Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of our parenting series. For similar stories, click here.
Discernment question: How is the family portrayed?
More and more movies and other entertainment build up the family, such as pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-fatherhood movies like OVERCOMER, DUMBO (2019), MARY POPPINS RETURNS, and PADDINGTON 2, as well as animated movies like THE INCREDIBLES, BOSS BABY and DESPICABLE ME 2.
Even so, too much entertainment tends to lift up perversity, lust, irresponsible coupling, and adultery, while portraying motherhood as psychopathic, and show husbands and dads as irresponsible. These types of movies and entertainment attack the basic building block of our society, the Family.
In the late 1990s, two of the most popular television programs, SEINFELD and FRIENDS, presented freedom from the responsibilities of family life as highly enjoyable. Getting married was often presented as an end to good, fun times. Today’s sitcoms have turned away from this model to embrace the model laid down by hit comedies like THE COSBY SHOW, ROSEANNE and HOME IMPOVEMENT in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Even in the extremely popular comedy THE BIG BANG THEORY, three of the four male characters eventually get married. That said, a promiscuous lifestyle before marriage is often still seen as a pleasurable ideal.
Consider also the role of most grandparents in society today. They rarely appear in a movie and when they are given feature roles it’s in titles like BAD GRANDPA (2013), DIRTY GRANDPA (2016), LET’S KILL GRANDPA (2017), and THE WAR WITH GRANDPA (2019).
While it is not a movie any Christian should want to see, the following Movieguide® content section for BAD GRANDPA reveals:
“Very strong pagan worldview with elements mocking prayer, plus homosexual content teaching a young boy to cross dress and dance like a male stripper; 76 obscenities (many strong) and four profanities, plus man passes gas and then sprays diarrhea on restaurant wall, and man gets privates stuck in a Coke machine; strong comic, slapstick violence such as man rejoices at his wife’s death and throws her body off a bridge; extreme sexual content includes simulated sex in a bar scene, man gets child to help him seek sexual encounters, young boy dresses in drag to enter a beauty pageant and then performs a male stripper-style dance; full male nudity in a bar scene; man gets drunk and encourages a child to do so as well; extreme drug references includes smoking a hash pipe, boy’s mother goes to jail for drugs, and boy’s father has a drug habit and wants to use his child to get money for it; and, very strong miscellaneous immorality includes boy’s father wants son in order to qualify for $600 per month in welfare payments, grandfather attempts to ship grandson to his father in a cardboard box, grandfather teaches grandson to steal from a grocery store, lying, pranks, and horrendous family role models presented as comic relief.”
The Bible is very clear about the importance of the family. The family is the focal point of God’s economy and governance. God created the family and ordained it as basic unit of government along with self-government, the church and civil government. The family is much more important than the state.
Ascertainment questions: How is religion, the church, people of faith, and/or Christians in the mass media product?
Being able to identify religion, the Church, people of faith and/or Christians in the entertainment media product is an extremely important aspect of discerning viewing. Religion is alive and well in the entertainment media, especially on prime time network fiction television, but it is not the predominantly Christian faith of our founding fathers. It is, instead, a cacophony of ill-conceived religions such as materialism, consumerism, eroticism, hedonism, naturalism, humanism, cynicism, stoicism, the cult of violence (that used to pay homage to the war-god Mars), and a multitude of other modern variations on pagan practices. These religions, many of which can trace their roots back to long discredited ancient cults, have their rituals, beliefs, values, signs, significations, metaphysics, cosmologies, ontologies, epistemologies, and ultimate meanings played out with ritualistic regularity on programs, commercials and music videos. On any given night on television we may find happy Hollywood stars touting the virtues of astrology and Madonna embracing a religious statue that comes alive.
Many in Hollywood recognize the religious significance of their work. Joe Eszterhas, author of the sleazy movie SHOWGIRLS, claimed that his pornographic movie was a religious experience.
Theocentric religions are under-represented in the mass media and especially on broadcast television. For a time there were regular programs like TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, CHRISTY, 7th HEAVEN, and even some episodes of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER and other popular series. Today, the only programs on Network TV that regularly have overt faith content are the police drama BLUE BLOODS and the Tim Allen sitcom LAST MAN STANDING, but those series are nearing the end of their runs, even though BLUE BLOODS was still No. 7 in the TV ratings in March 2020. Once in a while, a new series like MANIFEST or BULL will make a positive biblical reference or a positive reference to God or faith, but such examples are rare. Sadly, the secular press usually ignores these programs in favor of more salacious faire. Happily, however, NETFLIX and AMAZON PRIME offers some Christian movies made by others and there are streaming services like PUREFLIX and UP FAITH AND FAMILY that specialize in Christian and family entertainment, but the new programs the major streaming competitors are producing to attract subscribers are almost devoid of positive references to God, Jesus or Christianity. In fact, you are more likely to find homosexual characters on television and original digital programming than you will a Christian, even though Christians still number more than 66 percent of the American population and self-identified homosexuals represent, at the most, three percent.
Discernment question(s): How are religion, Christians and the church portrayed?
All too often in contemporary movies, religion, individual believers and the Church are portrayed as evil, weak, insincere, obsequious, rotten, or foolish.
Though it had nothing to do with the premise, a series of morning prayer meetings were inserted into the mediocre movie HEAD OFFICE, which caricatured Christians as neo-Nazis who prayed for world conquest with German accents. In Woody Allen’s movie HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, Christianity, Roman Catholicism and even Hinduism are mocked.
As Christians, we may think mocking other religions is funny, but the truth is that mocking false doctrines is a sign of hubris and not of a godly desire to lift up the Truth, who is Jesus the Christ. Furthermore, as history has constantly proven, mockery will lead to disaster. For example, Hitler began his campaign against the Jews by mocking them in grotesque cartoons.
The good news is the percentage of movies with at least some Christian, redemptive faith and values (C, CC, CCC) reached 63.77% in 2019.
In many ways, these positive movies did very well at the box office, especially if they had strong Christian, redemptive content (CC or CCC). Consequently, we saw a steady stream of large, medium and small movies in 2019 that strongly honored faith, redemptive values and/or Jesus Christ.
Because of our early efforts, the tide began to shift in 1999, when 40 movies had strong, positive Christian content. Titles as varied as THE GREEN MILE, THE STRAIGHT STORY, RUNAWAY BRIDE, TOY STORY 2, and THE WINSLOW BOY contained firm nods to Christianity and Christian virtues, often in very explicit ways. Since then, Hollywood has been averaging 35 to 65 movies or more with strong positive Christian, redemptive content each year.
Then, of course, came another watershed year, in 2004. That was the year Mel Gibson released THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and, with help from other films like THE INCREDIBLES, SPIDER-MAN 2, LADDER 49, and WOMAN, THOU ART LOOSED, movies with the strongest Christian faith and values set box office records.
Well, 2019 has continued this trend, despite some troubling developments. In fact, last year there were a record 75 movies with at least some strong Christian, redemptive content, compared to only 34 in 2004, and they earned about $5.68 billion in 2019 in the United States and Canada alone, a 46% increase over 2016! In 2019, the movies OVERCOMER, BREAKTHROUGH, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, LITTLE WOMEN (2019), HARRIET, and A HIDDEN LIFE all lifted up Christian faith and specifically Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the television programs such as DOLLY PARTON’S HEARTSTRINGS: These Old Bones, THE CHOSEN, THE CROWN: Moondust, LAST MAN STANDING: The Passion of Paul, JESUS: HIS LIFE: Joseph: The Nativity, CHRISTMAS WISHES & MISTLETOE KISSES, A CHRISTMAS LOVE STORY, CHRISTMAS TOWN, and WHEN CALLS THE HEART: Home for Christmas, also lifted up Christianity and Jesus Christ.
The Hollywood Entertainment Industry can’t afford to ignore the world’s 2.53 billion Christians, including America’s 221.25 million or so Christians. They also can’t afford to ignore the 204.25 million Americans who believe Jesus’s death and resurrection is the only way to cleanse their hearts from sin and be reconciled to God, nor the 122.13 million Americans who go to church every week. Neither can Christians afford to ignore the influence Hollywood has on the world’s children and grandchildren, and on the society in which they live.
On the dark side, ABC attacked white Southern Christian women with the television show GCB. It featured a group of nasty church gossips out to get revenge on a once popular girl who moved back to Dallas.
Subsidiary Discernment questions:
Does one or more of the characters play the role of God?
Did you see anything supernatural? Who was the source: God or Satan? Or were you not sure? (Ask God to show you.)
Does good win over evil?
Does the winning side use spiritual power not from God? (Remember, if supernatural power is not from God, it is demonic. Frequent exposure tends to bring unquestioning acceptance, so be careful.)
Are magic, spells, fortune telling, spiritism (contacting the spirit world or functioning as a medium between the living and the dead, as in SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK) presented as true? Might they build a dangerous fascination with paganism and a desire to experiment?
*Editor’s Note: These articles are adapted from Dr. Ted Baehr’s THE CULTURE WISE FAMILY book. You can buy a copy from www.movieguide.org or on Amazon