Tag Archives: Christian media

Evan and Gordon Talk: Why Christian Media Is So Bad

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.

GORDON: Steve Taylor is the only good Christian musician who ever has or ever will have existed.

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.

Self-imposed legalism.

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.”

GORDON: Exactly.

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.

Saying this will get you expelled from Liberty, Pensacola, and BJU

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.

GORDON: Nerd.

And with that witty response, we’re out! Have a good night, everyone.

EVAN: Spend it with better friends than Gordon.

Go Listen to “Guilty Pleasures: Art and Politics”

Two days ago Gordon and I talked about “hipster racism,” a topic he heard about via an eye-opening lecture by novelist China Miéville. The talk was titled Guilty Pleasures: Art and Politics, and discussed far more than what we were able to given our time.

A number of things: Firstly, I am not going to discuss or summarize his lecture in its entirety; it was forty-some minutes long and that would be ridiculous, just listen to it for yourself. Secondly, I am not a socialist, and much of what he was saying was through that filter. He did, after all, speak at a little something called “Socialism 2012.” I am not someone who has very strong political leanings, but I am someone who truly loves art in its many forms. The following are the three ideas he spoke about that stuck me the most.

The Artist and Their Art

Miéville, about a minute in, states that the socialist position on art and politics is this: “[socialists] do not judge art by the politics of the creator of that art.” He then quickly adds that they do so all the time anyway. I briefly wrote about this in a post about Jewish children’s author Rich Michelson. Michelson hosted a session that was largely about race and background, and how they impact audiences’ opinions of a work. Is a Jewish author allowed to write about the struggle of the civil right’s movement? And if not, then why?

The relationship between creator and his or her art is heavily debated, but its extremes are very easy to criticize. Miéville said that they’d all sat through “egregious folk music” simply because of the grounds of its sentiments expressed. Simply having a good message does not make art good. A Christian movie about the horrors of porn is not in and of itself a bad thing; having it feature ghosts [and be a clear knock-off of Paranormal Activity] is. To put it in the form of a proverb, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Feel free to replace “hell” with “bad art” or “disappointed audiences.”

Guilty Pleasures

The title of his talk and what I’m the most interested in, Miéville listed different axes of socialist guilt. The third of which [17:56] he says is:

The question of quality: “I know it’s not very good but I like it anyway.” A declaration of kind of defensive guilt.

The thing is, he realizes that the statement is inherently flawed. By saying something is not very good we declare that we can make qualitative judgements about art, and this leads to questions like: “What is art? What makes it good, bad, better? What kind of social phenomenon is it?”

When it comes to television shows I have a standard rule, and that is to watch it ’till its dying days. I have watched all of The Office to date, and that is the same as 30 RockHow I Met Your Mother, and a slew of other shows. Sooner or later they begin to break down [see my first example], but I stick to them. The reason I’m bringing this up is The Big Bang Theory.

Gordon hates TBBT. He hates it because, honestly, it’s not a very good show. He often says that “nerdface” is an excellent way to describe their treatment of the characters. That being said, I have, and do [sometimes still] enjoy it. Do I feel guilty? As an English and Writing major, yes. I studied for four years to differentiate between good and bad writing. As a general media consumer and television enthusiast, yes, I still feel guilty. And, as Miéville said, I somehow defend myself by admitting to others that I realize it is not very good.

Does this justify me? I don’t think so. But beyond what it means to be good or bad, what does it mean to like?

What Does It Mean to “Like” Art?

I like the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. I like the novels of Barbara Cummings [sp?]. I like Gramsci’s prison notebooks. [20:15]

None of these statements tells him anything about his relationship with each piece of art, because they’re all so distinct. What further complicates the verb is the discussion of “the art piece one enjoys disliking” [20:32]. We can like to dislike things; Justin Bieber basically encapsulates this idea by himself. While he never ends up truly defining the word, he seeks closure in the writing of another.

What follows is a piece of writing by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an 18th century writer, and Miéville’s response to it [34:45]:

“The pretty fellows you speak of I own entertain me sometimes, but is it impossible to be diverted with what one despises? I can laugh at a puppet show and at the same time know there is nothing in it  worthy of my attention or regard.”

This is one of the most liberating things I have ever read in terms of the cultural sphere. It is not obligatory to have footnoted opinions about everything you consume.

I read his meaning in that last paragraph as being that we need not get caught up in guilt. There should be a way of looking at what we like that doesn’t involve us castigating ourselves. I can enjoy the King Fantastic Remix of Drive It Like You Stole It without being a proponent of foul language. Likewise I can read AmazingSuperPowers, be amused, and not have to argue how high- or lowbrow its humour is. While the intent of an artist and the perceived quality of their work should be taken into account, there are times when we can simply like, or more simply enjoy, art, whatever it may be.