Family Friendly Entertainment: The Leading Christian Advocacy Group in Hollywood

 


By Tiffany Leeper, Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: This is a guest article written for MOVIEGUIDE(r) by Tiffany Leeper, Founder & President of Girls Against Porn & Human Trafficking. For more information, please go to: [email protected]

 

Rita Mae Brown said, “Art is


moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and entertainment without moral passion is television.”

 

When entertainment is discussed, it should include a conversation about the importance of morality in art and in entertainment. Media defines culture and it molds the minds of those that view it.

As German director Wim Wenders once said, “Entertainment today constantly emphasizes the message that things are wonderful the way they are. But there is another kind of cinema, which says that change is possible and necessary and it’s up to you.”

Thus, entertainment has a powerful voice within a culture, to tell a love story, to inspire change, and to tell stories that contribute to the betterment of society.

But, what happens when media is used to sell sex, hardcore violence, and immorality?

We don’t have entertainment industry police and the United States is such a “free speech” embedded society that, in many cases, the belief is that whatever makes one feel good one should watch or support with money, in order to receive instant gratification. This attitude is expressed through media venues. The portrayal of women as sex objects in films, television shows, and advertisements, for example, has made little girls grow up thinking, “I must have to look just like her to be accepted.”

What Hollywood used to be, versus what Hollywood has turned into be, is scary in assessing its impact on a generation and on Western and worldwide culture. The results of what are produced in Hollywood, not only impact people in the United States, but have a tremendous impact on those across the globe and should not be taken lightly, with the innovation of technology and satellites.

Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of Movieguide®: The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission®, recently spoke at a international conference where over 880 international school leaders were present. The message he received back from these international leaders was that they wanted freedom from the corruption of Hollywood movies, as they’ve seen negative impacts that particularly Western media has on their society and on their children. While visiting remote parts of Asia, Dr. Baehr trekked into some very remote locations, and the people who lived in these areas would walk for miles to the closest village where a satellite was located just so that they could watch movies via a satellite.

Media and entertainment draws mankind to it. What is fed to people who take in entertainment will be what shapes their morals, character, and views.

A similar scene was portrayed in the 1961 documentary, “Sky Above and Mud Below,” where media’s influence in remote areas has occurred. Media and entertainment is a global issue, and the importance of clean entertainment and modes of media is a crucial topic of discussion and consideration that must be addressed as a current societal issue.

A very old, yet current, knowledgeable truth summarized it in The Bible (New International Version) in Philippians 4:8 when assessing what should be expressed in media today: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

When discussing clean entertainment and violence and immorality in media as a global societal issue, the assessment of how countries worldwide view the largest producer of mass media, the United States, must be considered. In research conducted by DeFleur (2003) at Boston University, the negative views of the United States and attitudes towards Americans cannot be discredited. Much of this is credited to what we export to other countries, such as hardcore violence in movies, pornography, and immoral movies, (see Figure 1 for country specific details).

In Figure I, countries such as Saudi Arabia might be expected to have a negative attitude towards America, but even South Korea, China, and Spain have negative overall attitudes towards Americans. Many Middle Eastern countries have expressed disdain for Hollywood and the films that are produced in the United States, because of what is portrayed in movies with themes such as the sexualization of women showing nudity and skin, which goes against their ethical and largely Islamic beliefs. This has an effect on the overall attitude that these countries will have towards the United States.


 

Fullerton (2003) references one of the many polls that was conducted in finding out more about why America is so hated around the world, centering on American media and U.S. brands polls showed that Islamic countries did embrace the freedoms and democracy that America has, but rejected our cultural values, tying U.S. culture with our music, movies, and entertainment, which are in deep contrast to Islamic culture. According to DeFleur (2003), in a student survey of 12 countries, the study concluded consistent, negative attitudes towards the U.S., from Saudi Arabia, to Spain, to Nigeria, and cited pop culture as being the reason for these attitudes in the study.

In the 1930s, religion and faith was intertwined in Hollywood, with organizations such as the Catholic Legion of Decency and the Protestant Film Commission, but in the 1960s this changed, and films began to be produced like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, instead of ones like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which taught lessons and told family friendly stories with principles. Movies that focused less on values and morals with good stories began to be produced less often and themes such as violence and sex entered as central themes in films.

When analyzing the culture around this era also, a decrease in family values can be seen as America started to change. For example, things such as unwed birthrates began to increase to 34% in 2002 (and 70% among some minority communities) and divorces and single parenthood increased, to the total of $112 billion dollars in related expenses to taxpayers.

It’s crucial, therefore, for parents to understand the impact that media, movies, and entertainment has on their children because these things shape society and culture through the minds of viewers. Parents must understand a child’s stages of development and how media can affect this. They need to understand what media exists and what their children are watching and listening to and to have a knowledge of the content of that media. Parents also need learn how to pass on their morals, beliefs, and values to their children. Otherwise, they will learn what they deem is important through what they view in films and media, which is what will be used to guide them throughout their lives.

Baehr (2007) noted Boa and Ibsen’s research pointing out three symptoms of societal decline: 1) social decay – crisis of lawlessness, 2) cultural decay – decline of education, a weaker cultural foundation, and increase in materialism; and, 3) moral decay – the rise of immorality, with a decline of religious belief and the disregard for human life. Boa and Ibsen state that this decay starts to rot a nation from the inside out, making it vulnerable to outside attacks. They also list the breakdown of the family as a great concern, while media and mass entertainment often fill the voids left by family dysfunction.

William J. Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, noted that between the 1960s and 1990s there was a 370% increase in violent crime, a 210% increase in teenage suicide, and a 130% increase in the divorce rate. According to Lester (2003), Larry Gordon produced the movie THE WARRIORS (1979), directed by Walter Hill, about a street gang. Paramount Pictures later recalled the film from theaters after a week, when the movie was tied to three deaths, and Lester contends that the issue of media violence should be covered in media ethics classes as violent films advance conflict in a world that has much conflict already saturating it. Good and Dillon (2002) conclude this theme by stating, “Moral tragedy is never more than just one bad decision away.”

Parents along with Hollywood, must understand and heed evidence that violence in movies, and movies that portray the objectification and sexualization of women and immorality, will be what children cognitively remember. They must also understand that all this, and more besides, has psychological effects on the brain when seeing continual violence, pornography, and themes that are not ethical or that present morality in a negative light.

According to Movieguide® (2010), Cornell University found that children are abandoning their parents values at a rate of 90%, from ages 12-24. Sixty-six percent of girls report feeling worse about themselves when seeing models and celebrities on television according to the Mental Health Foundation (2003). According to Kronenberger et al (2004), watching violent media (see Figure II) stunts brain development, an important consideration for parents who let their children watch violent movies.

Walt Disney knew the impact of media and film on children when he noted, “Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives.” Perhaps this is the reason why he spent much of his life making family friendly movies that told beautiful stories and were imbedded with morality lessons, and the movies he once made continue to have an impact on those children today who watch CINDERELLA or SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.

When discussing the impact of media and entertainment on culture, Movieguide® must be a central point of discussion. Movieguide is a non-profit organization, founded by Dr. Ted Baehr, who is also the Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission®. Movieguide® was founded in 1985, and is affiliated with the Commission. It’s also a television show, a radio show, a newsletter, and an Internet resource, which includes interviews with actors and the latest news on the entertainment industry, with informative information on beliefs and interviews with filmmakers.

Ted Baehr is the son of Robert “Tex” Allen, a star in Broadway’s SHOWBOAT, and Evelyn Pierce, an MGM actress. He was raised in New York City, and performed in commercials, movies, television, and stage. He later graduated with honors from Dartmouth College, with a degree in comparative literature, and served as editor of the student newspaper at the New York University School of Law where he received his juris doctor. After his college days, he began to support left-wing and anti-Christian causes. However, he later came to Christ in 1974, through the efforts of one of his mother’s friends who dared him to read the Bible. He researched the impact of media in education while at City University of New York, and was then elected president of the Episcopal Radio and Television Foundation, which also produced the Emmy Award-winning animated film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Ken Wales, the producer of the Pink Panther and Christy series, introduced Dr. Baehr to the former director of the Protestant Film Office, whose purpose was to read every Hollywood script during 1933-1966 to make sure that films had high standards of decent material. When the Protestant Film Commission shut down in 1966, the Baptist denomination pulled its funding, and Dr. Baehr describes how Hollywood went from producing THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD to the first Satanic, sex film, to the first X rated movie. Interestingly, this had direct correlation to the decrease in movie attendance also, when Hollywood choose not to produce family friendly films, ticket sales decreased from 44 million tickets sold to 20 million tickets weekly, a dramatic decline (See Figure III & IV).

Movieguide® also hosts a large event which they call the Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry in Hollywood, soon to celebrate its 20th year on Feb. 10, 2012. The Awards Gala rewards the top family friendly films and television shows and studios that produce them from the prior year. Additionally, rewards are given for the most Christ-centered and moral films. Dr. Baehr also travels internationally speaking on the importance of producing family friendly entertainment and provides in-depth statistical analysis outlining that Christian friendly content in films can significantly increase the profits of the studios. Movieguide® is a Biblical, Christ-centered organization and is the only advocacy group that promotes and champions family friendly films to the Hollywood studios.

In November 2010, the Movieguide® website (www.moviegide.org) received 50 million visitor hits, and currently it receives 83 million visitor hits per month, which includes 340,000 unique visitors in the U.S. alone. The median demographic is under thirty-four years of age, and ages 12-24 who visit Movieguide tend to be conservative and Christian.

There was predominately one Christian organization in Hollywood in 1979, which was a religious organization for Christians in Hollywood. Prior to this, in the 1930s, during the Golden Age of film, the Catholic Film organization and only a few religiously based film organizations were central in Hollywood at the time. Today, over 100 Christian based organizations exist in Hollywood, with Movieguide® being the only advocacy group directly working with the Hollywood studios. Movieguide®’s mission is to redeem the values of the entertainment industry according to Biblical principles, by influencing industry executives and artists and by informing and educating the public about the influence of the entertainment media and to train families to become media-wise, so they can choose the good and reject the bad.

When asking Dr. Baehr what Movieguide®’s principles are, he responded, “We are sold out to Jesus.”

This principle clearly guides everything that Movieguide® does and is reflected in their mission. Dr. Baehr formally took part in Bernard Haldane’s tests for motivational talent as a leadership assessment. Harvard Business School has used Dr. Haldane’s strengths assessment in their alumni career placement programs. Dr. Baehr took the assessment tests for motivational talent, which assessed strengths, what one likes to do, and includes analysis on what motivates an individual.

Dr. Baehr considers himself an eclectic leader, with a variety of talents. His education is very diverse in different academic realms of study. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College, attended Cambridge University, the University of Bordeaux & Toulouse, the University of Munich, and graduated with a Juris Doctor from New York University School of Law. He also finished his theological studies at the Institute of Theology at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and received a Doctor of Humanities from Belhaven College.

The second way Dr. Baehr described his leadership style is being that of a “servant leader” in reference to Greenleaf (2008). Knowing Dr. Baehr personally, as I consider him a mentor, as Cashman, states a key aspect of leadership is having a mentor or coach, I see him also as a servant leader. There is no one else in Hollywood who advocates like Dr. Baehr does for the production of family films directly to the studios with such a passion and drive as Dr. Baehr. When Cashman (2008) discusses deepening authenticity for sustainable leadership, this is what Dr. Baehr exemplifies.

As Cashman (2008) also states, authenticity can be the most challenging, yet the most important leadership trait. Dr. Baehr is an example of walking the talk, as he truly leads by what Greenleaf (2008) refers to as being “servant-first.” When analyzing leadership from a personal mastery standpoint, a leader with high personal mastery will have a special sense of purpose according to Senge (1990). For this vision, it can be described as a calling, and the key is working with what the current reality is in order to effect change, without sacrificing a leader’s uniqueness while still having control of the creative process. This can be relayed as not putting a leader into a leadership box, so as to confine their style and creativity also.

While discussing leadership styles with Dr. Baehr, a very valid point made was if we assign a leadership structure to an individual, it in essence, does strictly define the person and place the leader in a “box,” somewhat stifling creative expression to be able to enable change, if the leader concentrates solely on fitting into one leadership style or in classifying themselves into several structures. Dr. Baehr said it’s important not to necessarily put leaders in a strict box in his opinion, according to leadership styles, because those who are successful come from all walks of life and creativity must exist as one can’t box in creativity, although there are good aspects to leadership assessments, such as the Meyers-Briggs assessment, but also negative sides he contended, by confining people into what an assessment may state solely.

Some of the best scripts that Dr. Baehr noted were written by those who were well into their 70s or 80s. They may have been leaders that were more of one certain leadership style rather then another, but they did not access this early in life, and their success in scriptwriting was based on life experiences and what they had learned throughout the course of living life he noted. In referring to Collins (2001) assessment of leadership styles, Dr. Baehr references that he is the leader who goes in the same direction, without distraction, and follows servant leadership.

With such a huge vision as Dr. Baehr has for Movieguide® to impact media, one might wonder what the role of faith and ethics plays into the mission of Movieguide and why that might exist. Since Movieguide® is Biblically based, and is a faith based organization, faith is what drives the mission of Movieguide®.

Dr. Baehr comes from an acting family. Dr. Baehr describes his actor parents, as very good people, but were not Christians. Dr. Baehr used to be a member of the National Lawyers Guild, before becoming a Christian, and did not previously come from a perspective of faith or belief in anything greater. By being a Christian now, and pursuing God’s will for his life, Dr. Baehr expresses that this is why he and Movieguide® are so blessed to be able to make the impact that they are on this important societal issue of moral, ethical, and clean entertainment. His organization is driven by faith and are concerned with morals rather then values and in instilling this to a mass audience.

As a leader, the elements that drive Dr. Baehr’s decision making are his guiding principles. He considers himself old-fashioned, principled, and knows that God’s ways are clear and directed continuously, through His Word, The Bible, and His Biblical teaching. He is a forward and bold leader with immense drive, who takes on the giants of the movie industry and inspires filmmakers to produce clean, family friendly films.

When referring to Donaldson’s (2007) assessment that non-profit advocacies engage in and organize for social change, and are influenced by both internal and external factors, this can be seen with Movieguide®, as it’s the only non-profit Christian film advocacy organization in Hollywood. Dr. Baehr is very much an advocate leader, as his daily purpose is in championing the cause for family-friendly entertainment, so that families are protected and so that movie studios realize that when they produce immoral, indecent films, this also affects the lives of children worldwide. One owner of a successful production company who attended the Movieguide® Annual Faith and Values Gala with an associate, who had been producing indecent television shows, after learning of the impact of films on children from the Gala and how Movieguide® gives them a hope for their futures through clean entertainment, felt incredibly bad and hung his head. He decided that what he had been producing had such a negative impact on children being harmful to them. Consequently, he vowed to change and now produces inspiring television shows.

Philanthropy also plays an important part in Movieguide®’s mission to promote clean, family-friendly films to studios and the public. The late billionaire and philanthropist, Sir John Templeton, called Dr. Baehr in 1988 and offered a new proposal to him. He stated, “I see what you are doing in Hollywood. You’re having a good effect, and I’ve always felt that we should have an award for Hollywood because the Templeton Prize, which is the award for science and religion, has been so effective.”

 


 

Dr. Baehr was enthused by this idea and this philanthropic venture would create the Annual Movieguide Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry in 1992, which is now an annual event held in February. It has also been dubbed as the “Christian Oscars.”

The Report to the Entertainment Industry details analysis of top movies produced and summarizes box office earnings for all movies by categories. In 2008, an analysis of the top movies released that year, for movies that contained zero to twenty-five profanities made $32,145,527 in sales, while the box office intake for movies with no profanities earned $55,569,733. Additionally, films that had no sex, and no drugs made millions of dollars more then movies containing this content. Dr. Baehr described how it has now become the word in Hollywood that box sales will increase when faith and values movies are produced.

With such a big mission to keep Hollywood clean, great challenges also exist for an advocate, servant leader. Movieguide® does not receive any problems from Hollywood. In fact, Hollywood appreciates the advice, analysis, and information on the importance of producing clean, family-friendly films, but the heartbreaking and shocking factor is that there is a massive problem in the United States with lukewarm Christians who choose to sit on the fence regarding entertainment and issues in society. They may attend church services, but are not necessarily Bible believing, faith believing, and fruit producing Christians who do not go out into the world to make a difference in the lives of others, or in affecting social change. On the contrary, the tendency for such lukewarm behavior can be very selfish and lazy attitudes disregarding what the Bible teaches about such principles. This would equate today, to include not going to R or X rated films, or watching television shows with sexual and profane material, yet, many lukewarm Christians support this by going to see such films with this content.

This was the greatest concern to Dr. Baehr in regards to the future of this generation, and the next generation’s Christian leaders. Media has had such a strong effect on even Christians, that they have become part of the problem. This is a challenge that cannot be overcome or truly solved of course, but remains a challenge for Movieguide®, where education must occur and an impetus to show Christians that they are to be world changers, not supporters of such material that dissolves the family and is harmful to children.

Dr. Baehr summarized it best when he stated, “There is so much work to do. One person said that God never takes you home until you finish your mission. Well, I figure this mission is so big that I’m going to be doing this for a long time.”

 

 

Figure I: Overall Attitudes Towards Americans Internationally

 

 

Figure II: Effect of Media Violence on Brain Development

 

 

Figure III: 2010 Ticket Sale Analysis of Films with Immoral Content

 

 

Figure IV: Films with Strong Christian Content Sales vs. Negative Content Film Sales

Note: Figures are used with the permission of Movieguide® and the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry.

 

 

References

 

Barriga, C. & Shapiro, M. (2007). “Morality and movies: what are people thinking? A content analysis of informal movie reviews online.” International Communication Association Annual Meeting.

Baehr, T. & Boone, P. The Culture-Wise Family. Regal Books, Ventura, CA; 2007.

Cashman, K. (2008). Leadership from the Inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

DeFleur, M. & DeFleur, M. (2003). “The next generation’s image of Americans, Attitudes and beliefs held by teen-agers in twelve countries.” Boston University: College of Communication. Retrieved from www.infoamerica.org/documentos_pdf/defleur.pdf

Donaldson, L.P. (2007). “Advocacy by nonprofit human service agencies.” Journal of Community Practice, 15(3), 139-158.

Fullerton, J. (2005). “Why do they hate us? International attitudes towards America, American brands and advertising.” Place Branding, 1(2), 129-140.

Good, H., & Dillon, M.J. (2002). Media Ethics Goes to the Movies. Westport, CT: Praeger. 245 pp.

Greenleaf, R. (2008). “The servant as leader.” Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

Kronenberger, W., Mathews, V., Dunn, D., Wang, Y., Wood, E., Giauque, A., Larsen, J., Rembusch, M., Lowe, M., & Li, T. (2005). “Media violence exposure and executive functioning in aggressive and control adolescents.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(6), 725-737.

Lester, P. (2003). “The aisle seat is open: Learning ethics in the dark, a review by Paul Martin Lester.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 18(3/4), 322-325.

Movieguide. (n.d.). “About Dr. Baehr & Movieguide®.” Movieguide® Website. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from http://www.movieguide.org

Schilling, C. (2009, March 31). “Explicit sex, violence and language? Not anymore!” WorldNetDaily.com.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline. New York, NY: Doubleday.

T. Baehr (personal communications, March 16, 2011 and April 1, 2011).