I'm not sure what to call it, so I'll settle with the Old-Time Religion (OTR). It was the "strict" wing of American Evangelical Protestantism, regardless of denomination: no card-playing, no movies or shows, no alcohol. Rock and Roll was the "devil's music." Over the years, the defenses of the OTR weakened and more and more things became permissible. One veteran pastor - who was himself not wholly a part of the OTR in that he was a movie-goer all his life - told me that television mortally wounded this legalistic strain.
It makes sense, and the Old-Time Religion is the target of many valid criticisms. But I think OTR believers were also onto something. They were like Catholics opposed to contraception: they believed moral chaos would ensue if these "worldly" pursuits were permitted within the body of believers. The Catholic can say, "If you allow contraception, by what principle do you disallow gay marriages or gay clergy? Likewise, the OTR believers could ask, "If we permit these distractions and amusements, how will people focus on the Word of God?"
But I think the OTR missed the boat on television. Actually, they probably missed it before that, when radio came along. Or even phonograph records. That's because listening to a preacher on the radio is not the same as worshiping at church. Listening to records of favorite hymns is not the same as playing and singing them yourself. The "Devil" entrapped Christians not by turning them into debauched sinners, but by transforming them into consumers, and making Christianity a product to be consumed.
First, it may have just been only the religious broadcasts and records. Then, the "wholesome" shows. Then the records of "wholesome" comedians and going to "wholesome" movies. Then, Christians wanted to be sophisticated and "relevant," and saturated themselves with pop culture.
By 1997, some Christians decided to boycott Disney because Disney - which was never anything remotely like a Christian company - started to give out same-sex partner benefits to their gay employees. If your business employs large numbers of animators, make-up artists, costume designers, and dancers, this sounds like a sensible business decision. The new generation of Christians, however, demanded "wholesome" entertainment from a "wholesome" company, when their grandparents would have warned that seeking "entertainment" was itself the problem. The very fact that a Christian boycott of Disney was called for was proof-positive that the Old Time Religion had died and the boycott could never work. The real problem was not Disney, but the fact that conservative Christians watched Disney videos and vacationed at DisneyWorld. The problem was not the symptoms of sex, violence, or profanity in the movies, but the disease that Christians caught when they had fallen into the hypnotic trap of mass media and pop culture. They would watch the same television shows as everyone else and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the same movies. They would watch the same sports and the same news programs. They would be swayed to want something they didn't need through advertising. They would be presented with a narrow range of choices in the ballot box, and be told this was "freedom" and "democracy."
Had the old-time Christians been as vehemently against radio, records, and television as they were against cards, alcohol, and shows, conservative Christianity may actually have become a counter-cultural movement today, rather than a whiny, paranoid subculture within the mainstream culture that it has become. But Christians of the Old Time Religion didn't perceive the magnitude of the threat that mass media presented. Instead of saying "buy the radio, but only listen to Christian programs," they should have said, "don't buy the radio at all." They didn't, and conservative Christianity has declined in credibility because of it. Today's Christians have generally been brainwashed by the secular mass media to the same degree everyone else has.
Since the Disney boycott flap of 1997, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Lindsay Lohan, Hillary Duff, and Miley Cyrus have all become superstars. The first three appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club. Lohan starred in Disney movies throughout her teenage years, while Duff and Cyrus starred in their own Disney Channel tv shows. Aguilera maintained a slutty image, while Timberlake was part of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show incident four years ago. For much of the past two years, the news pages of the major Internet browsers have headlined the latest drug-or-alcohol-fueled gossip of Spears and Lohan. More recently they report on the latest "incidents" of the 15 year-old Miley Cyrus. Miley temporarily had a body double in her stage concert, Miley doesn't wear a seatbelt in her latest movie. Photos of Miley and a girlfriend goofing off hit the internet, as if it was xxx lesbo action. A professional shoot by the respected Annie Liebowitz shows Miley's bare back in Vanity Fair. With the possible exception of Miley herself, everyone knew exactly what would transpire: soccer moms would be shocked, and perhaps discourage their daughters from buying Miley/Hanna Montana merchandise. They hope the next Disney Starlet will be a better "role model."
Also, nude photos of the female star of Disney's "High School Musical," Vanessa Anne Hudgens, appeared on the Internet.
One wonders if this is all calculated, as if messages are being sent to America's girls. Following in Pamela Anderson's footsteps, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian turn sex tapes into careers as reality tv stars. Salacious photos and videos of beauty-pageant winners are becoming routine, and the "moral outrage" dies down quickly.
In any case, searching for "morality" in entertainment is like searching for honesty in politics: you won't find it. Yes, there are exceptions, but they "prove the rule" in that they are notable only as exceptions, not as the start of a new trend.
So the Old Time Religionists were right in one crucial sense, and their problem is that when they warned against movies, they should have warned against radio, television, records, and, especially, advertisements as well. The Old Timers were right in the same sense that today's Religious Right is wrong. The Old Timers were right in that you won't find anything genuinely "wholesome" or "moral" in the for-profit entertainment industry. Its purpose is to make money, and will manipulate you - even temporarily agree with you and your values - in order to make you a repeat customer. No point in censoring it or "redeeming" it, or "competing" with it by mimicking it or mirroring it, for its aim is profit only. Better to just adopt a lifestyle that ignores the entertainment industry entirely.
Profit, like power, relies on blatant and subliminal appeals to prejudice and passion. Truth, however, doesn't need to manipulate to advance, or attack others to defend its own realm. It just is. Therefore, people of faith who genuinely believe in the Truth of their beliefs, don't really need to "do" anything or compete with anything. The Truth will take care of Itself.
I'm not saying I'm opposed to Hollywood or to the entertainment industry, any more than I am against contraception. I'm just saying that conservative Christians shouldn't compromise their principles in order to have fun or be entertained, but then be horrified by the consequences. The consequences were all-too-predictable in advance.
Teachings of a Three Year Old... Turned Tyke,
by Hal Evan Caplan.
A father learns from the wisdom of his toddler.