This week my daughter Bethany introduced me to a website which reviews movies with an eye on children. It is called kids-in-mind. While it does not appear to be explicitly Christian, I am sure it has a huge following among more conservative Christians. The site reviews movies according to three criteria: (a) Sex/Nudity; (b) Violence/Gore; (c) Profanity. It rates movies from 0-10 depending on the presence of these features in them. So far so good. I am one who considers that Christians should have standards in these areas, as part of living distinctive lives with distinction.
But let's try out some movies, starting with Madagascar 2 - many a children's favourite (and not a few adults too). On Sex/Nudity it rates as a 2 out of 10 - "a male chimp kisses a male penguin. A hippo and a giraffe hug and snuggle ... We see what are portrayed as suggestive and incriminating photos of a penguin hugging a doll." On Violence/Gore it rates a 3 out of 10 - "we see video of a woman striking a lion repeatedly with her purse." On Profanity it rates 2 out of 10 - with "7 mild anatomical terms, 1 exclamation (darn you), name-calling (fatso, monkey's uncle)."
I can scarcely believe what I am reading.
Let's try another movie. Take Pride & Prejudice. On Sex/Nudity it rates a 3 - "A man and his wife lie in bed together ... We see a very large pig with very large testicles walk through a courtyard." Violence/Gore receives a 1. Profanity receives a 1.
Or, what about Shrek? Sex/Nudity rates a 3 as "we see a shirtless green ogre." Violence/Gore rates a 4 with "a donkey being catapulted from a tree" topping the concerns. Profanity rates a 3.
I could go on. Believe you me, I could go on.
My chief concern is that in trying to catalogue all the explicit details they consider might be harmful they lose sight of the implicit message that is often far more harmful. As my witness I call the trilogy of High School Musical movies. Video clips and lyrics of every single song can be found here, if you are not familiar with the movies. I've been to all of them. I've enjoyed them. I even reckon there is an uncanny resemblance between my own high school photos and those of lead actor Zac/Troy - although this doesn't come through in our recent chance to catch up...
At one level these movies are harmless as can be seen by the kids-in-mind website ratings - Sex/Nudity at 2; Violence/Gore at 1; Profanity at 0 - a cumulative total less than Madagascar 2, Pride & Prejudice, and Shrek and therefore presumably much less harmful.
I know it is not an explicitly Christan website and call me a puritanical wowser if you like, but if I had a 15yr old daughter saturating herself in these movies, drenching herself with the catchy lyrics of its songs - and I was trying to disciple her as a follower of Jesus with a heart for the mission of God (surely the first principle of Christian parenting - right?!), then I would be concerned. While the explicit message may seem innocuous, the worldview being established in her molten mind more implicitly is a real worry.
It is a musical - so let me explain myself by gathering a few lyrics.
"I want you to know I've never had someone that knows me like you do ... I've never had someone as good for me as you ... (I was) so lonely before I've finally found what I've been looking for (ie you)."
Really?! I wouldn't want those convictions expressed about anyone other than some member of the Trinity, starting with Jesus - and even then it sounds self-centered.
"We're breaking free ... There's not a star in heaven that we can't reach ... Climbin' to get to that place to be all that we can be ... More than hope, More than faith. This is true. This is fate."
Really?! You start talking about fate or luck and you have lost me. The words have no place whatsoever within a Christian worldview.
"She wants fabulous, that is her simple request. All things fabulous, bigger and better and best. Fabulous pool, fabulous splash, fabulous parties even fabulous trash. Fabulous fashion, fabulous bling. She's got to have fabulous everything ... This won't do, that's a bore. That's insulting, I need more! I need, I need, I need, I need, I need, I need, I need fabulous. Fabulous hair, fabulous style. Fabulous eyes and that fabulous smile."
Really?! The world would be a far better place if there were fewer people pursuing this brand of fabulous.
"Right here, Right Now. I'm looking at you and my heart loves the view ... Right here I promise you somehow that tomorrow can wait ... but right now there's you and me."
Really?! The art of living 'right here, right now' as a Christian is to allow certainties in the past (the first coming of Jesus) and the future (the second coming of Jesus) to transform my present 'now' ... and to allow this space 'here' to be transformed by seeing other spaces in the world - spaces of poverty and injustice and need.
"I gotta do what is best for me ... I've gotta move on and be who I am ... We might find our place in this world someday - but at least for now I gotta go my own way."
Really?! Self-absorbed narcissism :) Like Bono says, people are "pickled in themselves" and this is a long way from "denying yourself and taking up your cross".
"They say that you should follow and chase down what you dream - but if you get lost and lose yourself, what does it really mean?"
Really?! Isn't the secret of worthwhile living the capacity to get lost in something bigger than myself?
"Don't you want it all? You want it, you know that you want it - the fame and the fortune and more ... You want the world, nothing less. All the glam and the press only givin' you the best to use ... I want it all, I want it, I want it, I want it. I gotta have my star on the door."
Really?! This seems to be the road to the vacuuous superficial celebrity status which so fills our headlines and so blights our world. Bring back the true heroes.
OK. I may be overreacting - or am I? These attitudes towards freedom, community, hope, suffering, time, relationship, and celebration are deeply flawed. To be trying to disciple an early teenager while their lives are more full with this stuff than with Jesus' stuff is a massive challenge. You wanna know why the church in the USA (and the Western world, for that matter) is so impotent in the face of its culture? It is because the worldview implicit in songs like these are baptised along with the worldview of the gospel. It is called syncretism and it is toxic.
Of course we need to be aware of explicit material that is objectionable - but not at the exclusion of the more implicit messages. After all, as CS Lewis said, "the critical ideas in society are not the ones being argued, but the ones being assumed."
And when Madagascar 2 and Shrek are seen to be more harmful than High School Musical some assumptions are being missed.