During my undergraduate studies in video production, one textbook included a story about a legal dispute. Two sides argued about whether or not one of them could erect a commercial sign on a busy thoroughfare, as there were probably too many commercial signs there already.
Both sides hired their own photographer to prove their claims. Both photographers photographed the same plot of land. One used a narrow-angle lens to compress the images, making existing marks appear as cluttered and close to each other as possible. The other used a wide-angle lens to make existing signs appear as distant as possible. Confused by the disparate results of the photographs, the judge dismissed the evidence outright.
Similarly, in our current highly politicized culture, the lens of partisan assumptions can skew the movie-watching experience. This lens, which often operates unconsciously, can cause misinterpretations and inappropriate responses to a film’s story. If we don’t cultivate careful discernment, our political biases can drag us along, bringing confusion, anger, and perhaps even a rejection of what we see and hear.
There are at least three ways these distorted lenses operate. Recognizing them can help us better interpret, appreciate, and discuss the films we watch.
Distorted prime lens is derogatory labeling. Even if the « propaganda » should be a worthless term, we do not conceive of it as having positive connotations. As such, the word is often used pejoratively: if we wish to condemn a film, it helps if we can label it as having an « agenda » with an « obvious message ».
The thing is, movies with obvious agendas and messages are neither inherently wrong nor inherently bad. As I have written elsewhere, propaganda “involves the dissemination of ideas or information that promote(s) a particular cause or movement. It can be positive (as used by Harriet Beecher Stowe) and it can be negative (as used by Adolf Hitler). »
Movies like Gosnell AND Not planned I am explicitly pro-life. Movies like Increased AND The case of Christ they are explicitly Christian. These films can and should be evaluated holistically, not simply on the presence or absence of an « agenda ».
Now, it could be argued that the most powerful movies are those without a dogmatic commitment to a particular message. Themes that spring from a story, rather than a story that springs from a fabricated theme, tend to resonate more honestly, powerfully, and lastingly. For example, movies like I arrive AND A quiet place communicate life-affirming messages more organically than some films built around a pro-life message.
In any case, too many people see movies as mere tools to promote a morality; hence the tendency to reduce a film to the intended message (whether it has one or not). If we like the story lesson, we give it a high rating. If we don’t like it, we stigmatize it as « propaganda » and reject it altogether.
The first problem leads directly to the second: double standards. Because it’s easy to overlook the flaws in a movie you agree with and exaggerate the flaws in a movie you disagree with, different standards can be applied to different stories based on our political beliefs.
A personal example: when I saw an advanced screening of Pretty (a pro-life film) in 2007, I initially tried too hard to paint the film in a positive light. As an advocate for life, I almost felt compelled to magnify Prettythe few strengths of and downplaying its many weaknesses (which I certainly wouldn’t have done for a pro-choice film). Since when I posted my review on my personal blog, it was pretty easy to review it in retrospect.
On a larger scale, there has been a massive push from the pro-life community to advocate Pretty. Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi observed a « mind-numbing bandwagon » that almost seemed to threaten the faith community to « get behind Bella if you love Jesus and care for kids! » Indeed she says
A producer of the film later left a message on my answering machine noting that my refusal to support the film had its origin « in the demonic. » Truly? « Demon »? Couldn’t it just be that I found the film tiring, easy, sloppy and uneven?
Of course, progressives are also guilty of inconsistent standards. A recent example is when film critic Jeffrey Overstreet complained the « objectification of women as trophies » in Top Gun: nonconformist– a surprisingly strange posture, considering that he praised the virtues From The Wolf of Wall Street without even mentioning his penchant for the objectification of women as toys.
It’s no secret that Top Gun: nonconformist showed especially popular in conservative circleswhile the films of Martin Scorsese resonate with the American left. And over the years, Overstreet hasn’t kept up with its private left politics. Also, Overstreet finds it offensive different political elements In maverickincluding his glorification of the « ageless white man on the rise ».
Truth be told, there’s a lot more going on Wolf AND maverick with respect to their treatment (improper or otherwise) of women. Even so, when one film is called out for including a minor component of female objectification, while another is lauded despite its rampant female objectification, it reveals a double standard. While the reason for this disparity probably involves more than just politics, it evidently involves nothing less.
In any case, critics and audiences of all kinds Should being able to recognize a film’s strengths and point out its weaknesses, regardless of its political ideology. We Should being able to criticize a bad film even if we agree with its good intentions. The « part » of a movie may not necessarily be a moot point, but it’s not the only factor either. In many cases, that’s not even the most important factor.
The third distorted lens is the reactionary interpretation. In a hyperpartisan climate, it’s easy to become hypersensitive to harmful beliefs and ideologies in the culture around us. Sometimes this can lead to paranoia: seeing messages in places where they don’t actually exist.
For example, even though it might seem bizarre to us now, there was a time when It’s a wonderful life it was being investigated by Ayn Rand, the FBI, and the House of Representatives’ House Un-American Activities Committee. Why? To promote a subversive communist ideology. Frank Capra’s now classic film has been accused of “deliberately [maligning] the upper class », « trying to show [that] the people who had money were mean and contemptible characters » and showed « a rather obvious attempt to bring bankers into disrepute… [which] it is a common trick used by the communists.”
It is one thing to see communism as contradictory to Christianity (as evangelical Christians still believe today); another is to label a pro-individual, anti-atheist film as a communist.
A more recent example is the Pixar film WALL-Ewhich some have condemned as anti-capitalist propaganda for its « save the earth » themes. National Review called « a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of overconsumption, big business and environmental destruction. » But how The American Conservative underlinedthe problem into WALL-E not a big deal; it’s « big business married to big government. » Or, how city Hallis Paul Edwards Put It:
If the intent of capitalism is to satisfy the basest instincts of the human heart, requiring us to indulge our every whim and desire, leading to a dependence on government, then I guess I’m an anti-capitalist too. However, capitalism can only achieve this when all constraints of personal responsibility are removed. In this sense, WALL-E is a brilliant exposition of the flaws of liberalism.
WALL-E is the story of what results when a liberal vision of the future is achieved: government marries business in the interest of providing not just « the pursuit of happiness » but happiness itself, thus creating greedy citizens who depend on government to sustain their lives. The result is a humanity composed of self-centered and isolated individuals with no affection for others, thus challenging what it means to be truly human.
One could argue WALL-E it was not designed to be an indictment of either Conservative OR liberalism. It emphatically functions as a critique of consumerism, a critique both justified and welcome to all sane individuals, capitalist and socialist alike. Either way, it’s a brilliant piece of visual storytelling that’s well worth watching and discussing.
Rather than slapping pejorative labels on movies, making them look worse than they appear, we should honestly criticize them, just as we would any other film. It Should be enough for us to address legitimate issues rather than fabricate issues to make our position seem stronger. And even if we have to oppose a film’s ideology, we can still defend our position « gently and respectfully » (1 pet. 3.15pm).
Rather than employing double standards, we should practice fairness to films we agree with (which, at times, may require constructive criticism) and films we disagree with (which, at times, may require praise). ). The Lord loves just weights and measures, not unequal (Prov. 11:1; 8:10pm).
Rather than abandon critical judgments, we should exercise thoughtful discernment and not rush to assume or read a film’s message. It is foolish to be hasty with our words and accusations (Prov. 29:20). As often as possible, we can take on a director’s most charitable motives, even if theirs the final product is problematic— or, ultimately, condemnable.
In light of Scriptural imperatives, we can avoid “foolish and ignorant disputes” and “be not quarreling but kind to all” and “[correct our] opponents with sweetness » (2 Tim. 2:23-25). May our speech “always be kind, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how [we] should answer to each » (Col. 4:6). And our words are not « corrupting… but only those which are good to edify, according to the occasion, so that they may give grace to those who hear » (Eph. 4:29).
In a tribal culture, disagreement is inevitable. But being unpleasant it is not, especially not to those of us who profess submission to the meek and humble Lordship of Christ.