of amusement to the public illustrates that we have falsely preconceived notions of what nuns’ lives are like.

There are other forms of “Nunsploitation” that are overtly offensive- such as the play “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All,” which bitterly attempts to deride Catholic dogma as well belittle sisters who gave their lives to teaching children the faith.

In closing, it looks like the media should get out of this “bad habit” of stereotyping these beautiful women.


Blogger friar minor said...

A brilliant cultural critique!

8:47 AM  
Blogger Mhari said...

excellent, I hadn't thought about it like that at all before. very good points


11:19 AM  

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