Monday, June 09, 2003


Already, a few of you are scoffing. "We're not 'afraid' of Hollywood, we just disdain it." If you need to say that, fine. But how about if I asked you, "Are you afraid of Hollywood's influence on your children or grandchildren?" Okay, then.

Some anecdotes...

- I spoke at a NC Christian Writers Conference recenty and met with a man who has published many successful novels that have crossed over from the CBA into the ABA. When I suggested to him that he should consider adapting some of his work for the entertainment industry he was taken aback (and, I think, almost insulted). He assured me, "I've been a writer my whole life, and it never, in my wildest moments, occurred to me to try and write for movies or television." Humph. Why is that?

- At a Eucharistic COngress in DC a few years back, after I gave my usual spiel about supporting the godly artists among us, a woman approached me with the statement that, "Our daughter has always wanted to be an actress. But her father and I told her we would pay for her to go to college to study ANYTHING but acting."

This is actually a story I have heard dozens of times from the young Christian actors I work with in Hollywood, but in the hope of getting this particular woman to think things through, I pretended to be shocked and confused. "Why?"

"Well," she explained, "we don't want her to lose her soul."

Oh, good, now, she'll just lose her mind instead.

- (This next anecdote stands for about a dozen similar anecdotes that I have been a sorrowful player in the last seven years. So much money being wasted...)

A group of Christians recently asked me to screen a roughcut of a feature film that they had made without any input or assistance from Hollywood professionals. The project had cost about five million dollars. None of the people involved in the project had ever made a movie before. Now, they wanted me to give them notes as to how to "edit the movie into shape."

I told them that movies are like liver on your dinner plate. You can cut it up and move it around and eat it to a nice soundtrack, but in the end, it is still liver. You can't edit garbage into shape.

So, why are we so afraid? I'll put my understanding of the fear and then my response to it. Amy Welborn weighed in with a characteristically thoughtful answer. My own take on the matter is much less subtle. I'll put Amy's thought first.

Why Christians are Afraid of the Entertainment Industry

1. (from Amy Welborn) "Might one fear be the fear of success? A strange fear in an industry that apparently consumes its young (and
old) and is very difficult to succeed in, but's also a very lucrative industry, and centered in a part of the world in which (or so I
understand) the "good life" is not exactly rooted in Gospel values. Are we (generically) afraid to succeed because we are afraid of being corrupted by success and the material fruit it brings?"

My only question here would be that there is success to be found in many other fields. By this reasoning, shouldn't we be afraid of succeeding at politics, or law, or business, or medicine? (Maybe we are...)

2. Because we have been so victimized by it.
We have been misconstrued and misrepresented. We have been set up as hypocrites and vilified for our teachings. Our faith has been blamed for many social ills, and we, its adherents have been labeled as being intolerant, ignorant and fearful. Our clergy have been represented as oppressive, fear-mongering meglomaniacs. Anything else?

My response: As an old Italian nun said to me once when I was complaining about something, “Eh. It still isn’t the agony in the garden.”

3. “It is nothing but a [insert your own anti-motivational adjective here - some typical ones: liberal, Democratic, pagan, secular, godless, Satanic] stronghold.”

My response: AND??????????? How very heroic of us. Remember when the Church used to send missionaries into the worst parts of the world? I can’t see the Jesuit martyrs of old, basing their apostolic initiatives on which tribe of savages was less inclined to eat them.

Even if Hollywood was as bad as all that, that should only be a greater incentive for us to roll up our sleeves, and, as Teresa of Avila said, "bring God where He is not." But really, this is a bad rap. Hollywood is no worse than Wall Street or Silicon Valley or Capital Hill or the Ivory Tower. Let's talk about the medical profession, for example. Maybe Hollywood is polluting the airwaves, but we aren't aborting 1.5 million babies a year now, are we? The truth is, every segment of society is sick. The media just gets in our face with it.

3. “Movies and television can’t be good if the masses like it.”
This fear pretends to be based in the Scripture that, "You are not of the world." It eschews anything popular with a kind of Christian gnosticism. The end result is in affirming our people in wiping their hands of the need to engage the culture.

My response: Some things are popular because they are great. Like soap or the wheel…. This is elitist doo-doo.

4. “I don’t believe in art by committee.”
This is a fear that seeks to disguise itself by diminishing the artform, rather like Aesop's fox diminished the grapes he couldn't reach. The insinuation is that the screen artform is somehow lowly because it very often is qualified by business concerns. The collaborative nature of cinema somehow prevents it from really being considered a work of art, because art is a God-to-artist, One-to-one act of inspiration and creation.

My response: You know nothing about the art of cinema. "Art" is anything made. It is anything in which there has been a selection of elements. Beautiful art is found in the harmonious selection of details. Cinema is composed of several different art forms. Literary, performance, composition, music, architecture, costuming, make-up, lighting, editing, etc, etc, etc... Each of these artfroms requires the isolation, reflection and creative act of the particular artist. Then, that artist harmonizes their product with the work of the others. So, cinema is a harmony of harmonies. It is essentially art by committee.

5. “It’s all garbage.”
This is a fear which finds its root in sloth.

My response: Ignorant. Lazy. Wrong. There is so much good work being done, that I have no patience with this at all. The problem perhaps is that there is so much media being produced, that it is more difficult to glean through it all to find the great work. But that just means it is harder to be alive today. It is a particular temptation today to try and simplify that which is by its nature complicated. These are trying times. Trying to pretend that they are not will only result in making messes.

6. “It is dangerously passive recreation.”

My response: Yeah, like reading is aerobic? I have no idea if watching movies is dangerous for human beings in the long-term anthropological sense. All I know is, it is here to stay, and the Magisterium has repeatedly called for us to be actively engaged in using it to spread the Gospel.

Stay tuned....

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