Television Blackout

I’m currently in the 4th month of a television blackout. I started at the beginning of May 2009. After selling off the majority of my DVDs, all of my video games (and game systems), and other visual media, I haven’t had the desire to consume television programming.

I thought this would change once the NFL preseason started. For the first Redskins game of the preseason, I turned my TV on for the first time in 4 months, watched a couple of plays, then turned it off promptly once the first commercial began to roll.

Being away from television programming and advertisements for 4 months has made me very sensitive to the purpose and affect of advertising. I couldn’t even stand to watch one commercial, because it seemed so contrary to the life and worldview I’ve been establishing and fostering for the past 4 months.

My life this summer has been all about detaching myself from the love of material possessions, living a minimalistic lifestyle, and finding complete satisfaction and fulfillment from knowing and serving God.

The whole point of advertising is to make you dissatisfied with your life. Advertising takes advantage of your materialistic tendancies — the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life — all things the Bible warns you about.

Advertising promotes exactly the wrong things in life. Especially the advertisements you’ll see during football games. Whether it’s sex, cars, or wealth/retirement, these advertisements have nothing to offer the Christian man or woman, but hindrances to their spiritual walk.

And it’s only after being away from it for 4 months, that I can see advertising for what it is. Which is why I encourage every Christian to take an extended break from television — a “fast” if you will — to break away from the psychological hold advertising has in your life.

Not only will a fast from advertising help you be more content with the life you have, but the absence of television in your life will free up your time for other — more noble — things like family, reading, and prayer.

I didn’t set out to take an extended break from television. But I’m glad it’s turned out that way. I’m going to try and increase this 4-month blackout to an entire year. Yes, that means I’ll miss the NFL season, and yes, that means I’ll miss my favorite shows. But the time I’ll now have for daily Bible reading, prayer, friendships, and family will be more precious than anything television has to offer.

Dad’s Guide to Hannah Montana

[This article originally appeared on AOL Shopping in September 2008.]

Hannah MontanaOkay, dads. Your daughter’s been running around the house wearing a blonde wig, singing songs you don’t know, and trying to get you involved in witty verbal banter. You may think she’s just being a typical kid, but she’s really a Hannah Montana fan.

The bad news is you probably don’t know who Hannah Montana is. The good news is that you’ve just discovered a great way to bond with your daughter.

“Hannah Montana” is a television show on the Disney Channel about a young girl (Miley Stewart) who lives an ordinary life by day, but is secretly a big, huge pop star (Hannah Montana) by night. Kinda like Batman – but instead of doing something cool in the evenings like fighting crime, she lip sings pop songs to kids who adore her.

Given the current state of teenage pop stars, it’s hard to imagine any young girl (fictional, or not) wanting to become one. But let’s assume that childhood fame is not a destructive force in reality and that Hannah Montana is a unique example of a child star gone good.

Hannah Montana is played by Miley Cyrus – real-life daughter to country music star Billy Ray Cyrus, who not-so-coincidently plays her dad on the show (sans his signature super-mullet). Their single-parent family also includes Miley’s brother Jackson (not played by a Cyrus family member). The bond that Billy Ray shares with his daughter onscreen is very endearing. He is a strong father figure (which is rare on television these days), who’s tough enough to tell his daughter “No” and is humble enough to admit when he’s wrong. Pretty much your ideal father.

Instead of being a super-snob, Miley remains humble at school and with her friends. Few know her secret identity, and she’s not interested in letting anyone else know. I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind this decision, but can appreciate the humility involved. Fame and fortune aren’t everything. Personal privacy and an incorruptible family life are more important to Miley.

Other than these life lessons, there is plenty to keep your interest while watching “Hannah Montana” with your daughter (which you should start doing). There are guest stars galore – including The Rock, Heather Locklear, and Dolly Parton (probably appearing because their own kids are fans of the show). And, believe it or not, Miley is actually quite funny. After a couple episodes, you’ll grow to love her silly behavior and Tennessee drawl.

Possibly the least enjoyable part of the show is when she’s actually on stage as Hannah Montana. You probably won’t like the music, and you’ll probably think she looks better as the brunette Miley. As Hannah Montana, she looks like every other teenage pop star you’ve grown weary of. But stick with the show until the end. Your daughter will love you for it.

And that’s what it really boils down to. Spending time with your daughter and developing the same kind of loving relationship that appears on the show.

Shop for Hannah Montana toys, games, DVDs, CDs, and tickets on AOL Shopping!

Top 11 Horror Movies for Halloween

[This article originally appeared on AOL Shopping in October 2007.]

Woman Scared Watching TVAt this time of year, you can’t help but crave a bit of frightful fun. No Halloween season is complete without staying up to watch several cheesy horror movies the week leading up to Halloween. But don’t waste your precious evenings picking a dud at the video rental store. Here are my picks for the best, most fun horror movies for Halloween.

11. The Others
Overshadowed by the success of a similar ghost film (The Sixth Sense) at the time of its release, The Others didn’t receive the positive attention it deserved. It is a smart, scary ghost story that keeps you in suspense all the way up to the satisfyingly twisted end. Nicole Kidman is compelling as the frightened mother, and you find yourself just as confused and terrified as she is throughout the film.

10. The Lost Boys
Boys with fangs. This 80’s gem has an all-star cast of vampires and vampire killers, including Keifer Sutherland, Jason Patrick, Corey Feldman, Corey Haim and Alex Winter. There is a perfect mix of horror, comedy, romance and drama in this film. Like the hero (Patrick), you start off thinking the “lost boys” are the coolest guys on the planet. But after the initial seduction, you begin to hate them more and more. Until, finally, you’re cheering when the snot-nose little brother (Haim) is unloading a squirt gun filled with holy water on one of the biting biker baddies.

9. The Blair Witch Project
I understand that this is a highly-debatable selection on my list, but I simply could not ignore the genius behind the release of this film. The grassroots marketing for The Blair Witch Project was phenomenal. It was the epitome of viral marketing. I knew about the story of the Blair Witch way before I even knew there was a movie. The producers of the film leaked out rumors of the events portrayed in the film’s footage on the Internet and built up a credible “legend” prior to announcing the film’s release. When they said the footage of the three lost campers was found and was being released as a film, I was genuinely intrigued. I went to see the film on opening day (before all the hype) and got sucked into it. The footage felt real. The emotion felt real. The terror at the end felt real. The real success of the film was that it showed that you didn’t need a huge budget to make a compelling horror film. All you needed was a cheap video camera and a great idea.

8. The Sixth Sense
The movie that rejuvenated the horror movie market. Despite its long-parodied lines (“I see dead people”), The Sixth Sense is a truly frightening and intellectually mind-bending masterpiece. It set the stage for a slew of copy-cat trick-ending knock-offs that came afterwards. Bruce Willis is a weary, empathetic character trying to help a young boy deal with his psychological maladies and delusions. The little boy sees dead people, but no one believes him. Willis’ character tries to help the boy—but meanwhile his own relationship with his wife is withering. He eventually finds a way to help the boy and solve his issues with his wife. But not in the way anyone would expect.

7. 28 Days Later
Back in the 80’s, there were a multitude of really bad, low-budget zombie films. So much so, that purists of the genre simply looked to the past (1968’s original Night of the Living Dead) for their zombie entertainment. That’s until Danny Boyle (director of Trainspotting) decided to make a low-budget zombie film of his own in 2002—reinventing the slow-moving, lumbering zombie into a fast, agile rampaging maniac. Boyle’s zombies were terrifying, because you couldn’t escape from them. They chased their victims with relentless speed and anger. And they never stopped.

6. The Descent
This sleeper hit from 2006 features a group of female friends with a clearly distinguished (and disturbing) history venturing off on a caving exposition in order to renew and heal their social bonds. The horror they find within the caves is secondary to the sociological horrors they face between themselves in reaction to their cave-dwelling adversaries. The Descent is a seriously engrossing, realistic look at how people react to adversity.

5. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Riding on the heels of 28 Days Later’s success, this remake of George Romero’s classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead succeeds in the impressive task of bettering the original. The new version of Dawn of the Dead replaces Romero’s slow zombies with Danny Boyle’s swift zombies. Mix in some quality B-list actors like Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer and Ty Burrell, update the special effects, and you have the best modern zombie film of the bunch. The classic story of zombie holocaust survivors in a mall is still unmatched.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street
The original nightmare featured a serious and mysterious Freddy Kruger. There were no comedic one-liners, over-the-top death scenes, or outlandish character histories. There was just a very scary boogey man and four unlucky, sleep-deprived teenagers. The original Nightmare on Elm Street had the best cast of all the Freddy films, including Johnny Depp and the original Nancy—Heather Langenkamp. What happens when something as unavoidable as sleep becomes a harbinger of your own death?

3. Evil Dead 2
The funniest horror film ever. Before Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man films) became a household Hollywood name, he and his buddies (Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and brother Ted Raimi) made low-budget movies for fun. After the success of their very serious horror film Evil Dead, they made a follow-up film that took the premise of Evil Dead, but added lots of visual gags and a comedic performance by lead actor Bruce Campbell. This genius mixture produced a cult classic horror film and an iconic character in the form of chainsaw-wielding Ash.

2. Night of the Living Dead
In 1968, a low-budget horror movie was made that started a new sub-genre of horror—zombie films. Night of the Living Dead shocked audiences in the late 60’s because there was nothing like it ever created. George Romero introduced the world to undead, reanimated zombies that craved human flesh and could not be stopped (save for a shot to the head). Even though Romero’s zombies were slow-moving, mostly lifeless creatures, he captured the sheer horror of seeing a dead body walking around on film. For audiences, the horror was in the disbelief of it all. His later films accepted zombies as a given and were, thus, less horrifying. Night of the Living Dead is an absolute classic.

1. The Exorcist
The Exorcist truly scared me to the bone, when I saw it as a child (don’t ask me how I got my hands on it). And The Exorcist still scares me to the bone, when I watch it as an adult. Based on a documented case of demon-possession in Washington, D.C., The Exorcist depicts the horror of watching something terrible happen to your child and not being able to do anything about it. As despicable as the child in the story becomes due to the demons inside her, her mother is still by her side. The movie is shot in a realistic way, showing a normal household dealing with frightening occurrences. The demonic voices coming from the little girl will give you nightmares.