Friday, May 05, 2006

Walden Media and the Moral Story

Keep your eye on Walden Media, an up and coming power player in the Hollywood business, as noted recently by Entertainment Weekly (America's magazine of choice). The story of this company's rise is an interesting one, and one that illustrates how many Christians fail to grasp what a "moral" story really is. In our constant attempt to wring all complexity or ambiguity out of stories, we have traditionally defined moral stories solely with reference to the amount of sex, violence, and profanity present. This despite the fact that the Bible contains sex, violence, and even vulgarities, thus demonstrating that such things can be present in the telling of "moral" stories. We have largely ignored the most central element of a "moral" story, which is the overall perspective or moral vision that the story communicates. Failing to recognize this has led to many Christians embracing shows as wholesome (due to the lack of sex, violence, and profanity) that are in fact communicating immoral messages. On the flip side, it also leads to rejecting shows with a sound moral vision because of certain undesirable content elements (Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes to mind, as I argue in my book).

Walden Media is run by a man with the awesome name of Cary Granat. Formerly, Granat was the President of Dimension Films where he produced the Scream and Scary Movie franchises. He left that company to create Walden Media, which specializes in turning great children's literature into film: Charlotte's Web, Holes, The Chronicles of Narnia. Why the change? He became disillusioned with the messages that were being communicated through his prior films. What bothered him, however, was not the sex, violence, and profanity that characterizes the Scream and Scary Movie franchises; it was the cynicism that such movies promote.

A movie may be quite pristine in content, yet loaded with cynicism or other unhealthy perspectives. Because Christians have naively equated "good" and "bad" media with either the absence or presence of sex and violence, we have missed out on much in popular culture that is beneficial and embraced much that is not.


At 4:26 PM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

Totally agree here; one example from TV: shows that repeatedly make parents out to be losers, or they don't know anything, stuff like that and kids rule (actually, I think Calvin and Hobbes coined that one a while ago). A very bad message as far as I'm concerned.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger KMiV said...

Wow, thats a great story.


At 2:39 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Not to just slap on an "I agree", but that's how a show like American Idol makes the Parents TV Top 10 Family Friendly Shows on Primetime (at this time, the Parents TV web site is down, so I can't link to it).

It has no sex and violence, only a great message about how talent and hard work aren't the most important things in being successful... you've also got to have that look.

(My apologies to American Idol fans reading this - I'm not trying to start a flame war on Greg's blog, only identifying with some of his thoughts.)

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

Jim, fan the flames of the idol watchers. I like "Idol" but only the first few episodes of each season. I must admit I like watching fools in total denial argue with music experts and utter the obligatory "I'll show you Simon ... you haven't heard the last from me!" However, you greater point is so good. The show cans people if they are overweight or don't have "the look."

I have similar problems with "Extreme Home Makeover." The answer to life's problems is after all ... materialism! They don't just build them nice homes, they build them mansions. leaked memos from the show detailing their wish list of upcoming candidates. The list was nothing by a victims list of society. The show is so formulaic; I just watch the last 5 minutes now to get ideas.

I loved your point about cynicism. Unfortunately, I stopped watching "the Simpsons" because of cynicism. It is a masterfully written program overall but I just found myself not identifying with the satire but instead being converted by it. Love always hopes. Love is optimistic and confident about the future. So as a Christian I had to curl back my Groening viewing.

We need more anlysis of TV (and movies) based upon its promoting worldview rather than its content.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Greg said...

You should check out Brian Godawa's book, Hollywood Worldviews. It does some of what you describe.


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