Sunday, August 08, 2004

Wise Choices in the Media?

I've never blogged before (it sounds so dirty!), but I want to pick your collective brain. If this works out, maybe we will graduate to picking other things as well. Like scabs!

Anyway, I've been asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting in two weeks; the topic is "Making Wise Choices in the Media." This is a challenging subject to address because the church doesn't necessarily put forth many hard and fast rules about media. Obviously, we are counseled to stay away from pornography and sexually explicity media. Extremely violent media too. I suppose the church's admonition toward moderation applies to media intake in general. But when it comes to movies, for example, one person might watch something and glean a valuable lesson from it, while another person can watch the same thing and feel like he's lost the spirit altogether. So, according to Moroni 7:16-17, the same movie could be "of god" for Person #1 and "of the devil" for Person #2. Everyone is different. Also, some people are more impressionable to what they see/hear/read in the media than other people.

Anyway, I'm curious what insights you have about all this. Of course, the media also comprises literature, music, television, magazines, whatever. And I want to talk about these things, but I am especially interested in film. I don't have any particular rules about what I personally will and won't watch, but I don't have a problem walking out of a movie or changing the channel if I think it is chasing the spirit away. Do any scriptures/talks come to mind regarding our relationship to the media? How does free agency fit into this issue? If something has artistic or moral merit, should we avoid it simply because the ratings board gave it an R rating? Should all of our media intake be uplifiting and instructional? What about the need for entertainment? Most people have favorite movies (action flicks, Dumb and Dumber-type movies, what-have-you) that appear to lack any redeeming value whatsoever. Or do they? Let me stir the pot of controversy!


At 8/11/2004 03:31:00 PM,

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At 8/11/2004 03:36:00 PM,

Adam - I think what you are talking about touches on the root of Mormondom's greatest tension: centralized authoritative regulations vs. the doctrine of personal revelation. I remember having a heated discussion with my dad about this when I was 15 because our bishop had shared his testimony over the pulpit and included lessons that he had learned while watching Schindler's List, a movie I was not allowed to watch because of its 'R' rating.

I think more recently Church leaders are emphasizing the use of "wise discretion" in our choices involving the media (and would probably prefer that we held a stricter standard than the blanket 'R' prohibition). For instance, in the For The Strength of Youth booklet no mention is made of movie ratings, or "Parental Advisory" labels on CDs, but to "choose only entertainment and media that uplift you."

However, General Authorities have come out, and continue to come out with blanket statements against 'R-rated' movies and I can think of several occasions when members of my High Council or Stake Presidency have explicitly told me that sit-coms are the devil's ploy for breaking down society, or something similar.

The question this raises for me deals with my obligation to sustain Church leaders who espouse (and preach) teachings that I don't, through personal revelation/discretion, agree with.

Any thoughts?

At 8/11/2004 04:27:00 PM,

Adam, welcome to the wide world of blogging. Blog being one of the greatest words to be created in recent history, in my opinion.

I like the example you applied to Moroni 7:16-17 for I have often wondered about such cases. For example, much of what is considered good and clean (but is cheesy) often gets my dander up. I'll make an example out of the items sold in "make a buck of the Saints" marketing schemes (the phrase coming from a friend in Phoenix, Ryan Hutchins). Why do we support people who have little talent but claim association with the Church? Why is it nigh impossible to get a song published with the Church if you don't have a personal relationship to Janice Kapp Perry and her family? Mormon culture has become a monster that many Latter-Day Saints subscribe to, and somehow by its nature it seeks to suck all others into its maw. Basically, I think my motives for disliking harmless things that many see as good come from my distaste for the propogation of a culture (or subculture) I dislike. It's all personal, and I shouldn't base any judgments on those involved, but for the resolution of the "of God" vs "of devil" conflict, see the bottom of the next paragraph.

I think the reason that R rating warnings come out so often is they are a quick way to keep largely degrading material out of the Mormon culture. Too few people go and act responsibly based on their own feelings and revelations. Instead they fall back on whatever their culture prescribes. Usually in the Church, the feeling is that it's "The World" culture vs Mormon culture. "The World" says that all expression is good and that you must keep up on the latest movies to be who you want to be. In the sense that it's all or nothing, then no R rated movies is a good choice. I personally believe that R ratings are given for a reason (and that most PG-13 movies aren't really worth my probationary time either) and I have no problem using that as a ceiling for what I watch. I have assumed the For Strength of Youth pamphlet doesn't speak out against R movies because the youth would use it as an excuse to watch degenerate PG-13 movies. I do keep in mind that the Tabernacle Choir did the music for Glory, which is rated R (and I've seen most of it--it's excellent). I think viewing habits depend on our individual station and needs. Sometimes I need to laugh, sometimes (more often than not) I need to think a little more, and sometimes I need to learn. If I don't need it, then I should do something else. I like being entertained, and I see no harm in it if it is done with moderation. Too much tv, even if it's 100% CNN, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel, can have very negative effects on me. At the same time, allowing my morals to slip for the sake of just a little entertainment can be even worse. I think your idea of moderation in all things lies closest to the truth (sorry, no related scriptures come to mind off hand). Pure entertainment (for me) should be taken in small quantities because there are too many other important things going on. Putting up with images that will cloud my mind or heart deserves even less exposure (none at all). I wish I had the moral fiber to walk out of a movie, but I wouldn't bet that I do, so I avoid putting myself in that situation. That's my take.

Adam & John: as a film aficionados, I am curious what your take is on the film clubs that go through films to "clean them up" for their members' viewing. I have a couple friends in Logan who have worked at Clean Flicks and it seems more and more I'm seeing edited titles come out into mainstream Logan social gatherings. I think it's a valid way to view something that has intellectual merit without seeing the parts that insult my intellect or merit. What do you think? (and I would love to see what others think as well)

At 8/11/2004 05:08:00 PM,

Doug - I really appreciate your comments, and I think every significant decision we make needs to be based in personal revelation. So even when we don't understand why a church leader tells us to do something, if it is confirmed by the spirit then we need to have the faith to follow it. On the other hand, it sometimes occurs that general authorities and other leaders make statements that might be good advice but that don't necessarily stand as doctrine. Yeah, sitcoms often depict looser morals than the church advocates, and in that sense they may be the devil's tool for mass destruction. At the same time, anyone with a fully-functional brain and a strong faith is unlikely to sustain much lasting damage from watching "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons." Regarding the church's stance that we should only watch media that is "uplifting": is it possible to have a valuable experience with a movie/TV program/song/book that is not uplifting? I would probably argue yes.

Ben - I am conflicted on the Cleanflick-ization of the cinema. I understand why people would want to watch sanitized movies, but I also support the preservation of the artist's vision. The following example might not be valid, but I'm going ahead with it anyway: would we rather sand down the groin of Michelangelo's David sculpture or cover it with some BVD's than be exposed to his penis? Would the sanitization of the sculpture alter the meaning of Michelangelo's work? Maybe movies are the same, maybe not. I will give this some more thought, and hopefully we'll get some other opinions as well.

When I have some more time maybe I will post an peculiar experience my dad had with the movie "Flashdance." I'm sure this cliffhanger has you all on the edge of your seats, but you'll just have to wait. Sorry.

At 8/12/2004 11:02:00 AM,

As a side comment: There actually was a pope who lopped the penises off a bunch of the vatican's sculptures. Unbelievable.

At 8/12/2004 01:41:00 PM,

I suppose, though, lopping off is better than sanding down.

At 8/12/2004 02:05:00 PM,

I think this is a tough problem b/c the line between art and entertainment gets blurred when you deal with movies. But without getting over my head to discuss the nature of art, I'd like to note that life isn't about flowers and butterflies--that's not the point. The scriptures aren't anywhere near flowers and butterflies either--imagine the "R-rated" war scenes and descriptions of Lamanite morality Mormon evokes at the end of the book. I don't agree we should seek out obscenety, violence and pornography for their own sake, but they are necessarily a part of this life. Dr. Sowell, an italian professor at BYU and former Milan mission president, has written that you can get a lot of moral lessons out of immoral literature, and I think the same could apply for other genres of art. Where to draw a line, however, is a much harder question.

Here's Sowell's Link:(

At 8/18/2004 02:29:00 AM,

Chris, I attended Sowell's lecture, and that was really enlightening for me. This is one of those questions that I have felt uncomfortable about in several ways when trying to talk about it, and Sowell's lecture--for me--was really helpful. The one possible addition I might have to this conversation is the pretty useless comment that we should examine our motives for the media we seek out.

Did I want to see Pulp Fiction so bad when I was fifteen because I was deeply concerned with the achronological narrative employed in this "mainstream" and study the evolution of the art? Was it to study the use of intelligent dialogue in mouth of "rough" characters? No, I wanted to see a crime/action movie because it was the cool thing and I wanted to assure myself of my own coolness. That embarrassing confession now makes me examine my motives for my entertainment. If I spend time on a movie or a book or a cd with the hope to learn something that I think is true and I think is valuable (and--one of my few bright line rules--not pornographic), then I feel like it's acceptable.

But this is probably useless, I submit, because if you tell 15 year-old me to examine my motives when choosing my entertainment I would ignore you. That's how I try to make my "wise choices in the media"

At 8/22/2004 11:41:00 PM,

All right, so I'll begin right off saying that I have pretty strong feelings on this subject. It's something I've spent much time discussing, both with Saints and others. It is important to me because it is intricately related to what I plan to spend my life doing-- writing screenplays.

I'm not certain whether a distinction should be made when speaking from the point of veiw of being an LDS artist between what kind of media we take in, and what kind we put out. Should it be a uinversal standard-- i.e. that we shouldn't take in anything of a lower standard than that which we seek to create in our own work? I don't think so. I think a screenwriter who refused to watch R-rated movies would be like a Doctor who refused to see diseased patients, or refused to keep current on the literature about the latest diseases. If an LDS artist is to understand where the artistic norms of the world need to be changed and uplifted, then I think it's necessary for them to be well-versed in the artistic media of his day. Would we tell an LDS Forensic investigator not to go to work because he might see something disturbing at a crime scene? Would we tell a soldier not to leave the bunker because seared corpses aren't "uplifting"?

I realize that the above metaphors (as any metaphors) are imperfect and subject to deconstruciton that could reduce them to ridiculousness, but I think you see my point. Christ did not choose to serve humanity by siting in a comfortable paradise spouting platitudes at a suffering humanity; rather, he came down with us, lived with us, sweat with us, worked and walked beside us. He dirtied his hands without staining his soul. He walked through the mire without becoming a pig. He knew intimately the diseases and pains of those he healed. Can an artist hope to uplift or to heal an industry from which he remains utterly aloof?

This is not to say that an LDS artist needs to have looping copies of "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Kill Bill" on every TV in his house. Nor is it to say that he has a special "pass" to watch anything and everything just because it relates to his art. Just as treasuring up the words of life is a prerequisite for having given us "in the very hour that which we should speak," so too treasuring up valuable media inside our artistic batteries is an essential practice as well. Artists have a strict duty to be extremely close to Heavenly Father to make good decisions about what they take into their souls.

This topic is so complicated that I feel like I've written far too much without even scratching the surface. Really, it's something to write a book about. To conclude, I'll toss out a few maxims that have helped me in my process of dealing with media / media creation:

We must learn how to portray realities of the human experience that are not of good report, lovely or praiseworthy without making an aesthetic production that is itself not of good report, lovely or praiseworthy.

"That which is of God is light."

Perhaps more later...




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