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:
- Car Chase to Nowhere X
- Screenwriter Massacre V
- Specious Effects XII
- Laffs About Nothing IV
- Nekkid Airheads XV
- 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.