Tag archives: Pop Culture

Hollywood, The Hunt, and the Need for Self-Restraint

by Daniel Hart

August 16, 2019

Does Hollywood actually possess some amount of self-restraint? In the wake of the horrifying mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Universal Pictures announced that it would “cancel” the release of The Hunt, a movie about people who are politically liberal hunting down and killing other people who are politically conservative (who later get revenge by killing the liberals in return). The film’s original title was Red State Vs. Blue State.

But wait. Universal is actually reserving the right to release the film at a later date, presumably when the public outcry over the film has subsided. So much for self-restraint.

Artistry Flourishes Within Boundaries

It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall in the room where executives at Universal decided to go ahead and finance a movie like The Hunt. Out of all the movie scripts to choose from, out of all the historical and creative subject matter that could have been crafted into a compelling film, Universal decided that a movie about people murdering other people for sport based on their political views was the one to make.

It appears that the general principle that guides Hollywood these days is that if a movie script is predicted to make money at the box office, it should be made, no matter what the actual content of the movie is. The excuse that Hollywood often uses is “creative license,” where any idea—no matter how twisted and debased—can be made into a movie. This is not only deeply disturbing, morally offensive, and degrading to society, it’s also not a good recipe for a well-crafted movie with any redeemable merit.

During most of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1920 – 1960), there was a code of guidelines (called the “Motion Picture Production Code”) that filmmakers followed regarding the content of their movies, which included rules for how sensitive subject matters like sex or murder could be portrayed. The code included a number of antiquated rules such as a prohibition against scenes of childbirth, but for the most part, the rules merely guarded against the positive portrayal of gratuitous sex, violence, drug use, and other obvious societal evils.

Did this code end up suppressing the creativity and artistry of Hollywood? Quite the contrary. During this period, Hollywood produced what are considered to be some of the greatest and most iconic films of all time, including Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, On the Waterfront, It Happened One Night, From Here to Eternity, Double Indemnity, Vertigo, Ben-Hur, and It’s a Wonderful Life, to name just a few.

I’m not suggesting that we should return to this kind of official content censorship being enforced on all films. I’m merely pointing out that filmmakers can make great movies while still practicing self-restraint in what they choose to put on film.

Evil is the Result of Unrestrained “Freedom”

Somewhere along the line, probably in the late 60’s, many filmmakers stopped believing that they had any responsibility for what they exposed the public to. In times past, particularly during the aforementioned Golden Age of Hollywood, there was an understood expectation that a movie would always have some kind of redeeming value for society. In other words, a film could deal with extremely serious and even disturbing subject matter, but in the end, there was always some kind of insight gained about the human condition that was edifying for the audience. There was an implicit understanding that the whole point of art itself is to portray inherent truths about the nature of humanity and existence in new, imaginative, and enriching ways.

This is in stark contrast to what many movies and TV shows do today. In the name of “realism” and “free expression,” murders are shown in full and unnecessary gratuitous detail, sex scenes and nudity are clearly used for titillation instead of suggestion, and vile profanity and blasphemy is spewed unflinchingly and continuously without a second thought. All of this is often included in modern films and shows without any thought to how it might negatively affect the minds and behaviors of the viewing public.

But something much more insidious and disturbing is now happening. With movies like The Hunt, we are seeing humanity’s darkest and most evil tendencies being dredged up from the depths of our basest subconscious imaginings and being made into a movie. In other words, our darkest and most evil human instincts are being expertly filmed and acted out by Hollywood’s professional directors, cinematographers, and actors and being presented to society for public consumption.

When creative license is left to its own totally unrestrained devices, this is often the result. In a society where mass shootings happen with disturbing regularity and where the coarsening of our public discourse and behavior continues unabated, making major motion pictures like The Hunt for wide release is, in a psychological sense, akin to dumping a bucket of red meat next to a pasture of sheep in the countryside where wolves are known to prowl. While I’m sure that the filmmakers of The Hunt didn’t make the movie to intentionally incite violence, do they not care about the movie contributing to a coarsening of our culture toward increased hatred and violence? Did they not think of its potential danger to inspire deranged individuals to commit violence and murder?

3 Steps to Take for Believing Viewers

As believers, we should pray often for the filmmaking and television industry, that all filmmakers, actors, and writers be given a basic sense of self-restraint. These people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong to make movies like The Hunt, but they do it anyways to get a cheap thrill or to concede to financial and societal pressures. We must pray that their consciences guide them to make movies and TV shows that have redeemable value for society.

Second, we must put our resources where our own hearts are by supporting the aspiring artists in our own believing communities to enter the film and television industries and make a difference for true artistry that celebrates the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Third, we must carefully discern which movies we go to see at the theater and which movies and TV shows we choose to watch on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. These companies are carefully analyzing which kinds of movies and shows are the most popular so that they can make more content like them and consequently make more money. Our decisions to only watch movies and shows that have redeemable value are important in showing the industry that people actually want to see movies that have something valuable to say about the human condition instead of being mindlessly entertained by gratuitously graphic garbage.

Speaking the Truth in Love: How The Bachelorette Got It Both Wrong and Right

by Laura Grossberndt

August 8, 2019

Is it ever okay for a Christian to question or “judge” the behavior of another person, particularly if that person also professes to be a Christian? ABC’s wildly popular reality dating show The Bachelorette, which wrapped up its 15th season last week, served as an unconventional and unexpected proving ground for this deeply theological question.

This season’s star of The Bachelorette, Hannah Brown, openly describes herself as a follower of Jesus and a woman of faith. One of her suitors, Luke Parker, is also a professing Christian. In the season premiere, Luke described the moment he decided to put his faith in Jesus and make a lifestyle change which included abstaining from sex until marriage. Luke quickly emerged as a frontrunner for the coveted “final rose” and Hannah’s love—and their seemingly shared faith was a primary reason.

The would-be couple’s budding relationship quickly turned turbulent, however, as Luke was constantly at odds with the other men seeking Hannah’s favor. But Luke’s sometimes imprudent behavior and immature reactions to interpersonal conflict were just precursors to the season’s most explosive drama: a highly-charged conversation concerning premarital sex.

We Can’t Have Grace Without Repentance

Luke wanted a verbal confirmation from Hannah that they were on the same page about saving sex for marriage. He tells Hannah that he would remove himself from the competition if she (hypothetically) were to reveal to him that she had been sexually intimate with another man on the show. Hannah then says that she has had sex with another one of her suitors, and while “sex might be a sin out of marriage,” she is confident Jesus loves her despite it.

Hannah compares Luke’s desire to end their relationship to the famous John 8 account of the woman caught in adultery. Hannah views Luke’s disapproval of her actions as him holding a metaphorical stone in front of her face. In her opinion, Luke’s sin of pride precludes him from objecting to her behavior.

Is Hannah right?

For context’s sake, here are some key takeaways from John’s account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11):

  • Jesus shone a light on the sinful nature of all those involved.
  • Jesus is the only one without sin.
  • Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery.
  • Jesus forgave the woman and instructed her to go and sin no more.

The woman caught in adultery committed sexual sin; and yes, Jesus still loved her. While Jesus, by virtue of his sinlessness, had the right to condemn sin, He does something unexpected, yet in keeping with His mission to fulfill the law. He extends grace (“neither do I condemn you”) while also instructing her to repent and change (“go and sin no more”).

Many want the grace Jesus offers without the repentance. But we cannot have one without the other. Receiving God’s grace is inextricably tied to repentance.

Avoiding Hypocritical Judgment

Can a Christian call another Christian to account for their sin? Was Luke wrong to find fault in Hannah’s actions?

In Matthew 7, Jesus warns his followers against judging others while simultaneously ignoring their own sin, because “with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Does that mean Christians can never judge the actions and behavior of others? No. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to judge those within the church and refuse them the status of “brother” if they continue in patterns of unrepentant sin:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Speaking the Truth in Love

The act of a Christian calling another Christian to account for their sin can be a loving one, provided it is done out of a desire to help the other Christian toward righteousness, and that it is done with tenderness and humility, recognizing one’s own sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness.

Christians (“little Christs”) get our name because we are called to follow the example of Jesus. We are called to forgive one another and pursue holiness in our personal and corporate life. It is easy to emphasize one to the neglect of the other. However, to faithfully follow Christ, we need to be walking in both forgiveness and repentance. Extending forgiveness without requiring repentance leaves someone still under the curse of sin, while repentance that is not accompanied by forgiveness is antithetical to the gospel’s offer of reconciliation with God.

Hannah and Luke’s conversation in the late stages of the show reveals they were not as likeminded on sex and theology as they initially thought. A lot of pain and heartache could have been avoided if this conversation had taken place much earlier in their relationship. Whether one is a professing Christian or not, if you have radically different opinions on sex than the person you are dating, you should not be dating them. Those irreconcilable differences will inevitably cause problems down the road.

However, in addition to their disagreements about sexual intimacy, Hannah and Luke also displayed different, improper, and inadequate reactions to sin. Hannah demonstrated lack of remorse for the actions Jesus tenderly warns against. While Luke is justified for wanting to be on the same page about sexual intimacy as his potential future spouse, his manner of approaching the topic needed more Christ-like humility and discernment. Scripture speaks to both improper perspectives:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

[S]peaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ … [L]let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:15, 25-27, 31-32)

Wisdom says a reality dating show such as The Bachelor or The Bachelorette is not the ideal environment for Christians to find a spouse. The concept of dating multiple people at one time, while being cut off from the fellowship and counsel of friends, family, and church community for several weeks, is not a recipe for righteous living or lasting love (Proverbs 18:1, Hebrews 10:24-25).

But while it may be unwise, that does not mean that those appearing on the show who profess to be Christians are not sincere in their profession. While I do not know either Hannah or Luke personally, I wish nothing but the best for them and hope this experience will drive them closer to God and to a better understanding of sin, the gospel, true love, and compassion in Jesus Christ.

This season’s viewers of The Bachelorette probably did not expect to encounter conversations about sin and the nature of God’s forgiveness. However, the contestants are real-life people wrestling with real-life problems, and it is only natural for two people contemplating marriage to want to agree on matters as weighty as theology and sex. Unfortunately, the seriousness of sin and its consequences was minimized, while the love and forgiveness of the gospel was inadequately conveyed. Despite what The Bachelorette may have led its audience to believe, Christians are right to judge the behavior of other Christians, provided we do so out of Christ-like compassion, speaking the truth in love.

Laura Grossberndt is on staff at Family Research Council.

Taylor Swift and the Politicization of Pop Music

by Lauren Kaylor

July 10, 2019

In spring 2019, Taylor Swift announced that her newest album would “have political undertones,” and she was not kidding.

This June, she released the album’s second single and accompanying music video entitled “You Need to Calm Down.” The song is an unambiguous announcement of her support for the LGBT movement and a denouncement of anyone who isn’t fully on board with it. Lyrics like, “You would rather live in the Dark Ages,” and “Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?” leave no middle ground. 

In the video, Swift parades around glamorously with celebrities and a multitude of individuals who identify as homosexual and transgender. A group of toothless, unwashed, scraggily-haired protesters also make a garish appearance, brandishing misspelled signs like “Get a brain, moran.” The video is crystal-clear social commentary with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. But the video goes a step further than one would normally expect from a popstar. At the end of the video, text appears calling for direct political action: “Please sign my petition for Senate support of the Equality Act on Change.org.”

As FRC has made clear, the “Equality Act” would in reality create vast amounts of inequality in our society through its codification of “sexual orientation/gender identity” (SOGI) laws. Among other injustices, the Equality Act would require small business owners like bakers, florists, and photographers to celebrate same-sex weddings, allow men who identify as women to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms and compete in women’s sports, shut down faith-based adoption agencies because of their religious beliefs, and force all medical providers, regardless of their conscientious objections, to perform sex-change surgeries.

Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” gives us a unique two-fold opportunity. First, you can respond to her petition by signing FRC’s own petition to halt the Equality Act. Second, you can use technology to respond with genuine love and reconciliation toward those who see any opposition to the LGBT agenda as “hateful.”

John 13:35 tells us that “They will know you by your love for one another.” Other verses that speak truth into this are 1 Corinthians 13 and Luke 6:27-36. Christians are called to love others completely, even those who disagree with or hate us. True love does not mean agreeing on everything or accepting all lifestyle choices, but it means willing the good of the other. Christians are called to love people who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Loving does not equate to pandering to views that contradict our beliefs. We ought to will the good of one another because we love them—because we love Christ. For this reason, we want the LGBT movement to know of God’s love for them.

Christians are called to the ministry of reconciliation, which can only be manifested in the advent of love. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting peoples’ sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

I propose that Christians embrace their role as Christ’s ambassadors and show others Christ inside of us. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” When we accept our role as His ambassadors, the Holy Spirit will work through us and bust the false narrative of “hate.” Let us show so much of Christ’s love to those who disagree with us that Taylor Swift’s heart might be led to change. 

Lauren Kaylor is an intern for Life, Culture, and Women’s Advocacy at Family Research Council.

What the Rise of the “Anti-Hero” in Entertainment Says About Our Culture

by Kim Lilienthal

March 11, 2019

A new hallmark of this generation is the elevation of the “anti-hero” in our entertainment. The anti-hero is an archetypal character used in storytelling who lacks conventional heroic attributes and ethics. Because they do not ascribe to the upstanding values and morals of traditional heroes, they often cross into the realm of the villainous. They are driven by classically negative inspirations: selfishness, loss, jealousy, pride, and hate, to name a few.

The anti-hero has been featured in popular films and stories before (think Han Solo or Watchmen’s Rorschach), but in more recent years, we have seen a massive influx of these characters into our entertainment. Just look at any highly rated show or film that has been released in the past ten years, and it will most likely feature an anti-hero as the main character: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, House, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and several Marvel favorites, such as Jessica Jones, Deadpool, Venom, Daredevil, Wolverine, and the Punisher. These are just a few examples from the growing list.

But what is so fascinating about this type of character that they are now taking over our TVs and movie theaters?

Simply put, the anti-hero appeals to the dark realities of human experience far more than the classic upstanding hero ever could. He is more complex and has motivations that are more relatable to the human experience. Walter White, for all his terrible deeds throughout Breaking Bad, remains a sympathetic character to many fans of the show, even to the very end, because we were able to witness, step by step, his descension from a relatively normal family man into a violent and prideful criminal. He makes awful, morally bankrupt choices, and yet there is still something inside us that wants to see him succeed. 

It is interesting that we, as a culture, have decided to embrace this kind of chaotic neutral character over the lawful good. Why is this shift occurring?

Moral Ambiguity

As religious belief in the west continues to decline, questions of ethics become more and more difficult to answer, and the lines between right and wrong become blurred. We find ourselves in an age when we can’t decide whether men are men or women are women, or whether an infant is a person, and this overall lack of cultural moral discernment is reflected in our anti-heroes. The anti-hero does not operate under a code of ethics; he simply does whatever is most useful to his goals at the time, whether it helps someone or hurts them.

This introduces the concept that any action can be rationalized when seen from the right perspective. Our popular stories no longer draw stark lines between good and evil; they instead push the concept that people’s lives are too complex, the decisions they make too influenced by circumstance, to be able to cast moral judgments on their actions. When seen from a different perspective, actions that are understandable to one person might be completely abhorrent to another. There is no “good guy” to stand for justice and beat the “bad guy,” because who’s to say that the good guy isn’t actually a judgmental tyrant who is forcing his own ideals onto others?

Disillusionment with Idealism

The anti-hero also represents a sense of disillusionment with idealism: Corruption is being uncovered everywhere we look—in politics, in entertainment, in the church, and in our own families. Trust in authority figures who claim to be virtuous has been all but obliterated, as those who were supposed to be the best among us are revealed to be the worst.

Because of this disillusionment, this generation, probably more than any other, is more interested in seeing the world for what it is, rather than what it could be, and this paradigm is reflected in the anti-hero. The ideal of the morally upstanding hero has been replaced with a more realistic, more flawed protagonist. He doesn’t operate under any “unfounded” higher principles. He is a pragmatist who doesn’t ascribe to ideals because they only get in the way. He doesn’t pretend to be virtuous, but accepts the darkness within himself and unapologetically uses it to his advantage. And we, the modern audience, don’t care if he is morally compromised as long as he is effective.

An Antidote to Hopelessness

In the end, the celebration of the anti-hero reflects a sense of resignation in our culture to cast off morals and ideals as unrealistic and inconvenient. But what it does not account for is that it takes considerably more strength and resolve to remain idealistic in an increasingly cynical world. When the going gets tough and the world is against you, is it not more difficult and more rewarding to stand firm in your beliefs rather than dropping them as soon as they are tested?

This is why a foundation of faith and belief in something greater than ourselves is vital. It provides the antidote to hopelessness and moral ambiguity. Ideals are crucial to a life of meaning, because they allow us to set our sights on an existence outside of our own and work toward becoming everything God intended us to be.

Kim Lilienthal is an intern at Family Research Council.

If I had a hammer and a sickle

by Robert Morrison

February 3, 2014

Last week’s passing of folk singer Pete Seeger was duly noted in the nation’s prestige press. Most stories noted that the 94-year old had been a major force in the revival of folk music in America. He had indeed. And many of us enjoyed his singing. Referring to Pete’s endless political involvements, the media decorously referred to him as an “activist,” a progressive.

But, as Grove City College’s tireless researcher, Dr. Paul Kengor, reminds us here: Pete Seeger was a lifelong Communist. It took Pete more than half a century to express any reservations about Josef “Uncle Joe” Stalin.

The 26-year rule of the Iron Man (stalin in Russian means “man of steel”) was punctuated by the sounds of bullets in the back of millions of skulls. Western people knew this, or sensed it.

Britain’s irrepressible Lady Astor, the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons, once confronted Stalin in the Kremlin, asking him bluntly: “How long are you going to keep killing people?” All of Stalin’s henchmen, those Communist apparatchiki who managed to survive his relentless purges, froze in place. Uncle Joe, however, seemed nonplused. He simply continued drawing on his pipe and said in his soft voice: “As long as it is necessary.”

It remained necessary until the day—March 5, 1953—that Stalin died. Stalin’s contribution to the history of man’s inhumanity to man is best remembered in the innocuous name of GuLAG, the Russian acronym for “State Administration for Camps.” Those camps were spread out throughout the twelve time zones of the USSR. Some of the portals of the GuLAG were no bigger than a telephone booth. Some of the camps where millions perished were larger than France.

Nobel Prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave the world the incontrovertible evidence of Stalin’s crimes against humanity in his massive, three-volume work, The GuLAG Archipelago. For his boldness in speaking truth to power, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by the KGB, hauled back through what prisoners called “the gates of hell” in Moscow, and threatened with his life and the lives of his wife and beloved sons. He told his KGB interrogators that they could take his life, and even his family members’ lives. His evidence would be presented. It was already in the hands of his publishers in Paris.

Instead of killing him, the Soviet rulers decided to kick him out, and let his family go with him. They reasoned that the West would soon grow tired of this stern moralist, this prophetic visionary, this Christian witness. And soon we did. Or at least the chattering classes soon tired of him.

But everyone who could read TIME, Newsweek, or The New York Times in 1974 knew about Solzhenitsyn’s brave stance against Stalin and the GuLAG—and against Stalin’s heirs then still in power in the USSR.

Pete Seeger surely read about the crimes of Communism, and not in right-wing journals, either, but in the approved publications of the liberal Left. It would be another 33 years before Pete could bestir himself to utter a word of criticism of Stalin. By that time, the USSR had imploded and even the Russians were publicly speaking of Stalin’s “empire built on bones.”

Solzhenitsyn had described Communism succinctly as “atheism with a knife at your child’s throat.” I knew that that was certainly true for the Russian dissident writer himself, but last year I read Anne Applebaum’s massive documentation of the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

This honest liberal details unsparingly the crushing out of all forms of religious, civil, political, social, scientific, and artistic freedom in that vast area “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.” Churchill pointed to an “Iron Curtain” that the Man of Steel had brought down.

Anne Applebaum’s book of that title confirms virtually everything that Solzhenitsyn had said in the GuLAG. She even relates the story of the last non-Communist premier of Hungary. Leaving Budapest for a weekend visit to Switzerland, the unfortunate official was told to submit his resignation at once. Only then would his beloved son be allowed to join him in exile in the West.

Communism: Atheism with a knife at your child’s throat.

Ron Radosh is another honest chronicler of American Communism. A “red diaper” baby himself, Radosh was raised by Communists and lived for decades in the Communist orbit in America.

Ron Radosh’s gentle rebuke to his former banjo teacher, Pete Seeger, is titled “The Red Warbler.” That’s an inside joke, folks. One of the great dramatic moments in the history of anti-Communism in this country came in 1948 when members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) were grilling former New Dealer, Alger Hiss. The suave, elegantly thin Ivy Leaguer Hiss denied under oath even knowing Whittaker Chambers.

Chambers, an ex-TIME Magazine editor, was the rumpled, portly “witness” who accused Hiss of having provided him with Top Secret State Department documents for transmittal to the USSR in the 1930s.

HUAC questioners, seeming to lighten up on Hiss, asked him about his hobbies. He acknowledged he was a birder. And he brightened up when he spoke of having once seen a very rare bird in Washington’s Rock Creek Park—a prothonotary warbler.

That was the very incident that Chambers had alerted committee members to in secret session. It was that rare bird that established the truth of what Whittaker Chambers had been saying. And that bird sent Hiss to prison, not for espionage, but for perjury.

Pete Seeger managed never to have to say he was sorry. One of my favorite Pete Seeger songs is the tune he crooned about the USS Reuben James. This U.S. Navy destroyer had been sunk by a Nazi U-boat in October, 1941. “What were their names/tell me what were their names/Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James” was the song Pete and his comrades sang—urging the American people to abandon their neutrality and enter World War II against Hitler’s Nazi menace.

All very appealing—except that just months before, prior to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union—Pete and his pals were agitating against American involvement in the “imperialist war.” That’s because Stalin was then an ally of Hitler.

Pete was nothing if not nimble. He could pick and strum and sing like a warbler. And when the Communist Party required it, he could turn on a dime. Or is that a

kopeck?

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