By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
For most of this yearI focused on positives in media. I did a series which included how video games, movies, and TV are getting more complex, more intellectual, and more interesting. And I spent the last two months talking about the rise of Christian film distribution in Hollywood, focusing on six films which were released last fall. I thought it would be a good time at the end of the year to remind us all of what we already know but often choose to ignore: there’s plenty that’s morally wrong and challenging with the entertainment industry.
Over the Edge
Artists like to push the edge of what is socially acceptable, which usually just results in there being a new, more extreme edge. Last summer I encountered the new edge in television. The nudity, cussing, gore, and sex scenes which used to belong only to so-called premiere channels like HBO and Showtime have made their way to cable networks like TNT. I suspect the old, main networks aren’t far behind.
Horror show gore is now shockingly gory, backside nudity is now acceptable, homosexual portrayals are almost as common as heterosexual portrayals—and both are becoming more graphic even with a carefully placed sheet or blanket—and the s-word is now OK for broadcast. It’s at best annoying, at worst shocking, and at most offending.
What can we do about it?
A Few Practical Tips
We need to protect our children from the negatives as best we can. That means taking the time to find out about new shows they and we want to watch. It also means making sacrifices—choosing not to watch shows we like but our kids shouldn’t see.
We need to draw some personal lines in the sand. Paul said, “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33), and we often keep company with TV. Paul also said, “I have the right to do anything—but not everything is beneficial” (10:23). I think that means we have freedom to choose what we will and won’t watch, but we should exercise that freedom to glorify Christ. But as with the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols (vv. 23-31), I think we should be very careful about judging each other regarding our viewing choices.
As our kids get older, they need to watch more than Disney cartoons. Jesus didn’t run away from the world. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes (Matthew 9:10). At the same time, however, I think we and our kids could probably use some strong doses of media innocence, and to that end I recommend we record some old TV shows and movies. There are plenty of classic war movies, comedies, adventure movies, and love stories we can comfortably watch and even still enjoy despite our modern likes and dislikes.
Check out Turner Classic Movies and TV Land, for example. Look at the classics category on Netflix. Some nostalgia and innocence might improve our outlooks on life. My wife and I like old pirate movies—doesn’t matter what era they’re from. And I personally think Americans enjoy Jane Austen movies (or films of that era) because we love seeing 19th century manners—something missing from our lives today.
Responding to the Artists
I also think we can offer an answer to the artists—writers, filmmakers, musicians—who don’t want their creativity “stifled” by “old-fashioned morals” (or rather by morals of any kind). Some will say that they don’t want limits or censorship imposed on their art. If these friends won’t listen to a moral argument, maybe they will listen to an artistic one:
What is it that makes soccer an interesting sport to watch? It’s what you can’t do. It’s the fact that you can’t touch the ball with your hands and arms. What makes the sport wonderful is the limitation placed on people and how they subsequently overcome that limitation with their feet and heads.
Many consider Dostoevsky the greatest novelist in history. He wrote in a time of extreme censorship, producing great works of literature still loved and studied today.
Wordsworth wrote a poem called “Nuns Fret Not,” in which he celebrates the extreme limitations imposed on the poet by a form called the sonnet. In writing a sonnet, the poet is limited to 14 lines, 10 syllables per line, and a particular rhythm and rhyme scheme. But some of the greatest poems in the history of the English language, many 400 and 500 years old but still read today, are sonnets. It’s the poet’s ability to work within the limitations that makes him and his poetry great.
Artists today can be challenged to do the same. Is it possible to do great art and be G or PG rated? I think it is.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.