Tuesday, August 14, 2007

DVD Review: Gods of Entertainment

I recently received a copy of a documentary DVD to review entitled Gods of Entertainment: the power of mass media to influence and corrupt. The purpose of the documentary is to ’pull... back the curtain of the entertainment industry revealing fascinating information about the influence of media, good and bad, and equip... the viewer to stand firm against persuasive powers that can corrupt.’ (back cover) It is undoubtedly true that the mass media has an influence on viewers. It is also true that media can be used for good or evil. However, Gods of Entertainment is completely biased in its presentation of the power and influence of the media. This bias is demonstrated by the following features of the documentary:
  1. It only provides negative examples of the media and its content (apart from a couple of exceptions which I will come to shortly). The presenters list and show examples of movies and television that portray violence, sex, nudity, witchcraft, secularist thought, and many more. There is almost no mention of the vast amount of positive content available in all media forms.
  2. It is US-centric. Although mention is made of other parts of the world, this is primarily to make the point that American culture is ubiquitous, particularly the media that is viewed around the world. It is true that American culture is deeply influential. But it would have been good to provide examples of independent film making, documentaries, and television programming in various countries that would illustrate that there are alternatives to American-derived entertainment.
  3. Gods of Entertainment comes from the perspective of the religious right in America which believes that the original Christian values of its founders are being eroded. The documentary sets up a narrow definition of Christian values and implies that anything that doesn’t fit that definition is questionable.
  4. There isn’t one dissenting voice in the entire documentary. A few commentators who clearly support the agenda of the documentary makers are interviewed. Any documentary on a controversial issue should provide opportunity for dissenting opinion so that a balanced view can be had. This omission implies that there is a clear agenda behind this documentary. Well... there is a clear agenda. But that agenda only becomes clearer the further into the documentary one watches. It starts out with what appears to be a balanced, objective approach. By the time the film finishes, it has turned into a call for nominal Christians to become real Christians by obeying God in the area of media discernment. There is nothing wrong with trying to persuade people to one’s point of view. But it is disingenuous to imply that one is making a balanced assessment when one isn’t.
  5. The documentary makers have a black and white view of what is good and evil. J K Rowling and Harry Potter are evil. Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ are good. This dualistic approach completely ignores the controversies within the Christian community itself around both of these productions. An honest presentation of this controversy is essential in thinking through issues such as this.
  6. There is an interesting use of language in the promotional material for this documentary. Caryl Matrisciana, the presenter and producer of the documentary, is described as a ’veteran filmaker’, and ’a leading expert in world religions and paganism’. A Dr Ted Baehr is described as a ’media pundit’. Then there is ’theology authority’, Pastor Dave Shirley. All of these accolades should be taken with a grain of salt. Pastor Dave Shirley, for example, does not have a theology degree as far as I can tell. He has a Bachelor of Biblical Education and a Masters Degree in Education. The website where I found this information about him states that ’He commonly teaches Revelation, History of Redemption, Christian Living, and Greek. He is the Senior Pastor of the campus church, Calvary Chapel Hot Springs, located at the Calvary Chapel Bible College, Murrieta, California.’ These qualifications and activities surely do not make him a ’theological authority’. Dr Ted Baehr is actually the creator of MovieGuide, self-described as ’a ministry dedicated to redeeming the values of the mass media according to biblical principles, by influencing entertainment industry executives and helping families make wise media choices.’ The reality is that all of the people interviewed come from an essentially fundamentalist Christian perspective who hold to a conspiracy theory about media owners out to deliberately eradicate Judeo-Christian values from America. The language used to describe these interviewees implies that they are objective and authoritative. The reality is far from that.
  7. There is only one Christian who is directly tied to movie making interviewed and he worked on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. This movie is held up as a landmark movie (which it was) and Mel Gibson as a hero who stood up to the media moguls, who rejected his film, by paying $30 million US to fund it himself. But this completely ignores the flood of controversy surrounding this film including allegations of anti-semitism. And despite the overt attempt to make it biblical, The Passion of the Christ is alleged to have been based on the writings of a Catholic mystic and her visions.
There are a large number of Christians working in Hollywood who have not been given a voice in this documentary and who would disagree with the approach taken in Gods of Entertainment. Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi, both Christians who are also movie industry professionals, have recently published a book entitled Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture. These authors live inside the movie-production system and know what they are talking about. Here’s what they say about the approach of Christians like those who feature in Gods of Entertainment:
Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and CultureWe [Christians] obsess about "the culture" endlessly; we analyze and criticize. But we can’t figure out anything to do but point an accusatory finger at Hollywood. If this were a scene from an old-time movie serial, our culture would be tied to the train tracks, Hollywood would be twirling its moustache, and we’d be in the corner with a petition sign. Blaming Hollywood for our cultural woes has become a habit. And, as Bob Briner observed in his 1991 book Rearing Lambs, it’s a bad one. Casting Hollywood as the enemy has only pushed Hollywood farther away. And the farther away Hollywood is from us, the less influence we have on our culture. We’ve left the business of defining human experience via the mass media to people with a secular world view. Is it any surprise that when we turn on the TV, we see people act like they have a secular worldview? Nor have we endeared Hollywood by blaming them. Ever notice how Christians in movies tend to fall into two categories: psychos and inbred psychos? If you’ve never had a Christian friend--or, for that matter, even met a Christian--and if all you know of them is angry, hateful protests, you might think that they’re angry, hateful people. How ironic that we, who were called to be examples of love for the world, have come to represent all that is cold and hateful in the popular imagination. And is there not some truth in it? In pushing away secular Hollywood, haven’t we turned our backs on the very people Christ called us to minister to--the searching and the desperate, those without the gospel’s saving grace and truth? Blaming Hollywood has to be considered a failed tactic that needs to be abandoned. (pp. 8-9)
If you are looking for a balanced, accurate view of mass media, then Gods of Entertainment is not the place to find it. There are some points made that are true and valuable. But there is so much that is biased and skewed that, overall, it is not really worth the time watching unless you want something that will confirm what you already think. My Rating: ** (out of 5) Related Links

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