Caveat Spectator (Let the Viewer Beware)

by: Godsbooklover

“That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message.

They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.  As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.”  (Acts 17:10-12, NLT)

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One of several films I’m looking forward to seeing soon, Spielberg’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, was reviewed recently by R.J. Moeller over at Acculturated.com .

Here’s an excerpt which highlights what was, to me, a very interesting insight:

The abolitionist movement was in many ways the result of the Second Great Awakening, a Christian spiritual revival in the first part of the nineteenth century that swept the country and convicted many Americans on the importance of ending the “scourge” of slavery.  Among those who fought to bring the matter before Congress, faith was a primary motivating factor.  And while the personal vitality of President Lincoln’s private faith has been questioned by some historians in recent years, his rhetoric on the issue of slavery was drenched in Judeo-Christian, biblical morality (and consistently, even direct quotes from Scripture). 

This reality does not make Christianity the national religion, nor does it shame or exclude the faith traditions of any American citizen before or since.

So why almost no mention of these things in a film that is, more than anything else, about the critical push to pass the law that ended the most shameful chapter in our nation’s history?  Directors and screenwriters are only too happy to wrap the faith of a character around his or her neck if he or she is depicting a despicable hypocrite or philanderer, but why no love for the undeniable religiosity of so many courageous social/political warriors when they were a driving force behind one of our nation’s proudest moments?

If Christianity must accept the fact that many so-called believers justified slavery in the South by misappropriating the teachings of their faith, why can it never get so much as a shout-out for the role it played in confronting slavery in the nineteenth century and racism in the twentieth?

Moeller is right–what is omitted is just as telling as what is included. Having thoroughly enjoyed  Amazing Grace, the 2006 film based on William Wilberforce’s abolitionist work in England, I’m thankful that it was produced by a team unafraid of giving credit to Wilberforce’s Christian faith as a primary motivator of his arduous political fight. But what if you are not well-informed enough to KNOW that something vital is being omitted?  Are not today’s politically-correct storytellers banking on their audience’s general ignorance?

As we enter an exciting season of major motion picture versions of epic novels,  I find myself braced for what I’m going to see, and not see. What will be the major themes underscored in Anna Karenina?  Will its Christian motifs of faith, fidelity and family be present at all? Or will we merely be treated to a lavishly-costumed tragic romance?

As for Les Misérables, since it is a screen adaptation of a stage musical based on the book, I already know what gripes me about it.   Although Victor Hugo wrote one of the greatest novels of all time as an exploration of law versus grace, the musical version oversimplifies this into a battle between the fierce “Old Testament” faith of Javert and the meek and mild faith of Jean Valjean. In Hugo’s novel, Javert’s only “god” is the Law and adherence to the letter of it.  When Valjean demonstrates to him time and again that mercy is greater than rigid legalism, Javert is destroyed.

Our theater company is going into rehearsal this week for our next play, an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic, A Little Princess. It so happens that the adaptation we’re using is my own. I eschewed two published versions, one overly short and the other simply childish and silly. Being faithful to the spirit of a work of literature is just as important, I believe, as being faithful to a historical figure and era. 

In both cases, we make choices of what to underscore, and must ask, “Am I being true to the original?  Am I being fair in my depiction of characters and events?  Are my own biases creeping in?”

One little example: Wonderworks’ 1986 version of A Little Princess is widely hailed as the most faithful film version of this book.  I know my mom loved it.  When I watched it, what stood out was that Hindu idols (including the warrior goddess Kali) were treated as fascinating and positive, while they are virtually unmentioned in the book– a character sees a Buddha being carried into a house.  By contrast, the only mention of Christianity in the film (there is none in the novel) is a hypocritical prayer offered by the primary villainess of the piece, Miss Minchin.   Although to most people my quibble would seem minor, to me it was an inappropriate insertion of worldview into a children’s film.

I’m reminded of well-meaning teachers in the 1970s who were so thrilled that a new musical was based on the gospels.  We spent hours of class time listening to the music and discussing the themes of Jesus Christ Superstar…but never do I remember anyone criticizing the piece for portraying our Lord as “just a man”.  I have lots of friends today who would jump at the chance to be in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, to my mind one of the most bland and emasculated retellings  of a Bible story imaginable.

Now we have a new Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon…even the synopsis  of the story line is not for the faint of heart (consider yourself warned).   Billed as a religious satire, it mocks at Mormon beliefs, but actually takes potshots at all organized religion.  Eventually we are led to the “broadminded” conclusion that religion is fine as long as it helps people.  This show has garnered nine Tony awards, including Best Musical of 2012.

As our society increasingly loses the ability to concentrate on reading anything of substance or length, it relies more and more on soundbites, excerpts, digests and film redactions for its information as well as its entertainment. Consequently we are allowing others to tell us what a book is about, what an author meant, what really happened at a certain time, what a historic personage was really like. Who is teaching our children to question the narrative’s point of view? Who is challenging them to examine the primary source for accuracy? Who is asking them to think about the worldview of what they’re watching or listening to? Who is giving them permission to use discernment? For that matter, who is reminding the adults that THEY need to question, examine, think about and discern?

Well, we are…on this blog. In fact, there are many voices crying in the wilderness of our present somnambulant culture.

We’re crying… pleading… “Wake up!”

3 responses to “Caveat Spectator (Let the Viewer Beware)

  1. Reblogged this on Winnowing…sorting the wheat and chaff of my thoughts and commented:

    Wrote some thoughts on the culture (over at Thabto), as reflected in current film and stage.

  2. Possibly TOO true, sis. Another reason that the ground (academia & entertainment) which has been ceded to the Left, culturally speaking, is killing us.

    Historically, much or most of what made us a great nation was reflected, largely, by the cultural majority….yet now, the reverse is true.

    Great examples; excellent post.
    It’s an unpleasant truth…but it’s still the truth.

  3. Thank you!!
    Here’s another for your collection. Sister Helen Prejean befriends imprisoned murderers because the love of Christ compels her, as she tells her family in her book. When the same scene in the movie plays out at the dinner table Sister Helen explains, “There’s just something about it….” or some other unmemorable line draining her ministry orientation, purpose and motivation dry.
    The market for slander against Christians is well-established, but stripping the faithful of their witness is even worse. And I agree with your proposed remedy–training and retraining our minds to think.

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