Skip to comments.Book Review: Hollywood Worldviews
Posted on 12/24/2009 2:57:47 PM PST by CondoleezzaProtege
Perhaps no area of discernment is more difficult and more controversial than the Christians engagement with culture. Are we to be cultural gluttons, immersing ourselves in the culture around us so we can speak to it from the perspective of first-hand experience? Are we to be cultural anorexics, avoiding culture altogether lest it corrupt us? Or are we to take some middle ground where we appreciate aspects of it while rejecting others? In Hollywood Worldviews, filmmaker and screenwriter Brian Godawa (To End All Wars) weighs in on the task of Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment. While looking at movies he seeks to help the viewer discern those ideas that drive the story to its destination and how they influence us to live our livesto understand the story behind the story.
Godawa takes the position that movies both reflect and influence society. Not only do they reflect the worldview and the values of people within society but they also seek to teach others to embrace these values and worldviews. Thus by studying film we can understand cultural trends. We can understand what people believe and what people are going to believe. This arms us as we seek to reach out to this world with the good news of the gospel. My goal in this book, he says, is to increase art appreciation. I want to inform the reader of the nature of storytelling and analyze how worldviews are communicated through most Hollywood movies, in order to aid the viewers ability to discern the ideas being communicated. So his purpose is to reveal to the reader the worldviews underlying film.
After two chapters of introduction to storytelling, Godawa looks to worldviews in the movies, showing through example after example how every movie communicates something of a worldview. The most common worldviews communicated today are existentialism and postmodernism, though others are certainly present to varying degrees. Having discussed worldview, he turns to spirituality and shows how Hollywood has portrayed Christianity, angels and demons, heaven and hell, and faith. A final chapter is titled Watching Movies with Eyes Wide Open. Here he warns that not all movies are worthy of our time or attention, because all stories are not created equal and he provides several warnings and encouragements for watching movies.
I enjoyed Godawas approach to worldview in film and learned a great deal about movies in general and about movies Ive already seen. I was able to see how I have not been sufficiently discerning in understanding what movies are attempting to communicate. Where Ive often seen only a nice story, Godawa makes it clear that there is an agenda behind the storyan agenda that Ive missed completely. I will be watching movies more carefully in the future and will be seeking to discern what lies behind the story. This was a good lesson for me, Im sure, and one I am glad to learn.
It seemed strange to me, as I read the book, that one of the topics that is likely to be most important to Christians as they consider movies is relegated to an appendix. In the appendix we find Sex, Violence & Profanity in the Bible. Here Godawa provides some justification for watching sex and violence in film and for listening to the inevitable profanity. His justification is one Ive seen countless timesthat the Bible contains these themes as well. The depiction of evil and its destructive ends can be just as true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, worthy of praise and profitable as can the depiction of righteousness and its glorious ends. He points to the importance of context as we wrestle with with these issues. In many films these acts happen within an ungodly worldview and in a way that is never redemptive. Context makes all the difference between moral exhortation and immoral exploitation of sin.
If the book has a failing, it is right here. Godawa simply does not provide a satisfactory rationale for watching movies in the first placeor at least movies that include sex, violence and profanity. He does warn that we must be careful to draw personal lines that we will not cross, based upon what particular things affect us negatively when we are exposed to them in movies. But he gives little by way of universal negativesthings that would (and maybe should!) negatively affect everyone. He seems usually to draw the line not with certain acts or with a certain level of immortality, but rather with good or bad filmmaking and storytelling.
Godawa seems to fall into a trap of equating words and pictures. In so doing he ignores the power of pictures and the fact that pictures and words communicate in different ways. It is for good reason, I am sure, that God chose to communicate through a written rather than a visual Scripture. Equating he knew her and she conceived and bore a son with a steamy and passionate scene on the big screen is irrational. Simply because God saw fit to include an element in Scripture does not give us license to portray it visually. It is also important to note that the descriptions of sexuality and violence with the Bible typically arise in historical descriptions. And there is a difference between describing history and fabricating a story. A description of the horrors of the holocaust may be necessary in describing and hence in understanding history. Fabricating a story describing those same stories is not in the same category.
So though I appreciated Godawas instruction in discerning the worldviews inherent in film, I was less convinced that this is something we should or need to do. What Godawa set out to do, he did well. He showed that every film communicates a worldview and he gave tools to help discern those worldviews. Perhaps he should have just left the appendix out of the book. Now it would be too simple to say Godawa is wrong in teaching that we can watch films laden with negative elements. Rather, he left me unconvinced. I suspect the same will be true of many readers. This oversight aside, I found Hollywood Worldviews, with the exception of that appendix, a good and valuable read.
“Are we to be cultural gluttons, immersing ourselves in the culture around us so we can speak to it from the perspective of first-hand experience? Are we to be cultural anorexics, avoiding culture altogether lest it corrupt us? Or are we to take some middle ground where we appreciate aspects of it while rejecting others?”
I propose a fourth option: we create our own culture.
If you’re going to pooh-pooh art education and regard the arts as trivial compared to business and science, don’t be surprised when your values aren’t very well represented in the arts.
agreed. people really underestimate the power of art and its role in influencing people’s worldviews and shaping the direction of culture. even obama is smart enough to pay loads of attention to appointing people to all these committees on the arts.
Here’s some interesting insight from Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City:
In his final session with Newfrontiers Keller highlighted that we find relating to the culture to be an increasing problem in the West. We now have a post-Christian culture. The Anglo-saxons struggled with Christianity because it believed in forgiveness and compassion for the weak. They felt that culture couldnt survive without respect and fear. Northern European paganism was bloodthirsty and power hungry. Christianity changed the attitudes to the poor and weak. Society now says we dont need Christianity because we care for the weak, and we forgive.
They have robbed christianity of all their assets but thrown out God. The claim is that we dont need God to have a society. Lets be Christian for 2000 years then throw it out, and maybe it works. We have a new situation. Secular societies in Europe are living off the plundered capital of Christianity. But we have earned the scorn of the unbelievers.
The old problem of paganism is the idea of individual power which is creeping back in. At the street level increasingly as Christianity recedes life will be based on individual power and exploitation. Europe almost needs to get really non-Christian to get Christian again. It has many of the benefits and refinements of a Christian civilization but has lost the heart.
Have to reflect more and more about how to relate. Three wrong ways to go and one right.
1. Defensive against
- triumphalism, Marked by the Christian right. Attitude is that largely through politics we need to take back the culture by taking Christian values and making sure the law upholds them. No distinction between private and public. Get back into corridors of power. Get legislation.
2. Purity from
They say that Christians shouldnt try and purify society at all. Neo-Anabaptist form counter cultures but dont salt society. Just win souls. Stay away.
3. Relevant To
Christians are so out of it we need to change. Make our music and message are culturally relevant. Hip. Get updated.
4. Faithful presence within
We are not trying to take over nor trying to be absent. We need to be willing and able to take our people into the financial world, the arts, the academic world, movies and TV. Be in all those places. Going to them to serve. We have to help people integrate their faith with their work. Churches tend to pull people out of their world into the church. I want to teach you how to run a bible study and eventually become an elder. We need to help people to know what kind of roles can I accept as a Christian actor. What I am doing is important.
You are salt of the earth. This is about being a preservative, medicine and seasoning. Serve people changing people, leavening. If you are not salt you are sand. Its tough not to suck up to the culture and compromise. We must be faithful.
I completely agree. I'm writing an essay to be posted here on that subject. Let's not forget, what is now the culture was once the counter-culture.
"Everything is permissible"but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"but not everything is constructive.
We are supposed to concentrate on what is edifying. The volume of information in books and other media is far beyond what anyone can absorb in a lifetime, so I see no excuse for wasting time on things which do not build up character and spirit.
You are what you eat, intellectually speaking. Garbage in, garbage out.