Hollywood’s Strategy for Success: Read Philippians 4:8 and do the opposite…

I was reading today in the Wall Street Journal‘s “Hollywood Report” by Brooks Barnes about the new Henry VIII-themed soap opera, “The Tudors,” that cable network Showtime is getting ready to roll out to combat the popularity of HBO’s “The Sopranos.”  How they plan to make it “competitive” is clear enough from the article…

•  “…the first two installments feature an over-the-top sex scene about every eight minutes.”

•  “Our Henry is a total rock star.”

•  “The idea to focus on Henry VIII as a sex-starved twentysomething…”

(One of the series’ trailers touts the show as “The true story you thought you knew.”  And the reason you only “thought” you knew it is because they are making a great deal up.  The WSJ article notes that “‘The Tudors’ may stretch the truth to new limits.  Although the series follows Henry VIII’s various military conquests, his dealings with the church and the infamous six marriages, it sticks to the facts only about 85% of the time, [show creator] Mr. Hirst estimates.”  I would suspect that Mr. Hirst’s estimate is a bit high.)

The show apparently fits in well with Showtime’s other attempts at breaking into the “big time” with fictional series hoping to be as successful as their more profitable rival: a series about homosexual women and their relationships, a series about a drug-dealing suburban mother, and series about a “congenial serial killer.”  I think I see a theme, here…

(Insert audible sigh, here.)

I am reminded of a section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of January 5 that I have saved for some time wanting to comment on it but constantly finding myself choking on the volume of words I wish to say, much like a typewriter getting its keys jammed by a typist who types too quickly (for the younger among us, typewriters were ancient versions of word processors, used before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs gave fire to the cavemen).

In that Post-Dispatch section (section E, the “Everyday” section), the front page was filled with three movie reviews.  Reading the titles of the reviews along with the content of the movies, themselves, made for interesting and informative comparisons…

•  Movie #1 — Review’s Title: “Gutsy drama is an insightful glance into grown-up life”; Movie’s Rating: “R (for strong sexuality and nudity, language and some disturbing content)”; Big Theme: Adultery in suburbia.

•  Movie #2 — Review’s Title: “Tale exudes the odor of movie making mystery”; Movie’s Rating: “R (for aberrant behavior, nudity, violence, sexuality, disturbing images)”; Big Theme: Psychopath (our “hero”) needs to murder 13 women.

•  Movie #3 — Review’s Title: “Dench, Blanchett captivate in striking drama”; Movie’s Rating: “R (for language and some aberrant sexual content)”; Big Theme: Obsessive, self-absorbed lives of a pedophile and a homosexual.

Yes, some of you who may have seen the films may feel that I have oversimplified them in my “Big Theme” summaries, and I don’t mean to dilute my point by doing that.  But it can’t be denied that dark, dominating presence of sin in each case is the big draw of each film.  It is the central and powerful presence of sin and wretched-yet-glorified lives that supposedly makes each of these films “compelling”, “captivating”, “striking”, “bold”, “exhilarating”, “gutsy”, [fill in your own praise-giving Movie Review adjective here].  Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:8, which wraps up, “if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things,” is not just lost in the “din of sin”…  Taking the opposite of his God-breathed advice is the profitable rule of Hollywood: “if there is any vice and if there is anything disgraceful — meditate (and profit) on these things.”

[By the way: There is an argument that films such as these can be a good thing — that by displaying how ruinous such sinful lives are to those who lead them, they do not glorify the sin but rather deter others, especially the young, from living such lives, themselves.  For example, supposedly movies like 1991’s Boyz n the Hood (I know I’m showing my age, here) show the “harsh reality” and “tragic consequences” of choosing a life of gang violence, etc. and this deters those who watch it from wanting such a lifestyle.  I’m sorry, but the argument just doesn’t hold much water.  I remember hearing something on this matter from the police during my days as a high school teacher in Texas a decade-or-so ago.  They said that in those days virtually every time they busted a gang house in our area, there was one movie predictably present in the house, often actually in the VCR at the very moment of the bust: Boyz n the Hood.  There is a perverted form of glorification that often occurs when a lifestyle is given “screen time,” often regardless of the treatment that lifestyle is given or the tragic consequences that the writer attaches to it.]

Around the same time that these reviews came out, my wife clipped a political cartoon out of the paper and handed it to me (I would give credit to where credit is due, but I cannot make out the artists name).  It showed a stereotypical “redneck” couple standing outside a movie theatre “Mega-Plex” reviewing the titles:

  1. Car Chase to Nowhere X
  2. Screenwriter Massacre V
  3. Specious Effects XII
  4. Laffs About Nothing IV
  5. Nekkid Airheads XV
  6. Heart-Warming Lies VI

In the cartoon, upon reviewing these movie options the burly-looking husband declares, “Hmm… they all look so good…”

I chuckled at the cartoon, as the titles were pretty funny.  In drawing the characters, though, making the couple appear “redneck” is needless stereotyping.  I could easily imagine a sequel cartoon in which a more “refined” couple — perhaps a movie critic and a cable channel program director — reviewing their own list of movie titles at the Mega-Plex: “Breaking the Seventh Commandment, Part III”, “Flagrantly Disregarding Leviticus 18:22 — The Movie”, “Gloriously Tragic Lives of the Lewd, Lascivious, and Licentious”, etc.  What might the cartoon show the couple saying?  Perhaps: “What gutsy, insightful, and intelligent movies!”

My pastor way back in Dallas said something to us in our Spokesman Club after a session in which we discussed how to draw a clearer line between acceptible and unacceptible forms of entertainment — be it movies, art work, music etc.  He suggested Philippians 4:8 as a broad but helpful guideline in this regard, which is what prompted it to come to mind above.  And while I have not followed that guideline perfectly since then, I have always benefited when I have done so.  Go figure.  May God help me to follow that guideline more closely as the days go by.

So to wrap up this rather rambling blog entry, let me suggest for your consideration an element of self-examination as we enter these days leading up to Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.  How do your entertainment choices measure up to Philippians 4:8?  To help you start, let me give Paul the last word, and have a great Sabbath!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:8

12 thoughts on “Hollywood’s Strategy for Success: Read Philippians 4:8 and do the opposite…

  1. Glen Dean

    Looking at it more soberly now and considering the tragedy of the reality of the Truth of the state of our nation – I nevertheless had to laugh out loud when I read the title to this blog; how true it is …

  2. Looks like I’d be better off driving a four-door than watching a Tudor.

    This reminds me of this year’s Academy Awards host. It’s been ten years since Ellen DeGeneres ignited protests outside TV stations by admitting on her sit-com she was a lesbian. From what I could tell, no one raised a complaint about her this year.

    In fact, the TV station in my city that declined to show that episode in 1997 now shows Ellen’s talk show every morning. And it’s the same General Manager.

  3. (Isaiah 3:9 ESV) For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.

    Anybody read Michael Medvid’s reviews of the movies? He used to point out his amazement that Hollyweird, Caliporneia (terms I’m borrowing from others) would keep making movies like these despite the fact that they did so poorly at the box office. By now, though, the constant onslaught of such “edgy” stuff must’ve shaped public taste enough so that it turns a profit. I haven’t read anything by Michael in a while; I’ll have to see if he’s still in business (or has thrown up his hands in disgust).

  4. Sorry to drop in again…I figured I should’ve looked up the spelling (and any Web presence) first.


    While you’re at it, Mr. Smith…in the light of Phlippians 4:8 and other verses, what do you believe our thinking should be with regard to speculative fiction — anything from children’s literature and media to fantasy, SF, RPG, etc. for teens and adults? Horror and pornography are obviously out, but I come out of a background involving the others and would really be interested in your comments (and the Church’s, for that matter). I guess the basic question is, what is human imagination for if we’re told on the one hand that we shouldn’t imagine contrary to what God has planned for us and told on the other that we’re unable to imagine what God has planned for us? “Seeing through a glass darkly” at best can be really frustrating for people like me! If I’m going to overcome my background, I think I need some guidance — and I’m sure that I’m not alone.

  5. Ally

    I agree with you, Mr. Wheeler – for those of us who love a good book, it’s difficult to know exactly where to draw the line. I like the occasional sci fi, and murder mysteries take up most of my reading time. I work in a library, so I see lots of tempting titles go by. I also like to write, and now and then taking fantasy to great heights is fun – also it’s an easy way to explain why something impossible just happened when you (the writer) think it’s a great idea and you have no feasible explanation for it. So here we are, balancing between fiction and the “real” world and the wonderful world we in God’s Church live in.

  6. Howdy, Mr. Wheeler —

    Actually, it’s funny, but Mr. Ogwyn gave the suggestion he did (to consider Philippians 4:8 as a fundamental guideline concerning our art form consumption) in response to a wide-ranging Spokesman Club discussion that included a number of sci-fi, fantasy movie mentions.

    I lump it in, as well, with Paul’s admonition of 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, which I will here combine:

    All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.
    All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
    All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

    Some get caught up in focusing on the “difficult scripture” aspect of these verses and on proving that Paul was not saying the law was obsolete (which he wasn’t as context makes clear). But that’s too bad, because Paul’s plan was not to give us something to debate with Protestants; he was giving us what God wanted us to have through him — words of life to help with living and walking His way.

    I have found that a list of acceptible/unacceptible movies and programs in most cases (though not all cases) generally isn’t helpful. And, some items of entertainment are not for one what they are for others. (I, as you, am excuding what should be obvious to most, such as pornography.) but the principles of Philippians 4 & 1 Corinthians 6 & 10, i believe, can guide a Christian quite some distance.

    I will provide one example, if you give me your word you will not take it too far and try to establish a rule for everyone based upon my judgment. Agreed? OK, good. 🙂

    I was heavily involved in Role Playing Games (RPG) when I was a growing boy (perhaps our backgrounds are not too dissimilar in this regard), and I spent a great deal of time “meditating” on things related to that activity. (E.g., planning puzzles and adventures that my friends’ characters would later play, and designing new characters for our stories.) Did I gain anything from the time I spent? I’m sure that it affected my ability to think creatively and afforded other benefits, as well.

    But, as a young man in college, I reflected on those times and after some self-examination I decided that the benefits I had gained I could have gained in other ways — ways that did not bring some of the detrimental effects which I later identified in my life. And, having children of my own, now, I have decided to discourage them from playing such games themselves — which means that the burden is on my shoulders to give them alternatives that I feel are more godly and which confer the good without the baggage of the bad. (I could give more details, but I would rather stop this one here.)

    I am a science fiction fan, myself, yet in my application of the principles we have discussed, I have very severely limited my indulgences compared to the more “boundary-free” days of my youth. I almost never read sci-fi fiction (or any fiction, anymore) because I cannot afford to so invest my time (or my money!). I have felt more and more compelled as I have aged (and, hopefully, wisened) to read for profit, and while I enjoy a good sci-fi yarn as much as the next guy (or more), I don’t find a great deal of profit in the reading of those books. I do, on the other hand allow myself an occasional sci-fi movie, as I find the enjoyment requires less of an investment from me. But even then, the principles above (when I successfully apply them) guide me in the choices I make as to allowable content and acceptible storyline. And further still, I find that as I grow and mature in the Lord, the choices I make change to reflect that growth. (I have also used the principle of “knowing by fruits”, but that would add a whole ‘nother discussion, and time presses me onward!)

    I would rather not give too many details in a forum like this, as there is too often a tendency among some to take the personal guidelines of ministers as a claim that “thus saith the Lord” (Proverbs 30:6) or even “thus saith the Church” and I am hesitant to do that. But I am happy to discuss it one-on-one with anyone who is interested — you too! 🙂

    Take care, and thanks, as usual, for your comments.

    Best regards,
    Wallace Smith

  7. Thanks yourself, Mr. Smith, caveats and all. 😉 I figured you’d have just the background and frame of mind to appreciate my question.

    Before I drop you a private line (or whatever) in response, here’s something worth a thought. I read somewhere (the eternal lament of someone with a less-than-perfect photographic memory: “I read it in a book somewhere!”) that in the philosophy of most science fiction, humans are not fallen angels in need of redemption but apes struggling toward godhood. Science-fiction writers like that one may lack a precise knowledge of what the Bible says, but the basic point is clear enough — and it’s telling.

    In my own attempts at writing speculative fiction, I’ve attempted to overturn that point of view and start from the need for redemption in some way. But for reasons I won’t go into here, I have found that this starting point isn’t enough. There are reasons why God is doing things the way He is, and probably I’m only illustrating how much I’m “speaking as a child” when I try to express what I know of His plans through the indirect symbolism of SF. More elsewhere…

  8. Melodie Illgen

    Dear Msrs. Smith & Wheeler,
    Interesting as today we listened to a sermon titled “Review of Prophecy” (I highly recommend it!) by then-Elder Mario Hernandez from 12/29/01 in which he mentions Isaiah 33:14-16 which includes “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, he who despises the gain of oppressions, who gestures with his hands refusing bribes, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil: he will dwell on high; his place of defense will be the fortress of rocks: Bread will be given him, his water will be sure.” Mr. Hernandez says in his sermon (obviously I am paraphrasing here) that when we view the bloodshed in a movie and are rooting for the killer it is as if we are participating! I hope we ask ourselves how desensitized we’ve become. Satan would have us all be frogs in his pot, slowly heating us up; desensitizing us further and further for the past 50 – 100 years until we are shocked no more. It is exactly what he wants. How many times have we as Christians said “oh, it’s not that bad” about some movie/film we knew was full of sin? I remember too once, Mr. Winnail mentioning once how “racy” a Marilyn Monroe movie seemed to be to him, and that is a movie that’s probably almost 50 years old. One other thing is, it’s not only targeted at adults and teens! Children’s cartoons and comics have become overtly sinister (look at the “evolution” of Batman and even Bugs Bunny lately!) and are full of sorcery and sensuality. There comic books that used to be considered “underground” that are now found at the local public library in the teens section. (I asked once to have one removed that contained incest; librarian shocked & removed it, but all the rest remain…) and then there’s the infiltration of JapAnimae to this coundry, which started oh so ‘innocently’ (frog in water?!?) with things like Hello Kitty & Pokemon but have progressed to outright pornography. I think they are also tied in with RPG, but I’m not sure. I have a teen child & grandchildren so try to know what’s going on. This Animae stuff is such an easy stepping stone for pedophiles to use also! that it should turn one’s stomach and really get us on our knees begging God for Christ’s return. Thank you for your forum Mr. Smith.

  9. Howdy, Mrs. Illgen, and thanks for your comments.

    I appreciate your comment from Mr. Hernandez’ sermon, as well as your own observations and experiences.

    Before I was hired in the ministry, I had the opportunity to work with a young woman whose husband was a part of the modern video game industry and who had an interesting perspective. While she felt (if I recall correctly) that real violence in any form was completely unacceptable, she also thought that the incredibly gory and realistic video game violence that her husband helped design was a great deal of fun and enjoyed playing the games herself. I discussed with her briefly the idea of how self-contradictory it was to play a game in which you are getting to experience the “joy” of, say, being an assassin or a pimp when you feel those same actions in real life would be vile and repulsive, but the conversation went nowhere.

    Part of me thinks that if a game was created called “Wife Beater” in which one got points depending on how thoroughly one abused your computer “wife,” many groups would be outraged. But there is another part of me that is pessimistic enough (may I repent of it if I need to do so) to suspect that there is already such a game in the works ready to hit a Wal-Mart near me (if it isn’t already on the shelves). My work acquaintance talked about how she is able to distinguish between the “fantasy” and the “reality,” but I think that a great deal of desensitization (as you bring up) has caused certain “fantasies” to become acceptable when before they would have been considered repulsive and abhorrent — “fantasy” or not.

    Thanks again for your comment! And I agree: “Your Kingdom come!”

    — Wallace Smith

  10. Pingback: The “Best of SHOWTIME”? « Thoughts En Route

  11. L

    “The Last Starfighter” is a movie based on the idea of using video games to train youth for combat. “Toys” may be more realistic for our time. First person shooter games are used to control unmanned vehicles in “Toys”. This Popular Mechanics article points out how much the control of combat robots is like video games.
    Wii All You Can Be? Why the Military Needs the Gaming Industry
    Flight, driving and even marksmanship training if used suped up game technology.

    Grand Theft Auto may be the most violent of popular video games. It’s WikiPedia article mentions three murders.

  12. Pingback: “Pathology programming” still reigns at Showtime « Thoughts En Route

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