I have a theory. How many times have we heard people complain that television or film was so much better "in the old days"? As Steven Johnson points out in his book Everything Bad is Good For You, what they usually mean by this is that it was simpler in a moral sense. Right and wrong was clearly defined (and the wrong rarely depicted). Moral choices were clear cut if not always easy to make. Sex, violence, and profanity were kept to a minimum. The moral landscape of entertainment media today, of course, looks much more rugged. Sex, violence and profanity are rampant and moral ambiguity rules the day.
The standard explanation given for this by moralists and Christians is that the entertainment media is determined to destroy the moral fabric of our nation and panders to the lowest common denominator. This feeds into the culture war mentality that dominates much of the discussion. Without doubt, there is some pandering to the lowest common denominator going on (Temptation Island, anyone?).
But I think something more significant is going on. Steven Johnson, in his book, doesn't address the morality of media other than in a few tangential comments. His focus is on the intellectual benefits of television, video games, etc. His theory is that over the last two decades, these media have grown increasingly complex and mentally challenging. Compare Lost to Gunsmoke or today's Battlestar Galactica to the 1970's version and it's like comparing Dostoevsky to Dr. Seuss.
My theory is that what is happening with the intellectual landscape of entertainment media is the same thing happening to the moral landscape. As television, for instance, becomes more intellectually complex, it simultaneously grows more morally complex. Creators of media have grown less content with the presentation of clear cut moral choices and instead want to explore intellectually and emotionally the grey areas between. Although it has its downsides in particular instances, this is not necessarily a bad thing as a whole. Christians do a disservice to others and to themselves when they present moral choices as simplistic and obvious. The entertainment media is initiating a profound conversation about morality in our culture and rather than standing outside and criticizing, Christians should become a partner in that conversation.