EVAN: The particular topic of discussion that comes to us today is more one that finds itself passed back and forth within Christian circles, and that is: “Why is Christian media so bad?”
GORDON: I think the problem is self-imposed by the religion (I use the term loosely) itself. We’re not talking about a lack of funding (we’ve got plenty of good low-budget films), or a lack of good directors (there’s plenty of decent talent out there), we’re talking about an issue that runs right down the core of it all.
“Christian” media can’t just be media- they have to drag in everything that goes with it.
EVAN: So basically what you’re saying, and we talked about this a little earlier, is that Christian media more often than not has an agenda, correct?
GORDON: I’d say plenty of it has an agenda, but no, I don’t think that’s the core issue- there’s plenty of other preachy movies out there.
EVAN: So what are you saying, exactly?
GORDON: I’m saying that “Christians” can’t make good media because they won’t allow themselves to. Every protagonist has to fit the moral code to a tee, so that they wind up as either Aslan 2.0 or the epitome of Christian morality: John Smith, the middle class suburban, patriotic family man. Which is why I keep putting “Christian” in quotation marks.
We’re not talking about Catholic peasants in El Salvador or the East Orthodox Church in Ethiopia.
EVAN: Okay, I like that a lot, this idea that those creators of Christian media [and primarily I think we’re talking about films] box themselves in. They’re telling the same sorts of stories to who they perceive to be their audience [and they’re not wrong]: white suburban middle class families.
To sort of break this up a little, I actually saw a Christian film that was reasonably passable at some point last summer.
GORDON: Was it related in any way to Steve Taylor?
EVAN: Is that any way related to “End of the Spear”? It was not, if that’s what you’re referring to.
But anyway, what was the movie you saw?
EVAN: It was called “To Save a Life,” and it stood out for a couple of reasons:
1) The cinematography was shockingly good for something produced and made by Christians. You can tell which movies they are within the first few seconds.
2) The “villain” of the piece was actually the pastor’s kid. Which was- refreshing, and kind of nice.
It kind of broke out of the whole stereotype you introduced earlier.
GORDON: Huh- interesting. I’ll have to check out the trailer. But let me ask you this:
Can a Christian make a James Bond movie?
EVAN: You mean a movie starring a suave, debonair British man who beds women and guns down henchmen as naturally as he dons his suit jacket every morning?
I’d say no, probably not.
GORDON: I think that’s the problem. It’s not just that you can’t have any explicit sex or graphic violence or excessive profanity (which are overused and abused as is), you can’t have anything even remotely sensual or rough or crude. It rips away reality and humanity in the name of not stepping on anyone’s toes.
EVAN: Well, I’d say the difference is that you can’t have a protagonist who glorifies such things as wanton sexuality-
I say that Christian filmmakers will never produce anything like James Bond because of who the character is.
GORDON: Did you like the movie “Fight Club”?
EVAN: I liked it a fair amount.
GORDON: Did you like “Ocean’s 11” or “Snatch”?
EVAN: I haven’t seen the latter, but I very much enjoyed the former.
GORDON: Did you like “Superbad”? “Kick-Ass”? “Ironclad”?
EVAN: I enjoyed aspects of the first, thought the second was a shaky, though fairly decent adaptation of the source material, and thought the third was pretty unfair in its depiction of “strong female characters.”
But I think you’re going to have to get to your point-
GORDON: Could a Christian make any of these movies?
EVAN: I think a Christian could, yes. In relation to “Fight Club”, at least, Christian author Ted Dekker has penned novels [sold both in and out of Christian bookstores] which offer a fairly decent psychological thriller aspect to the reader.
GORDON: Ah, Dekker. The whole reason he stands out as an exception is- I believe- that he grew up among Indonesian headhunters, and not in Middle America. Again, it’s about having that different perspective on life.
EVAN: And I think what he’s realized, as a creator of the arts, as someone who has a hand in shaping Christian media, is that you can have these other sorts of exciting, thrilling stories told with a faith-built worldview. People of every religion want a little excitement.
GORDON: Of that there’s no question. The heavy use of the video library at our school stands in testament to that.
But again I think the issue is that “Christian” self-imposed isolation inevitably leads to the vast majority of their work winding up as “White People Problems” or “Chronicles-of-Narnia-minus-the-good-stuff”…
EVAN: Or “Lord-of-the-Rings-but-way-more-heavy-handed.”
EVAN: I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about why Christian media can be bad [terrible production values, cookie-cutter story lines, sheer absurdity], but how could it be better [to harken back a little to our last talk]?
GORDON: They have to stop being terrified of the big bad world. They have to realize they can show characters with flaws- real flaws- not drunkard stereotypes and the occasional swear word.
EVAN: I mean, a deeply flawed person who finds redemption is a much more compelling story than a white bread sort of guy with his middle class problems.
And they have to stop coddling their audience. Yes, Christians turn to Christian media for “better alternatives,” but the odd cuss word won’t negate an overall positive message; neither will a fight scene, or two guys sitting around enjoying a beer.
GORDON: There’s this one scene in a (Christian) movie Steve Taylor directed:
A character hurts his hand loading something into the back of van. He lets loose a cuss word and his buddy chides him for it, saying “God don’t like it when we cuss.”
Later on in the film, the buddy hangs his head and apologizes, saying “I’m sorry. I was upset that you cussed- I should’ve just been upset that you hurt your hand.”
EVAN: Wow. That is very, very good.
GORDON: That right there is the problem not just with Christian media, but with the whole religion.
EVAN: Misplaced priorities.
GORDON: More obsessed with present clean-cut paragons of middle class etiquette than anything really real.
That’s why we turn to “secular” movies for actual substance. The struggle for identity in “Fight Club”, the heroism in “Kick-Ass”, the friendship in “Superbad.”
EVAN: I think what’s really ironic is that Christian media-makers have a Christian-made work out there that’s immensely popular. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” came out just this past December.
GORDON: I again reference an (alleged) quote by Steve Taylor.
“I’m not a Christian artist- I’m an artist who is Christian- it affects what I do.”
EVAN: Really well-put. And something that a lot of us [I speak for many in our graduating class] as writers, musicians, artists, et cetera would benefit from keeping in mind.
And that puts us more than a little overtime.
GORDON: Well, people, you know what that means. Time to vote on our subject for next week.
EVAN: My contribution this time around is . . . wow, I never think ahead . . . masculinity. You’ve done a post about “Manly Culture” in the past, but I want to talk about what it is at present, and how we feel about the shifts and trends and things.
GORDON: Interesting subject. I submit we speculate on the upcoming Star Wars movies.
EVAN: If you think you’re up for it, then yeah, cool. I’ve read quite a few of the post-original-trilogy books, so I know a reasonable amount about the subject.
And with that witty response, we’re out! Have a good night, everyone.
EVAN: Spend it with better friends than Gordon.
I’m glad you didn’t talk about music too much because honestly? There are dozens of explicitly Christian artists whose music outstrips mainstream music in-genre or otherwise in terms quality.
Of course it makes no sense to think that Christians on the whole are not a sampling of people in general and therefore would have as much talent over all as Buddhists or Atheists or Jews or Hindus or whatever. So I don’t believe talent is the issue.
Maybe it’s the defensiveness that leads someone to pound their point into the ground. I know that the Christian point of view on many issues is contrary to the “received” view of our post-Christian society. And so when I talk with secular people, I notice that they feel no need to argue or prove their position. They’ll just talk about women’s rights in abortion, for instance, as though every knows and agrees. There is a freedom and naturalness because it doesn’t even cross their minds that they are presenting ideas that might need to be argued or defended. But me, I’ll have an arsenal of arguments to present my case — and I need to have an arsenal because my point of view is not the accepted or received view. I’m aware that I’m arguing a minority case and so there can tend to be more defensiveness in my emotional state as I speak. More intensity..
Now, listen to the Hollywood-ites at the Oscars or Golden Globes. They pretty much all express an assumed modern secular point of view, liberal on political and moral issues, etc. So when they speak, they speak in a relaxed manner. they know they are among friends. The opposite points of view are so foreign to them, and so absurd in their thinking, that they feel no need to argue the points they’re making. And in their films it’s the same. But if someone on the Oscars wanted to speak from another worldview, knowing that what she was going to say would be rejected by 95% of the people in the room, she’d feel the need to present almost a “case” for her views. Maybe this happens in movies where the Christians end up building “cases” and seeming “preachy” and “unnatural” because they are aware they are presenting a view so contrary to what is received in popular culture that they go overboard.
But another issue is money. Fine, Christians can raise money sometimes to do films that present distinctly Christian values in a positive light, like Chariots of Fire, which won the academy award for best picture in ’81 or so. Bnd for the main part, this is NOT the case. Mel Gibson had to use his own money to make the Passion of the Christ. Those who hold the purse-strings in Hollywood will not spend money on themes they personally despise. and for the most part they despise Christianity. You’ve seen a million movies depicting some aspect of the Holocaust. When’s the last time you saw a movie about the persecution of Christians in Maoist China or Soviet Russia?
Ken, the fact that you not only read the post, but added to our discourse on the subject with your extremely well-though-out reply makes me grateful that you read our blog. Thank you for making such excellent points.
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