10 April 2004 - Saturday

Whatever is excellent, part I

This Wednesday I received an issue of World Magazine in the mail, courtesy of my parents. I sat down at a table in the student center and leafed through the publication. I groaned at the cover ("toppling the dictator may prove easier than rebuilding the nation Saddam destroyed" -- wow, that had never occurred to me). I murmured approval after reading an article about the new breed of Generation-X churches (an antidote to the megachurch -- dare I call them "postmodern"?). And I winced when Gene Edward Veith tried to explain World's policy on movie reviews.

I do not like many evangelical movie reviews.

Since I found World's review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (in the previous issue) particularly annoying, I should begin by noting that coarse language rarely upsets me much. Unlike most evangelicals, I am not often offended by the misapplication of sexual and religious terminology. I can think of various reasons not to use certain words in certain social contexts; I can think of good reasons not to get into the habit of using certain words; I can think of great reasons to keep children from hearing certain expressions; and I can find ample justification for preserving some measure of reverence in one's speech. But I cannot find it in my heart to be upset by someone else's limited English skills. To the extent that coarse language is usually shallow, sometimes a lame attempt to provoke a reaction, and often an abuse of the name of God, I view it with the same contempt in which I hold the vapidity of most evangelical culture.

I do become annoyed, however, when I see Christians dismissing thoughtful art because it accurately reflects the language of the culture around them. I also object to the (usually unspoken) assumption that anything not suitable for thirteen-year-olds is unsuitable for any follower of Christ. Furthermore, I object to the idea that art must lead its viewers directly to the church -- or at least directly to suburban nicety -- in order to be valid, useful, important, or non-damnable.

World makes a better attempt than most. In theory, this magazine recognizes that art is important, and that good art rarely includes an altar call. However, it still misses the mark.

Veith complains in the 10 April issue:

Nine of the 30 movies in circulation are rated R. This is an unusually high number, after a decline in previous months, since the movie industry has recognized that R-rated films do not make as much money as those the whole family can see. Apparently, Hollywood is trying to bring back the R movie.
That last line is laughable. First, Hollywood will do what it has to do in order to stay in business. Second, there is only a vague correlation between quality and profitability in the motion picture industry; many blockbusters are intellectually insipid and even morally insidious, while many great films lose money. Even if a film is "family-friendly" and therefore highly popular, it may be absolute rubbish; and even if a film is totally inappropriate for children, it may be precisely what their parents need to see.

This may be the right spot for me to mention that the Bible is not always a kid-friendly book. Mrs. Cleaver would have been shocked by the Old Testament. Yes, I know you've heard that before.

In fact, the next sentence from Veith cuts any value from the lines I have just quoted: "Ironically, the most successful R movie ever is The Passion of the Christ."

Funny, that.

| Posted by Wilson at 14:17 Central | TrackBack
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