Let’s go to a movie!” These familiar words are repeated countless times around the world on weekends. But which movie to see? The choices are almost endless. Science fiction, action, westerns, comedies and love stories all abound. Does it really matter which forms of entertainment we choose?
Today there are 31.6 million 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States—the largest teen generation ever—with plenty of buying power. Last year, U.S. teens spent an estimated $105 billion and influenced their parents to spend an additional $48 billion. The choices made by teens are thus very relevant to merchants. We’ve never seen an era 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 is cool and what is going to be exciting and fun?
Not all options are good
Is popular entertainment good for you? 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).
It is obvious to those who have 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 network has a show, often in prime time, featuring a gay character.
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 also used the word “damn.” Audiences across the country were shocked. This epic movie about the Civil War was considered controversial because of this one word and an actor who appeared shirtless. Today, nudity or partial nudity is normal, and the use of expletives is so commonplace that some characters would have almost nothing to say if curse words were deleted.
Today, casual sex, graphically depicted, is almost expected between the main characters in many movies. Movie ratings (seldom enforced, as most teens know) have been steadily getting looser—meaning less and less is being censored. Full frontal nudity, plenty of blood and gore and generous quantities of vulgar profanities are not that big of a deal anymore.
Does it really matter which forms of entertainment we choose? Media analyst Marshall McLuhan once remarked that “we become what we behold” (ibid., page 33). 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).
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, an image from the big screen or from the television? Don’t we also corrupt our minds by taking in words and images that are evil?
Considerations for choices about music, television and movies
When we consider what we will listen to or watch, we need to ask several important questions:
* Is this appropriate? Are the words of the song or the plot of the movie or TV show good for me? It is true that options are often few, even at a major theater with multiple screens. One recent marquee that I saw had three R-rated movies dominated by adult language, nudity and violence, two movies dealing with the paranormal (the spirit world, including demon possession) and one thoroughly gross picture that was considered a comedy. Sadly, that didn’t leave much to view.
The powerful combination of surround sound and high-definition, digital technologies allow for stunning imagery. It seems we get addicted to special effects and need more and more to be thrilled. But what about the mind? Do we need to guard this important gateway to our character and thinking? The answer is yes.
* Will this be uplifting and positive? It’s great to have powerful music that lifts your spirit and makes you feel good. Recently I visited the 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 that I’ve ever heard. I was so taken that I had to find the CD for my collection.
Music should fit the mood but not create a negative or destructive one. You can select from a huge variety of music today. Make wise choices. Choose music that inspires and uplifts you, not music that creates feelings of anger, anxiety, confusion or depression.
* What are the options? Sometimes it might be more fun and rewarding to do something else instead of taking in a movie if you can’t find anything worth watching. Why not go do something instead of passively watching, or get together with a group and talk about ideas, plans and such things?
* How about going to a park and throwing a Frisbee or football around? You are only limited by your imagination—think of things to do that are fun and creative that can also help you build friendships. Going to a movie is continually growing more expensive and often puts ideas in your mind that are not clean and pure. Simply talking with good friends in a peaceful environment might actually be the most fun of all. Learning from others while sharing your concerns and fears can be healthy and helpful in building lasting relationships.
Watch out for the hook
You’re probably not aware of it, but companies that see the youth market as a real financial bonanza produce many of the things considered cool. They are extremely effective at convincing millions of teens that they need these new products to be cool and popular. Make no mistake, their intention is to make money, not do what is good for you.
MTV, which seems to have turned into one continuous commercial, does not always have the purest of motives. In a PBS Frontline documentary entitled “Merchants of Cool” (which first aired in February 2000), media analyst Douglas Rushkoff spoke with teens at a concert by the group Insane Clown Posse, which 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, is 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 MTV and other 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.
He raised an important question: Is MTV merely reflecting the desires of its teenage audience or is it aggressively promoting a cultural infatuation with videos and music that glorify 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 is cool at the moment, and in so doing they often cross the lines of decency and morality.
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. King David, as a young man, was a musician. 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 people today could use a friend with qualities to show the way to true peace. The frenetic pace of today’s world, with so many broken families and shattered lives, creates a need for those who can calm troubled spirits.
If you are like most people, music is a powerful influence in your life. Why not choose music, television and movies that uplift your spirit and draw you closer to God?