Christians and the Movies

This article first appeared at Proclaim & Defend, the blog of the Foundations Baptist Fellowship International. It is republished here with permission.

You can’t escape the media these days, which means almost everyone knows of their latest obsessions within a few hours of their formation. The last week or so, one story crowded out the regular obsessions. You can hardly go to a site on the web that isn’t offering some kind of opinion about Harvey Weinstein and the Hollywood scandal. I’ve read a few of these articles myself. Some of them offer some interesting and/or helpful insights. I’ll give some links throughout this post.

Two things interest me about the articles I’ve read. First, the voluminous secular reaction and (mostly) outrage. Second, the comparatively quiet Christian reaction, which fails to speak to what ought to concern Christians most about this scandal, at least in the articles I’ve been able to find.

Hypocrisy

Many writers focus on hypocrisy, both by the principals in the story and by the tongue-clucking observers in the pundit class. Jonah Goldberg skewers hypocrites on the left and the right with this:

How many people in that room knew about Weinstein? How many refused to speak up — even after he was fired? Saturday Night Live went silent when it came to Weinstein. “It’s a New York thing,” executive producer Lorne Michaels explained.

So far, many right-wing readers are probably nodding along to this column. Well, stop. If you never spoke up about Trump, or if you responded to those accusations with a dismissive, “What about Bill Clinton?” you should probably just sit this one out.

Because if you decry piggish behavior only when it helps your side, or if you think accusers are telling the truth only when they speak up about people you hate (or don’t need professionally), then you don’t actually care about sexual harassment.

Ed Stetzer likewise focuses on the hypocrisy, both of Weinstein and Republican politician Tim Murphy in this piece. He offers three observations for Christians

  1. First, Christians must hate hypocrisy, just as Scripture shows.
  2. Second, Christians are hypocrites, but not always in the ways people think.
  3. Third, we cannot expect our public figures to be perfect, but we must expect them to be who they say they are.

You’ll have to read his article to get what he is saying with these points, but basically he is admonishing us to take a hard look at ourselves and cut out the hypocrisy we display. To the extent that Christians are hypocritical (who of us never has been?) his admonition is correct. He concludes:

At the end of the day, our conscience screams at the hypocrisy of others, as it should. There is something in all of us that knows right from wrong, that causes us to rise up, as it should.

But we also must search our own hearts as well. Hypocrisy can come knocking at any door. As Christ-followers, we must continue to draw near to God to avoid anything out of alignment with his Spirit. Integrity is one of the most powerful tools we have as we engage a watching world.

So, yes, it’s appropriate to respond to hypocrisy with anger, but we must also respond with humility.

True enough, but is that all we should be thinking about this scandal?

Hollywood

What is it really like in Hollywood? What is the culture of the place? Why is it easy to believe that this story is true? (Some are trying to be voices of reason, asking us not to rush to judgement, wait for the trial (if any), etc. etc. One example here.) Well, insiders tell us the culture of Hollywood is rampant with sexual exploitation and aggression.

Manohla Davis, writing in the New York Times, (Headline: Harvey Weinstein Is Gone. But Hollywood Still Has a Problem.) says:

When I read the recent allegations that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed women for decades, I thought — well, of course. Mr. Weinstein was a famously swaggering bully, and while I hadn’t heard about the specific charges of sexual abuse by women working for him, such behavior fits the movie industry’s pervasive, unrepentant exploitation of women.

Roger L. Simon sardonically laments:

If conservative investors had any courage, this would be the time to make a hostile takeover of the movie business. Unfortunately, they don’t. I know this from bitter personal experience. Wealthy conservatives are delighted to support the Philharmonic, but when it comes to popular culture they turn away, as if afraid to get their hands dirty.

That this is a huge mistake should be obvious. They have abandoned the culture — and our children — to the creepiest people imaginable. What is going on in Hollywood is far from being just about Harvey. It’s approaching a pandemic. So many previously silent assaulted or raped women are coming out of the woodwork, it seems like a long-belated remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen.” No one knows who will be next or if it will stop at Harvey.

These observers touch on Hollywood’s reputation. That’s why we aren’t surprised by the story. Sexual exploitation and aggression are the business of Hollywood. That’s what Hollywood has for sale every day. Regardless of the occasional “family” flick, Hollywood’s main business is sexual titillation. Is it any wonder that the Hollywood culture is filled with it?

Christian writer Michael Brown notes this at the Christian Post, and it seems to me that his article is one of the best I’ve read so far. He starts off with, “My purpose here is not to throw more stones on the now-disgraced Harvey Weinstein…” I agree, there are plenty of others willing to do that, and our main concern about this story should be about what the pervasive culture of Hollywood means for us as Christians.

Brown’s headline is “Hollywood Sells Sex and Enables Predators.” He lists several stories, going back several years, about “the casting couch,” where aspiring actresses are repeatedly expected to grant sexual favors for career advancement. All of these are allegations, but we aren’t surprised by them because of what we see as the culture of Hollywood. Michael Brown notes:

One recent article claims that these sexual abuses in the movie industry date back to the early 1920s. Yes, an AP article published in the Japan Times claims that, “Hollywood’s ‘casting couch’ scandals go back at least to 1921.”

He goes on to outline the claims of Corey Feldman, former child actor, who says that he and other boys were molested by men in Hollywood. He refuses to name names since his perception of the California statute of limitations would make him liable for slander and not bring about justice for the alleged perpetrators.

I could go on, but that’s plenty, don’t you think?

The culture of Hollywood is, for the most part, completely immersed in the most degrading practices and lifestyles of our world. We’ve known this for a long time.

How long? Well, long before there was a Hollywood, church father Tertullian, in a work called On Spectacles, circa ad 197-202 said,

Are we not, in like manner, enjoined to put away from us all immodesty? On this ground, again, we are excluded from the theater, which is immodesty’s own peculiar abode, where nothing is in repute but what elsewhere is disreputable. … But if we ought to abominate all that is immodest, on what ground is it right to hear what we must not speak? For all licentiousness of speech, nay, every idle word, is condemned by God. Why, in the same way, is it right to look on what it is disgraceful to do? (On Spectacles, 17.)

The reality is that theater is little changed over the centuries.

Given this long-standing culture, is it any wonder that many Bible-believing Christians considered the theater to be taboo? I grew up in a generation where most Christians, evangelical as well as fundamentalist, had at least some misgivings about going to the movie theater. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I darkened the door of a theater as a child (after an intensive lobbying effort against my dad). You might be amused at the tame movies I had to beg to be allowed to attend. Of course, this culture in the Christian world rapidly broke down with the advent of the videotape. First we brought the movies into our homes, then we quietly began to drop the reservations about attending movies in the movie house.

It isn’t the “good movies” that are the problem, it is the culture of Hollywood that is the problem. At the risk of being branded a libertine, one movie I watched in my home in recent years is the Academy Award winning The King’s Speech, about King George VI and his speech therapist. The movie is a moving piece. It is easy to see why it won its awards. It unfortunately has objectionable language, but is otherwise fairly wholesome as movies go. Harvey Weinstein was the executive producer and distributor, according to Wikipedia — there’s that name again.

What are we to think as Christians about Hollywood? Should we return to the ban on the theater? Should we ban the use of in home displays of “the spectacle”? Perhaps that imp can’t be put back in Pandora’s box, but at the very least we should not mock Christians who eschew the whole Hollywood scene and we all should seriously take time to think about how much we are addicted to the corrupt Hollywood machine. What are these movies saying to us? What are they saying about us?

Michael Brown, in the article cited above, talks about how “sex sells” in the movie business. Then he asks,

Is anyone surprised to read this?

But, once again, it’s easy to point fingers at others. Perhaps the bigger question to ask is this: How many of us who shake our heads in disgust at Harvey Weinstein actually enjoy the sexploitation of the movie industry?

Hollywood, to its lasting shame, is definitely selling sex (and abusing people in the process). The question is: Are we buying it?

Even more insidiously, how much is the Hollywood philosophy infiltrating the “good movies” and affecting the way we think about our world?

I’ll leave the last word today for Tertullian:

Does it then remain for us to apply to the heathen themselves. Let them tell us, then, whether it is right in Christians to frequent the show. Why, the rejection of these amusements is the chief sign to them that a man has adopted the Christian faith. If any one, then, puts away the faith’s distinctive badge, he is plainly guilty of denying it. What hope can you possibly retain in regard to a man who does that? When you go over to the enemy’s camp, you throw down your arms, desert the standards and the oath of allegiance to your chief: you cast in your lot for life or death with your new friends. (On Spectacles, 24.)

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There are 12 Comments

AndyE's picture

I honestly don't understand the angst in Hollywood and the press over Weinstein. If what he did is so bad (and it is!), why are people not up in arms over what is actually displayed on the screen?  It's not just what goes on behind the scenes that is exploitive but what is produced for all the world to see. Honestly, it is very rare for any movie to not degrade women and girls in some way, either by what they make them wear, or what they make them perform. Girls are told they have to show skin, they have to kiss guys that are not their husbands, they have to let other men abuse them in front of everyone on the set.  But it's OK because it is just acting, or so they say.

Thanks for the article, Don. We need to be confronted with this.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Thanks for the great article, Don! Ironically, the day you wrote this article for P&D, I saw a new movie reviewed at rogerebert.com about a polygamous couple, featuring many sex scenes with the two women. The reviewer gushed about how great the movie was, and clearly loved the steamy scenes. It was a period piece, set about 80 years ago. This is the debauchery our society craves. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dgszweda's picture

This is the case, not just for Hollywood but the whole entertainment world.  I am constantly shocked when someone like Taylor Swift wears extremely revealing clothing, and then at the same time decry the sexualization of women.  It is crazy.  You probably are not hearing a loud cry from Christians over Weinstien, probably because 1) most don't know who he is, or 2) there is no surprise anymore that Hollywood is entirely devoid of anything good.

Ron Bean's picture

Thanks Don. This is a good article. The feigned shock of Hollywood notables reminds me of the Inspector in Casablanca. Hollywood's immorality, adultery, and flippant view of marriage has been apparent since the 1920's and even celebrated and treated with humor. While they have produced some good work they also produce trash. I agree with Jim that bans won't work but discernment is necessary.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Appreciate the thoughtful perspective. Article mentions relatively quiet reaction from Christians regarding the Weinstein thing. I think a major reason for that is that it's kind of expected from the Hollywood culture... and we do not see him as one of us.
So for a lot of us, that kind of scandal is kind of "yep... figures."

Bert Perry's picture

Somewhat lost in the brouhaha about Weinstein is the likelihood that what is going on is actually "grooming"; getting actresses and actors used to being exposed or molested so they'll be willing to portray it on screen.  Yes, I am using the verbiage appropriate to sexual predators for a reason.   If the actress or actor is not exposed in front of the producer or director, or a previous producer or director, five will get you ten they won't do it onscreen.

Name the sin by its proper name, and people will come around.  

That brings me to the idea of a hostile takeover of Hollywood; two things strike me as problematic in this regard.  First of all, the simple fact of the matter is that most family-friendly movies not made by Disney in the past 40 years are just plain awful.  What decent actor or actress would want to hitch his wagon to that kind of dreck?

More importantly, if we think that President Trump is facing a huge obstacle in the "hidden state" of Washington DC, that's probably nothing in comparison to the devastation that Hollyweird saboteurs would wreak.  

I would have to suggest that if we would want good Christian theater to prosper--perhaps for the first time in history--there is going to be a tremendous amount of work to build it from the ground up, probably involving something analogous to vaudeville.  There may be a core of Christian actors capable of doing an A-list movie today, but for the most part, I think it's got to be built from the ground up.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
I would have to suggest that if we would want good Christian theater to prosper--perhaps for the first time in history--there is going to be a tremendous amount of work to build it from the ground up,

I would respond to this, "Why?".  In terms of Hollywood itself, who really cares.  It is an industry so self obsessed with itself, that I don't really care if it ever recovers or not.  The fact that the world is finally discovering the filth that they have themselves brushed under the rug, is only surprising in the fact that Hollywood itself is speaking out about it.  It comes as no surprise, and frankly is probably the tip of the iceberg.  If not another movie is made, or not another TV show is ever created and the whole of Hollywood and film making dies away is no sweat off of my back.

With that said, I am not sure why the hyper focus on Hollywood.  We buy cars from womanizers, we eat at restaurants owned by ill reputed people, and we even go to churches filled with a bunch of sinners.  I am always in shock when we act surprised about Hollywood, when the same sin is all around us.

Andrew K's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 

Bert Perry wrote:

I would have to suggest that if we would want good Christian theater to prosper--perhaps for the first time in history--there is going to be a tremendous amount of work to build it from the ground up,

 

I would respond to this, "Why?".  In terms of Hollywood itself, who really cares.  It is an industry so self obsessed with itself, that I don't really care if it ever recovers or not.  The fact that the world is finally discovering the filth that they have themselves brushed under the rug, is only surprising in the fact that Hollywood itself is speaking out about it.  It comes as no surprise, and frankly is probably the tip of the iceberg.  If not another movie is made, or not another TV show is ever created and the whole of Hollywood and film making dies away is no sweat off of my back.

I second that. And I believe there are a decent number of committed Christians in the past decade who have, without a lot of hoopla, gradually been weaning themselves and their families off Hollywood products--with the occasional family-friendly exception. The industry has become so overtly anti-Christian that it's hard to swallow even its most innocuous packages. The fact that not many Christians have advertised their doing so doesn't mean it hasn't been happening.

Bert Perry's picture

"If" we want to create good Christian film.  No trouble with the notion that many/most might not want to, but "if" we want to do so, there's a lot of work.  Cost and benefit, yes.

:^)

Update: this Babylon Bee "article" seemed appropriate in light of the discussion, though the poor guy who has to sit down on that iron throne might complain it's a little bit cold and prickly.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

Don said:

It isn’t the “good movies” that are the problem, it is the culture of Hollywood that is the problem. At the risk of being branded a libertine, one movie I watched in my home in recent years is the Academy Award winning The King’s Speech, about King George VI and his speech therapist. The movie is a moving piece. It is easy to see why it won its awards. It unfortunately has objectionable language, but is otherwise fairly wholesome as movies go. Harvey Weinstein was the executive producer and distributor, according to Wikipedia(link is external) — there’s that name again.

The last film I saw in the theatre was "Prometheus". I saw it with my two adult sons. It was really stupid but I had fun with my boys (one of whom said repeated through the film ... "this is really stupid")

I saw "The King's Speech" ... must have been via streaming. Liked it ... worthwhile.

I see here that the creep Weinstein was Executive Producer. If WIKI is correct this is what the EP does:

In films, an executive producer finances the film or participates in the creative effort, but does not work on the set. His/her responsibilities vary from funding or attracting investors into the movie project to legal, scripting, marketing, advisory and supervising capacities.

The crediting of executive producers in the film industry has risen over time. In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were an average of just under two executive producers per film. In 2000, the number jumped to 2.5 (more than the number of standard 'producers'). In 2013, there were an average of 4.4 executive producers per film, compared with 3.2 producers.

 

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