Thursday, October 18, 2007

In the Script

Angela and I noted recently how many of the new movies have an R-rating. Many of these are aimed at younger audiences, including teenagers, so it strikes us as being counter-productive to make them inaccessible (legally, anyway) to part of their target audience. This intrigues me because many years ago I heard the movie critic and cultural commentator Michael Medved convincingly explain that the big movie studios often knowingly forsake revenue by making more R-rated movies. In other words, PG movies historically have made more money than R movies, yet the studios don’t take advantage of this financial “sweet spot.” Medved suggests that, hard as it may be to believe, the studios, who are beholden to stockholders for their financial performance, yet are willing to forsake income to push the edges of the cultural tolerance envelope.

This is not to assert that there is a cabal of studio execs strategically planning an assault on prevailing standards of decency and taste. But it is to claim, according to Medved, that there is a prevailing culture, if you will, in the entertainment industry which seeks to repudiate traditional Judeo-Christian values, particularly in matters of sexual mores.

Last year, Angela and I saw a wonderful little movie, Little Miss Sunshine, that was thoughtful, funny, and nuanced. It was a perfect family movie, except for a 10-minute raunchy sequence that earned it an R-rating. We were incredulous that a studio would shoot itself in the foot like that. It was a critical success but could have been far more commercially profitable and widely seen. This is just one example of Medved’s claim.

Listen to the words of another cultural commentator, who advocates that people train themselves in the development of moral character through the daily choices of what they watch, read, and participate in.

Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people’s weaknesses. Avoid being one of the mob who indulges in such pastimes. Your life is too short and you have important things to do. Be discriminating about what images and ideas you permit into your mind. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest. It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity. But there’s no need for that to happen if you determine not to waste your time and attention on mindless pap.

These are the words of the second century Stoic philosopher, Epictetus. You see, friends, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Epictetus was not a Christian. But Christians of all people should take seriously our moral development. As another cultural commentator of sorts, the apostle Paul, puts it, “Train yourself in godliness, for while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (I Timothy 4:7-8).

In the hilarious movie “Freaky Friday,” the mother yells a last admonition at her teenage daughter after dropping her off at high school one morning, “Make good choices!!!” Jamie Lee Curtis later revealed in an interview that she ad-libbed that line; it wasn’t in the script.

But it should be in ours.


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