Let’s go to a movie!” These familiar words are repeated countless times on weekend nights around the world. But which movie to see? The choices are almost endless. Science fiction, action, Westerns, comedies and love stories abound. Does it really matter which forms of entertainment we choose? And if it does, how can we apply biblical standards to our options?
Today there are some 32 million 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States alone—the largest teen generation ever, and with plenty of buying power. In 2000, U.S. teens spent an estimated $105 billion and influenced their parents to spend an additional $48 billion. So the choices made by teens are quite relevant to merchants. We’ve never seen a time in which so many young people have had the leisure time plus the money in their pockets to simply have fun.
Choices, choices, choices. What movie, CD or video game should I spend my money on this time? What’s cool and what’s going to be exciting and fun?
Not all options are good
“Most television programming is insipid, illicit, and idiotic.”
It’s obvious to those who’ve been watching TV and movies for more than a few years that they contain more violence and sex than ever before—actually, quite a lot more. Every major American network has a show, often in prime time, featuring a gay character, not to mention all the shows that glamorize extramarital sex. According to one author, “Most television programming is insipid, illicit, and idiotic” (Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., “How the Bombarding Images of TV Culture Undermine the Power of Words,” Modern Reformation, Jan.-Feb. 2001, p. 39).
Are these shows, which admittedly entertain and stimulate people, really good for you? Are the big screen’s latest features appropriate for Christians to watch?
In 1940, Rhett Butler, talking angrily to Scarlet O’Hara in the cinematic blockbuster Gone With the Wind, appeared without his shirt and used the word “damn.” Audiences across the country were shocked. This epic movie about the Civil War era was considered controversial because of this one word and an actor appearing shirtless. Today, total or partial nudity is “normal” and the use of expletives is so commonplace that some characters would have almost nothing to say if you deleted all the foul language.
Today, casual sex, often graphically depicted, is almost expected between the main characters in a majority of movies. Ratings of movies (with restrictions seldom enforced, as most teens know) have been steadily loosening—meaning less and less is being censored. Full frontal nudity, lots of blood and gore and generous quantities of vulgar profanities are not that big a deal anymore.
Media analyst Marshall McLuhan once remarked that “we become what we behold” (ibid., p. 33). And Dr. Groothuis goes on to state, “When we become habituated to a particular form of communication, our mentalities and sensibilities bear its mark” (ibid.).
Communications professor Joshua Meyrowitch complains that his students tend to have an image-based standard of truth. “If I ask, ‘What evidence supports your view or contradicts it?,’ they look at me as if I came from another planet” (ibid., p. 35).
Presenting the biblical perspective, the apostle Paul wrote, “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33 1 Corinthians 15:33Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
American King James Version×). Is it any less true of words from a song or an image from the big screen or television? Don’t we also corrupt our minds by taking in words and images that are evil?
Considerations for choices
Especially from a Christian standpoint, when we consider what we will listen to or watch, we need to ask some important questions:
Is this appropriate? Are the words of the song or the plot of the movie good for me? It’s true that good options are often few, even at a major multiplex with multiple theaters. To illustrate, the choices I saw recently at one multiplex included three R-rated movies (heavily laden with adult language, nudity and violence), two movies dealing with the paranormal (the spirit world, including demon possession) and one thoroughly disgusting movie that was labeled a comedy. That didn’t leave much to view, which is rather sad.
With a powerful combination of surround sound and high-definition, today’s digital technologies allow for stunning imagery. It seems we get addicted to special effects, needing more and more to be thrilled. But what about the mind? We must guard this important gateway to our character and thinking.
Will this be uplifting and positive? It’s great to hear powerful music that lifts your spirit and makes you feel good. Recently I visited Epcot Center in Disney World. Toward the end of the day a colorful parade with puppets 20 feet high, dancers and rolling drums was accompanied by some of the most intriguing and inspiring music I’ve ever heard. I was so taken that I had to find the CD for my collection.
Here is the basic principle: Music should fit the mood, but not create a negative or destructive one. You can select from a huge variety of music today. Clearly one should make wise choices by choosing music that inspires and uplifts, not music that creates feelings of anger, anxiety, confusion or depression or that is filled with inappropriate lyrics.
What are the options? Movie ticket prices are constantly rising. And today’s movies increasingly inject ideas in your mind that are not clean and pure. So, if you can’t find anything worth watching, consider that it might be more fun and rewarding to do something else instead. Indeed, why not go do something rather than passively watching? Or get with a group and talk about ideas, plans and such things. Your imagination is the limit of things to do that are fun and creative and that can help you build friendships.
Simply talking with good friends in a peaceful environment can also be very profitable and stimulating. Learning from others while sharing your concerns and fears can be healthy and helpful in building lasting relationships.
Watch out for the hook
Commercial companies that see the youth market as a real financial bonanza produce many of the things considered cool by today’s youth. They are extremely effective at convincing millions of teens that they need their products to be considered cool and popular. Make no mistake, their main intention is to make money, not to do what’s best for you.
MTV (Music Television), the popular cable- and satellite-TV channel that emphasizes popular music and sometimes seems to be one continuous commercial, does not have the purest of motives. In a PBS Frontline documentary titled “Merchants of Cool” (first aired in February 2000), media analyst Douglas Rushkoff spoke with teens at a concert by the group Insane Clown Posse, which has popularized a genre of music known as “rage rock.”
When they were asked to describe why they found such music appealing, the teens responded that it “belongs to them”; it hadn’t yet been taken from them and sold back to them in the shopping malls. Rage rock, full of profanity, violence and vulgarity, was a challenge thrown up to mass-marketers—let’s see you find a way to market this!
But marketers not only accepted the challenge—they won. Rage rock has grown to be big business for them. Insane Clown Posse has become mainstream, and even bigger, equally profane acts like Eminem and Limp Bizkit have broken sales records and won Grammy nominations and other major music awards.
In the documentary, Rushkoff detailed how various teen-oriented commercial outlets orchestrated the rise of Limp Bizkit—despite the foul lyrics of the group’s songs—and then relentlessly promoted them to American teenagers.
Are these outlets merely reflecting the desires of their teenage audiences?
He raised an important question: Are these outlets merely reflecting the desires of their teenage audiences or are they aggressively promoting a cultural infatuation with videos and music that glorifies illicit sex, violence and antisocial behavior and attitudes?
Rushkoff described the process as “one enclosed feedback loop.” He continued, “Kids’ culture and media culture are now one and the same, and it becomes impossible to tell which came first—the anger or the marketing of the anger.”
In other words, marketers pitch to teens a ready-made identity of what’s cool at the moment, and in so doing they often cross the lines of decency and morality. This society often sets up young people to fail.
If they aren’t a pop, TV or movie star, they’re made to feel they’ve come up short. Too often this is because many teens don’t have the discernment to honestly evaluate the lifestyles of such people. Their parents have neglected to teach them the true values from the Bible. Knowledge of these biblical standards would have enabled them to make better choices.
Make wise choices
We live in fascinating and electrifying times in which young people have more free time and money than ever before. What you take into your mind is very important. The biblical King David, as a young man, was a musician and his skills were such that he was called on to calm the troubled spirit of King Saul (1 Samuel 16:23 1 Samuel 16:23And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was on Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
American King James Version×).
Many troubled teens today could use friends with such qualities to show them the way to true peace. The frenetic pace of today’s world, with so many broken families and shattered lives, cries out for those who can calm troubled spirits.
If you’re like most young people (and adults), media entertainment is a powerful influence in your life. Why not choose music and movies that uplift your spirit and draw you closer to God?