Choosing Music and Movies

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Let's go to a movie and grab a burger. This familiar scenario is repeated countless times on Saturday nights. But which movie? 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 generation ever (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000) 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 (Teen Research Unlimited). The choices made by teens are thus very relevant to merchants. Perhaps there has never been a time in which so many young people have had the leisure time plus the money in their pockets to just 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

According to one author, "Most television programming is insipid, illicit, and idiotic" ("How the Bombarding Images of TV Culture Undermine the Power of Words," Modern Reformation, January/February 2001, Douglas S. Groothuis Ph.D., p. 39). It is obvious to those who have been watching TV and movies for a few years that there is more violence and sex than ever before—actually, quite a lot more. Every major network has a show, often in prime time, which features a gay actor or actress. Are these shows, which admittedly entertain and stimulate people, really good for you? Are the big screen's latest flicks appropriate for Christians to watch?

In 1939, Rhett Butler, talking angrily to Scarlett O'Hara in the cinematic blockbuster, Gone With the Wind, appeared without his shirt and also used the word "damn." The audience was shocked. This epic movie about the Civil War was considered controversial because of this one word and shirtlessness. 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 you deleted curse words.

Today, casual sex, graphically depicted, is almost natural between the main characters in a majority of movies. Ratings of movies (seldom enforced, as most teens know) have been steadily getting looser—meaning less and less is being censored. Full frontal nudity, lots of blood and guts and generous quantities of the "f---" word are not considered that big a deal anymore.

Marshall McLuhan remarked that, "We become what we behold" (ibid., p. 33). Groothuis goes on to state, "When we become habituated to a particular form of communication, our mentalities and sensibilities bear its mark" (ibid.). Joshua Meyrowitch, a professor of communication, 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). Is it any less true of words from a song or an image from the big screen? Don't we also corrupt our minds by taking in words and images that are evil?

Some ideas for making choices about movies and music

  • Is this appropriate? Are the words of the song or the plot of the movie good for me? It is true that options are often few, even at a major cineplex with 10 or more theaters. One recent marquee offered movies that included three "R" rated flicks that had adult language, nudity and violence, two movies dealing with the paranormal (spirit world including demon possession, etc.) and one thoroughly gross picture that was called a comedy. That didn't leave much to view, which is very sad. 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? The answer is YES!

  •  Will this be uplifting and positive? It is 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 there was a colorful parade with puppets 20-feet high, dancers and rolling drums with the accompaniment of the most intriguing and inspiring music that I've ever heard. I was so taken, 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.

  • What are the options? Sometimes it might be more fun and rewarding to do something else instead of taking in a movie if there isn't anything worth watching. Why not go do something or get with a group and talk about ideas, plans, etc.? What about going to a park and throwing the Frisbee or football around? Your imagination is the limit of things to do that are fun, creative and help you build friendships. Going to a movie is getting to be more expensive and often puts ideas in your mind that are not clean and pure. Just talking in a peaceful environment with good friends 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

Sadly, companies that see the youth market as a real bonanza produce many of the things considered cool. The intention of most sponsors is to make money, not help you build character. MTV, which seems to have turned into one big continuous commercial, does not always have the purest of motives. In a recent PBS Frontline documentary titled Merchants of Cool (first aired February 27, 2001), media analyst Douglas Rushkoff spoke with teens at a concert by the Detroit-based Insane Clown Posse, purveyors of a genre of music that's become known as "rage rock." When asked to describe what appeals to them about such music, the teens invariably responded that it belongs to them; it hasn't yet been taken and sold back to them at the mall. Full of profanity, violence and misogyny, rage rock is literally a challenge thrown up to marketers—just try to market this!

But marketers have accepted the challenge. Rage rock is now big business. Not only has Insane Clown Posse become mainstream, but much bigger acts like Eminem and Limp Bizkit are breaking sales records and winning industry accolades in the form of Grammy nominations and other mainstream music awards.

In the previously mentioned documentary, correspondent Rushkoff details how MTV and other huge commercial outlets orchestrated the rise of Limp Bizkit—despite the group's objectionable lyrics—and then relentlessly promoted them on-air.

But in doing so, critics ask if MTV is truly reflecting the desires of today's teenagers or stoking a cultural infatuation with music and imagery that glorifies violence and sex as well as antisocial behavior and attitudes. In today's media-saturated environment, such questions, it seems, are becoming increasingly difficult to answer (taken from the synopsis of Frontline: Merchants of Cool on the Web at

You have choices—use them wisely

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 and his skills were such that he was called upon to calm the troubled spirit of Saul (1 Samuel 16:23).

There are many troubled people today who could use a friend with qualities to show the way to true peace. The frenetic pace of today's world, with many broken families and shattered lives, cries out 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 and movies that uplift your spirit and draw you closer to God? YU