Fever Nation: Taking the Temperature on America’s Cinematic Morality

With all this talk about health care and coverage, I can’t help but write about of America’s moral thermometer as shown on the silver screen. First, I’m not the type to spend gobs of money to see the latest and greatest motion picture masterpieces. When I began contributing to this blog I never imagined writing posts commenting on Hollywood productions. If I happened to only watch the blockbuster “greats” – The Dark Knight or Harry Potter or some other hundred million dollar budget production, little doubt exists that I would post on the topic of “movies.” The purpose of Ex Deserto is to foster discussion about the law, public policy, and issues that affect our culture and society. While it would be a stretch to post that some aspect of conservatism could best be understood by an in depth analysis of Batman, no doubt exists that movies are directly relevant in understanding American culture and morality.

Americans love movies. Last year, nearly ten billion dollars was spent at the domestic box office. Our choice of viewings reflect, at least in part, our views toward ourselves, the world, and our social, cultural and political norms. Though beyond the scope of this post, just think about what Sex and the City, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or What Happens in Vegas says about our view toward sexuality or monogamy.

Culture is relevant. To change the law one must change the culture; as what happens in culture become ingrained in law. The sexual revolution of the 1960s illustrates this; cases like Griswold, Roe, Casey, Romer, Lawrence are its aftermath. Over the next 40 years, America’s tolerance level regarding acceptable views of morality has increased dramatically. Consequently, for the nation to regain a centered, principled, and moral outlook, culture – and media – must not be ignored.

While I enjoy movies as much as the next person, I am routinely disappointed by licentiousness portrayed as compliance with social mores. Sadly, many people find such films quite humorous. Borat anyone? Films tug at our emotions; they play to hope, fear, love, abandonment, betrayal, and kindness. They often strike a cord with us because we can relate in some way. But while these pictures play at legitimate feelings, they reflect a broken morality.

How many times has Hollywood played some variation of a plot that involves an unmarried lover’s dilemma? Answer: Too often. I scrolled down the movies from the top hits of 2008 and recognized five of the top ten movies than encountered this type of situation to one degree or another (The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, Hancock, Twilight, Quantum of Solace). Worse yet, I haven’t even seen every top ten movie.

Topics once taboo became fad. Hollywood’s statement: traditional family values do not garner ticket sales, but sexual passion, struggles, and “liberty” do. And Americans buy into it – literally.

One of the problems is the glorification of the broken at the expense of the ideal. Too often movies not only depict divorce, premarital sex, homosexuality, rebelliousness – they portray it as normal. And since the 1960s, a great portion of America does view this as “normal.” No doubt, the depictions and plots certainly promote these ideas as acceptable – not stigmatized.

That being said, not everything that is released on the silver screen ought to be avoided. I’m not so anti-culture as to boycott every film that enters big screen. And like I’ve mentioned before, I do enjoy movies from time to time. However, I recommend caution after visiting the theatre concession stand and before having ones eyes glaze over during the previews. Conservatives, and particularly the evangelical right, must realize that a battle over culture does exist. Every year it seems, the envelope is pushed to the extreme: violence, sex, and “love.”

Still, while yet grassroots, there are counter majoritarian films that do promote social values and refuse to bow to the clamor wanton liberality. Religious-based films did not begin or end with The Passion of the Christ. C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia are also in production. But others exist. Most recently, and one that I tentatively recommend (tentatively – because I haven’t seen it) is Tyler Perry’s latest released last month: “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.” Such movies tackle issues of alcoholism, abuse, but they also show faith and redemption. Tyler Perry’s movies, such as the Madea Goes to Jail, like other Hollywood blockbusters, touches on humor, love and the spectrum of human emotions. However, noticeably lacking is the gratuitousness.

Movies are not an end in themselves; they are a form of entertainment and beyond that – they are a mirror into our culture. After taking the temperature of cultural morality, conservatives and Christians must realize not only that hope exists, but a good dose of actionable medicine is needed to bring back down America’s feverish state.

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