I love movies. Probably too much. Definitely too much. I always think about whether something is beneficial or not. I am continually asking if such and such movie is promoting good or evil in myself. I often don’t know. However, I have come up with three rules of thumb that I use in evaluation. This is especially helpful when it comes to what I will let my kids watch. With the movie season on the horizon, I pray that this will guide your discernment, producing grace and truth, freedom and a protection.
CAN. Forgive my acronym, but it fits: CAN. You know…as in “Can I watch this daddy?”
Before I list them, understand that these three are in relation to sinful behavior in entertainment. The question is not simply does the movie contain sinful behavior (which is often where we stop), but does it have sinful behavior in relation to these three.
Is the sinful behavior celebrated? In other words, does the movie glorify the bad behavior.
Is the sinful behavior accessible? This speaks to the practical nature of the behavior. Is it something that we can expect people to actually do?
Is the sinful behavior normalized? This speaks to the cultural acceptance of the behavior. Is it something that says “Everyone is doing it, you should not be afraid to do the same?”
Now let’s flesh this out some. I am not saying that all of these things have to be present. Nor am I saying that only one will have to be present.
For example, take Harry Potter. Here we are almost a decade after these movies began to be made. They are still making Harry Potter movies which gross a few hundred million each. Kids are still seeing them and they are still reading the books. Witchcraft is still evil. But you know what? I have never once in my life seen a warlock. We are not having a witch epidemic in this country. Even if you saw every one of the movies and read every one of the books there is virtually no chance you will be involved in more witchcraft than if you had not seen it. Millions of dollars and tons of time has been wasted by the church on all these Harry Potter warning campaigns. Why? Because the fantasy of Harry Potter is not accessible. It is just not the issue here in America. A young boy has no more likelihood to become a warlock by watching Harry Potter than does the same kid have a likelihood of becoming a superhero by watching Superman. The same is true with the Twilight trilogy. I have yet to see any vampires produced. Remember Star Wars and its relation to pantheism? One of the most watched movies of all time and you probably do not know any pantheists produced from the movie. While one might be able to argue that the “bad behavior” in these movies is celebrated, we have to realize that, for the most part, the accessibility is just not there. It is fantasy.
Now take celebration. Often I find that movies contain bad behavior that are both accessible and normalized, but not celebrated. This is often a very good quality. A good illustration is country music. I live in Oklahoma where we love country songs. Its all about divorce, drinking, and bars. Bad stuff right? However, this does not mean that it always has an negative influence. You know what happens when you play a country song backward don’t you? You sober up, get your truck back, your girl back, and your dog back. The point is that in many (not all) country songs, they have so much bad behavior, but the consequences are depressing and sad. The behavior has serious consequences. It is not celebrated or glorified at all. Normally, in movies, so long as the bad behavior is not celebrated in any way, I am not as concerned as I would otherwise be. If the bad behavior has dire consequences illustrated, then it moves it up a few more points.
The Bible does the same. There is so much bad behavior that is accounted for in the Bible. Think about it. If Hollywood were to turn the Bible into film, it would most definitely be rated “R”. However, the evil actions are not celebrated.
I remember Denzel Washington, who is a Christian (from what I hear), would not play in the movie Training Day unless his character was killed at the end. He said that his character was so evil that he must suffer the consequences of his bad behavior. The question here is not whether or not the evil is present, but is it celebrated?
An opposite example is the 80’s sit-com Cheers. Some of you can hang with me here. It was my absolute favorite show on TV. I never missed an episode. What a cast. However, Sam Malone, the show’s central character, could not be accused of being a Christian moral example. He was a womanizer. Not only this, but he was a heroic womanizer, celebrated by every passer-by in every episode. The celebration of womanizing was a problem. It could create a sense in the viewer (especially males) that in order to be “successful” and liked by everyone, you have to be as much like Sam Malone as possible. Not only is womanizing celebrated, but it is accessible. People actually can and do become sexually promiscuous. It actually is a temptation.
Finally, another characteristic I look for is the normalization of the behavior. Sometimes the behavior, while it may not necessarily be celebrated, is accessible and normalized. A normalized behavior is one that everyone is doing. If there are no consequences, and the people who are participating are the “heroes” of the story, then this can have a negative influence. For example, premarital sex is normalized in most entertainment today to the point that if one does not participate, they are the odd fanatics. In the end, people want to be “normal.” I want to be “normal.” This is not the issue. The issue is who do we let define normal? When bad behavior is normalized, whether it be premarital sex, homosexual behavior, drugs abuse, drunkenness, or otherwise, this can be a sign that the entertainment will have a negative influence.
There are other issues involved, I know. Is this or that evil behavior gratuitous? Is the entertainment meant to be historical? These are all issues to think about. But what I have found is that these three questions cover most issues, whether it be movies, songs, or any other way we engage in entertainment.