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Sunday, January 09, 2005

That pretty much sums up my response to a recent query about how I feel about some of the entertainment projects that Christians are working on or have worked on. In this case, a Christian writer friend wanted to know why Act One would countenance writers on our faculty who wrote "the likes of" That 70's Show, for example."

We get asked this question all the time. And depending on the querier's place on the cultural spectrum, the objections have been raised on every faculty project from Hellraiser V and Batman Forever to M*A*S*H* and Roseanne on the TV side. So here, for posterity, is version #425617239 of my answer to this question.


I have only ever seen a few episodes of That 70's Show, and I didn't find it more objectionable than any prime-time sit-com. Our friend who writes for the show has noted that the show has the honor, along with Everybody Loves Raymond, of having been the only sit-coms for several years that revolved around a happily married couple. (Now there are several, but both Raymond and 70's have been on for several years now.) That 70's Show is clearly not moral rocket science, however, deriving most of its humor from scatalogical and sexual innuendo. But it is certainly no Sex in the City or even Desperate Housewives, in terms of its content.

(I want to qualify right away that I think there are definitely projects in the business that I can't wrap my brain around having Christians be part of. These would be projects that are intrinsically evil in their intent and method: all porn, and many horror projects. Although, I constantly hear arguments from the Christian horror film people...I win these arguments so far, but I might be brought around on Hellraiser 37 eventually.)

But, you are right, there is a larger issue in this that I have wrestled with very, very often. When all the power in Hollywood resides with the pagans, there will be very few projects that Christians can sign on to with full, happy hearts.

But is the entertainment industry so different in this dilemma? Should a Christian write for the NY Times? Or, citing a dilemma one of my RN friends in Boston went through, should a Christian nurse work at Mass General where they are aborting babies on the fifth floor?

My position is yes, we need Christians to enter into all social structures so as to, as St. Teresa of Avila said it, "bring God where He is not." I resolved this matter when I was in film school at Northwestern.

I got accepted to the Masters program at what was then the #4 film school. The problem was, it was way more than I could afford. So, I applied for a campus job, and, lo and behold, I was called by the Undergrad Student Life Office. Hark! They had just received a $20,000 grant to hire a grad student to head up a new"Multi-Cultural Advocate" program. It would mean free room and board for me, plus $10,000. My prospective boss told me on the phone that she was a proud volunteer for Planned Parenthood, and that she saw this new position as getting in student's faces and forcing them out of their systemic midwestern prejudices. She went on to say that most of the students come to NU as racist, homophobic and unfeminist, and that it would be my job to fix that. She also told me that the next candidate in line was the guy who currently runs the campus Bisexual Gay and Lesbian office. She was reluctant to give him the job, she said, because she didn't want to divert him from the important work he was doing already.

I almost cried. Here I was a fanatical pro-life, orthodox Catholic, Reagan Republican, how could I possibly take this job in good conscience?

I talked to my Mom about it and she said, "Honey, you have had a life-time of preparation in a solid, prayerful family. You had a four years of philosophy and theology in a Great Books program. You spent nine years in religious life doing lots of Scriptural meditation and daily hours of adoration. Is it possible that you have been uniquely prepared to enter into this admittedly repugnant arena? For the sake of the hundreds of students who will be affected by this program, can you make this job something you can do?"

I did take the job. I made the year all about cutlural diversity and heroism. I supervised 30 students, one from each dorm, and we literally spent months discussing the nature of heroism and, then, what heroic choices would look like in a modern world where people are discriminated against for their age, disability, sex or race. And yes, sexual orientation.

My boss never really caught on, because every week we were having another gala celebration of another culture's contribution to the human family. Damn, if we didn't celebrate every nation on earth that year! The students loved it. And many of the kids in my group were absolutely empowered by the discussions to be people who always seek to make "a heroic choice."

I did have to sit through dreadfully subversive weekly meetings with the heads of the campus gay and women's organizations, among others, but I quickly found some allies among the other undergrad service offices, and we started playfully subverting lots of the weird cynical projects that the others were always proposing. I remember killing a campaign to put "Gay Safe Zone" stickers on every campus dorm room under the argument that they would render the whole issue "invisible" by making it trite. The year taught me a lot about winning a point by co-opting the other's side's tenets.

Anyway, I say all this because it is the same latitude which I extend to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are making beachheads all throughout this pagan industry. Very often, the most many of my friends have been able to do was keep some violating material off the screen. And they have had many victories known only to God. But already, things are getting better for the next generation because of these quiet heroes. (And yes, I would fight hard that our friend at 70's, sitting in the daily writers room with a group of foul-mouthed wise-asses who hold nothing sacred, is a hero. It has been a crushing weight for him many times, such a terrible place for a godly person to be...but he has done much good in the offices and on the set....and now, he is able to pitch his own show ideas.)

But this missionfield is clearly not for everyone. Working in this business is like swimming in shark-infested waters. So, why would anybody swim there? Only one reason could justify it from a Christian standpoint: because there are other people drowning there, and they have to be saved.