How Christians Can Deal With Hollywood (Part 1)

Clare Sera on Responding to the Media

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HOLLYWOOD, California, MARCH 25, 2004 ( In his message for World Communications Day this May, John Paul II stresses the importance of parents regulating their children’s media exposure.

«This would include planning and scheduling media use, strictly limiting the time children devote to media, making entertainment a family experience, putting some media entirely off limits, and periodically excluding all of them for the sake of other family activities,» he wrote.

Clare Sera, an alumna of Act One: Writing for Hollywood who is collaborating on the «Curious George» screenplay for Universal/Imagine, agrees with the Pope and recognizes that media offer both a risk and a richness. Sera shared with ZENIT how Christians can properly use the media.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

Q: What would you say are the major areas where Hollywood has deeply affected Christians’ behavior — without them realizing it?

Sera: There was a special on the History Channel about some archaeological dig where they had discovered sacred artifacts from one of the times the Jews had been exiled to Babylon.

Prior to the exile these sacred objects had «purely Jewish» religious markings, but the ones found during the exile had begun to incorporate symbols of Babylon’s culture. Babylon’s culture was very «hip» and appealing — very bohemian. But it made me sad to see the «pure» Jewish worship diluted with nods to other gods.

Hollywood, like Babylon, is a strong, hip culture with an appealing message. When our sacred objects are found hundreds of years from now, what will they reveal about us?

In what ways are we being influenced by Hollywood without even realizing it? Every way. Every movie, each TV show leaves its influence — from fashion to sexual norms — but we have great power over how we allow that to influence our hearts.

The challenge for us is to remain alert to what our hearts are investing in when we participate in this culture. Unlike many religions, Christianity is lived by the Spirit, not the letter of the law — this is what allows us to live in crazy cultures and, hopefully, bring a little leaven to them.

But living in the Spirit requires some tough self-discipline to ensure we are hearing him clearly and responding courageously. The perks of living in America today are costly to the heart.

Q: How can Christians gauge how much Hollywood influences their lives? What are questions that people, and especially parents, can ask themselves in order to determine its pervasiveness?

Sera: Again, ask yourself: «What is my heart investing in?» That is the question. To truly live your life, there’s a constant re-evaluation — and unpleasant as it sounds — thinking that’s necessary.

You have to ask, «What do I want? What does my soul ache for?» Then take stock to see if what you say you want is lining up with what you are doing and pursuing. And do this every night.

Ours is an inward journey and it takes vigilance to guard it. Hollywood is most interested in the outward journey — status, looks and instant gratification. Its stories claim to take us on a journey of the heart, but Hollywood is most often wrong about what’s true and what’s good for the heart.

Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t know any better. It thinks sex equals intimacy and that by encouraging you to make sure you «get yours» — in regard to career, status, whatever — that you’re guarding your «self.» Hollywood really doesn’t know how wrong it is.

But think about it — we do know and we can barely believe it. Sacrifice brings joy? Intimacy means vulnerability and honesty? That’s tough stuff. That’s why Christ was a radical — nobody likes the «s» word. Sacrifice yourself for others who aren’t even worthy of it. And of course the movies that really move us all, both nonbelievers and believers, are the ones with a message of great sacrifice. «Braveheart» springs immediately to mind.

So how do we guard our hearts and remain alert? You ask questions. Become Socratic with yourself and your friends. Seek peace of heart and pursue it. Work at it. Look for [the Holy Spirit], for his ways in the stories you watch and hear.

You watch «Big Fish» and walk away saying, «So what is ‘truth’? What’s at the heart of truth? What details are important? Why did God give us a story of a seven-day creation, a man in the belly of a whale, a tower of Babel? Why isn’t the Bible an encyclopedia of fact?»

I found «Big Fish» to be the most exciting movie theologically that I’ve seen in years — it caused me to really question what’s legalistic as opposed to what’s true.

You watch a movie like «Love Actually» and when you walk away you say, «OK, they represented love as a pretty and shallow experience. Do I want to invest in that? Do I want to start fantasizing about having relationships like that?»

If I find I am being drawn to pretty, shallow relationships, I need to run from the theater to the cross to reindoctrinate myself to what real love is. It requires prayerful thought in order to survive unscathed in a culture that is this in-your-face.

By the way, a well-established, fellow screenwriter in Hollywood pointed out to me the «truth» of the movie «Love Actually.» He is a nonreligious fellow who was sad at this movie’s portrayal of love — this can’t be love actually, he mourned. And it’s not, actually. It’s really not.

Q: How can Christians and people of good will use the media without being used by them?

Sera: The thing is, we should be here for Hollywood, not vice versa. We’ve got something great to bring to the table. We need to be engaging — out loud — in thoughtful, insightful dialogue on why so many movies leave us feeling empty. We need to be in excited, encouraging dialogue on the ones that uplift and challenge and entertain us. Hollywood is truly influenced by phone calls and letters.

Also, Hollywood is a teen-ager who immediately rebels at judgmental finger-pointing. We can be smarter than Hollywood. If we can’t, we’re really in trouble. We can influence at least some of what comes onto our screens and support it — and not go see the stuff that’s bad.

That’s also what’s so exciting about being a Christian — about living in the Spirit. Our choices of what’s a good movie will vary tremendously among us. And we don’t need to be afraid of that. We don’t need to be afraid of anything, really.

All things work together for the good of those who love and serve the Lord. So how can anything, any movie or TV show be feared? Not to say it shouldn’t be challenged. We just don’t need to raise it to a status of more power than it actually has.

I love that some churches have movie clubs where they screen films and then sit around and talk about them afterward. That’s great. Movies are good opportunities to bring up topics you might not think about around the dinner table.

It’s a great way to open conversations with your kids about why you think such and such a movie has a bleak message, or a great message, and ask them what they think. That’s the proper use of the media.

[Friday: How to influence Hollywood]

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