Archives For Television

Go Easy on Miley

Mark Beuving —  September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

Miley Cyrus Twerking CensoredEvery non-mountain-recluse in America knows about the infamous Miley Cyrus incident on the VMAs last week. (For you mountain-recluses, Miley performed a song and dance routine that was so filthy, the title “suggestive” barely applies.) It wasn’t exactly family television.

But for a few reasons, I say go easy on Miley. We’ve all had time to freak out about it, now it’s time to think about the bigger picture.

Some perceptive observers have pointed out that Robin Thicke was also on stage. As a much older adult, you could make a great case that he should have known not to take part in a filthy dance with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Is that asking too much of a famous musician? Was he surprised by what happened? Does it matter? Being surprised by a bad situation typically leads the best of us to turn and run.

And then there’s the sad reality that Miley Cyrus didn’t lose her moral compass overnight. The poor girl has been a superstar for many years now. As she’s gotten older, every step towards the “grown up” and provocative she’s ever taken has been rewarded with sales, ratings, and hype. As much as the media wants to appear shocked by this performance, they got exactly what they’ve always wanted: a media storm, through-the-roof ratings, and an outrage that has expressed itself in only one form of action—increased viewership.

Our popstar culture took young Miley gently by the arm, started running full speed toward the edge of a cliff, then stopped abruptly as she went flying over the edge. To the extent that you and I play a part in that popstar culture, we made Miley into a monster, and now we’re calling her one.

Of course, Miley’s not off the hook here. She is a morally responsible human being. And she’s going to reap the ratings/sales benefits of this “mistake” in the days ahead. I doubt the backlash surprised her.

We could all hope that Miley would develop into a better role model for our kids. But I’m not sure we have the right to be surprised when a girl raised in front of unbelievably massive audiences in the midst of three often seedy industries (music, television, and film) isn’t teaching our daughters about modesty and abstinence.

Probably the best step we can all take here is to remember what the Bible says about humanity’s wayward condition (this event proved the Bible right), to talk to our sons and daughters about what they should and shouldn’t expect from the celebrities we all enjoy, and to check our hearts to see how guilty we might be in creating the kind of culture that rewards this kind of behavior. Maybe we could begin to pray for a young woman who appears to be lost in terms of her identity.

Maybe we should go easy on Miley and take a look at ourselves. Odd as it may seem, I can think of no better words to address our proper response to Miley Cyrus “twerking” than those of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ideal monk, Father Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov:

“There can be no judge of a criminal on earth until the judge knows that he, too, is a criminal, exactly the same as the one who stands before him, and that he is perhaps most guilty of all for the crime of the one standing before him. When he understands this, then he will be able to be a judge. However mad that may seem, it is true. For if I myself were righteous, perhaps there would be no criminal standing before me know. If you are able to take upon yourself the crime of the criminal who stands before you and whom you are judging in your heart, do so at once, and suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach.”

“Suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach.” If only we had a role model who could display this profound concept for all of us…

 

Behind_the_music_logo

I remember being really annoyed as a kid when MTV stopped playing music. (Above reproach alert: I was not a Christian then.) Instead of music videos they had shows about the lives of the musicians. It was so bad they actually spun off a whole new channel (MTV2) that actually played music so that they could basically dedicate MTV exclusively to non-music.

I’m much older now and so I listen to talk radio. Funny enough, they’re doing the same thing. They rarely talk about the actual acts of the stars they care about. Instead, they talk about their lives outside of baseball, football, or basketball. Talent that goes beyond anything we could ever dream interests us not to the talent but to the talented. We want to know them more than we want to watch what they do. At least that’s what sells.

Everywhere I turn, media is doing this.

The History Channel wins ratings when it tells us the true story of Da Vinci or Van Gogh or Beethoven. The art of these masters flashes on the screen for a moment before and after commercial breaks, but it’s not the main attraction.

In 1984, Hollywood struck it rich and won an Oscar with Amadeus, a movie about Mozart. His tunes played in the background, but it was the life of the genius that intrigued the masses. We want to know him because the music is so overwhelming.

Reality TV shows take us into the homes of the talented all the time. DVDs are filled with extras which always let us hear more about the stars of the show. “Behind the Music” is more popular than the music.

Every normal person, people with mundane talents and average intellect, people like me (and probably you), seem caught up in curiosity. What are these people really like? The genius grabs our attention, but the products that flow from their super-imagination are the appetizer. Our gut tells us that the person is much greater than the product.

But maybe I shouldn’t have been so annoyed. When we find ourselves more drawn to the personality than the product, we might be heading in a good direction. Or, at the very least, we are revealing something about ourselves that God has shaped. The author of Hebrews might have pitched “Behind Creation” as the next great show because “the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (Hebrews 3:3).

God himself made our world in order to captivate our attention. He wanted us to be overwhelmed by his genius. But he did not want us to end with simply a fascination on his works of art. He intended us to almost neglect the music in favor of the Musician, ignore the sculpture to spend time investigating the Sculptor.

I sat in a classroom while C.S. Lewis expert Jerry Root began describing a sunset he watched off the coast of Santa Barbara. His ability to paint the scene made us forget we were in a 70s era bunker without windows. After a few moments of whisking us into a daydream of paradise, he hit his climax, “What must he be like if this is what he lets us see of his creativity?”

History Channel The Bible 2Yesterday, I talked about the History Channel’s new series on the Bible. As I said, many found the show compelling and faithful to the overall story, if not to every detail of the biblical story. My argument in yesterday’s post was that adapting a book for film is fraught with difficulties, so we should be cautious with our expectations. Today I want to continue exploring our response to this show by showing why the criticisms are valid, but why I tend to disagree.

The most important concern about the series is that it changes some of the events, dialogue, and chronology within the biblical storyline. This is serious. We’re talking about God’s divine revelation to us, after all. So even though it’s difficult to adapt a book to film, the issue is significant when we come to the Bible.

If presenting the Bible on film is so difficult, we might argue that it shouldn’t be done at all. God wrote the Bible, so let’s stick to that. That’s a legitimate position to hold. This would allow us to stick with the inerrant version of the story and keep us from needing to interpret the events for visual depiction.

But that does seem a bit simplistic. For example, can we paint pictures about biblical events? Christians have been doing this throughout the history of Christianity. What about stained glass windows? At one point in church history, these windows were designed to tell the biblical stories so that illiterate peasants would have access to these inspiring and important accounts.

So we probably shouldn’t rule out visual depictions of biblical stories outright. Instead, we’ll need to focus the discussion on what types of presentations are permissible.

History Channel Abraham IsaacAnd that’s where we’ll disagree. As an example, I was okay with the History Channel’s decision to put the words of Genesis 1 –3 into Noah’s mouth (when in fact it was Moses who wrote them). It served as a cool introduction to these chapters, it put the flood in its theological context, and it allowed them to cover a lot of ground in a few minutes. Was this presentation inaccurate? Yes. We have no record of Noah saying this. Is it bad? I don’t think so, personally. Moses would not have been the first one to be aware of the creation story, though he was the one chosen to record it in Scripture. Noah would have known these things. So I liked it as a storytelling device that stayed accurate to the overall story, if not to the details. Others will disagree, and that’s okay. It’s a tough issue.

I also saw in a preview that when Jesus is asked by his disciples what he will do, he replies, “Change the world.” The gospels don’t record these words, so again, we have an inaccuracy. But would any of us deny that this is what Jesus was doing? It’s a storytelling device that shows the significance of what Jesus was up to. Again, I’m okay with it. And again, others won’t be.

So here’s my point in writing these two posts. If you find yourself disgusted by The Bible on TV, then don’t watch it. It won’t be helpful for you to smolder on your couch. But be okay with other people being encouraged by it. Be sure that they’re committed to the reliability of Scripture and the primacy of the biblical telling of these stories, but be okay with them finding value in something you don’t like.

And if you find yourself upset at those who didn’t like the series, understand that the Bible is the most important book in the world. It’s understandable that some are disturbed at seeing the biblical events altered for film. We can all agree that something more significant is going on here than disliking the way the Hobbit was adapted for film.

For all of us, if we curb our expectations and evaluate the series based on its faithfulness to the overall message of the Bible, we might get more out of it. (But then again, we might not—it has yet to be seen if the show will faithfully present the overall story of the Bible.)

Here’s the position we should hold: The Bible is and always will be the only inerrant and definitive telling of God’s story. If we cling tightly to that, we will be equipped to critically assess and still benefit from a visual interpretation of that story.

History Chanell the BibleLast night, the History Channel aired the first episode of their series on the Bible. I watched the previews for this show with curiosity. For one thing, Hollywood isn’t known for its efforts to protect the accuracy or intent of Scripture. For another thing, if the History Channel wrote a history textbook, it would contain at least a chapter on each of the following: World War II, antiques, aliens, truckers and loggers, and conspiracy theories; then there would be a concluding chapter entitled “Other Things that Happened.” So as I watched previews for a dramatized film version of biblical stories, I was skeptical.

If my Facebook feed is any indication, the show proved controversial. Some are arguing that it was very reverent and preserved the intended message of the Bible, even if some of the details were change for the new medium. Others are outraged, concerned that the Bible was changed to make a good show. Most people seem to be falling in between these two positions.

I was only able to watch the first 20 minutes (though I plan to keep watching), so what I will offer here are some thoughts on what we should expect from a film version of Bible stories, rather than what the History Channel did specifically. I feel that many of the negative reviews seem to be stemming from a misunderstanding of how the Bible might work as a movie.

So what should we expect when we go to see the Bible on the silver screen? Well, don’t expect too much. Haven’t we all watched a film version of a beloved book only to be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as the book? This is because books and film work in different ways. If a book could be easily and accurately adapted as a movie, then these movies wouldn’t need writers. The story is already written, why rewrite it! Right?

History Channel JesusMovie-adaptations need writers because we read books differently than we watch movies. A book can tell you Frodo threw the magical ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Your mind conjures up a wonderful image of what this “looks” like, based in part (though only in part) on descriptions the author provides. But the movie has to show you the details. They have to show you lava flowing, rocks shaking and falling, a convenient rock peninsula that seems to have been built for throwing magical rings into the lava below. Thousands of details that a writer can leave out have to be thrown into a movie.

So when the Bible says that Jesus fed five thousand and picked up basketfuls of leftovers, a film presentation would have to show you people’s faces. It would have to interpret their reaction to getting increasingly more bread and fish from a single man. The Bible doesn’t tell us if the people sat still for this, if they were dead silent or talkative, or if they fully realized what was going on. A film has to make a decision on each of these things in order to portray the event.

Similarly, a book can give you extended dialogue on what a character’s motivation is, or pause the action to describe the significance of what’s happening. A film has to keep moving. It can fill in some gaps with a narrator (which the History Channel chose to do), but much of the interpretation comes from the visual depiction and the action and interaction of the characters.

So back to the question. When the Bible hits the silver screen, we shouldn’t expect it to be a word for word retelling of biblical events. Aside from necessitating the longest film series the world would ever see (or wouldn’t see, because it would be immediately cancelled), this would make for a bad movie (can you imagine the many many episodes on Numbers, or the similarity between the Kings and Chronicles episodes?). Don’t get me wrong. The Bible is indeed the greatest story ever told. But God chose to record his story in a book. The doctrine of inerrancy says nothing about how that book should adapt to film.

Can some events be left out? Can some dialogue be extrapolated in order to present the significance of what was happening? We’re left to make those decisions on our own. Just keep in mind that it’s not an issue of Hollywood trying to change the Bible, these are decisions we’d all have to make in trying to present the Bible visually.

These are a few thoughts to help us consider how well the History Channel did. We have to keep in mind that they took on an audacious project, one that we would all find exceedingly difficult, and that we would all be criticized for undertaking.

But there is more to be said. Tomorrow I will give some concluding thoughts and show why many of the concerns presented are justified. Then I will explain why I tend to disagree with most of the concerns.

Cheating

Mark Beuving —  February 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

Boom Mic Guy NBC’s The Office has recently been raising a fascinating topic of discussion: cheating. The show is a comedy, and most of what the show portrays is lighthearted and funny. But the writers have never shied away from storyline and drama (the humor often flows from these aspects rather than cheap gags), and the show has introduced some heavy and important themes from time to time. [Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen any of the January episodes and don’t want to find out what happens, read this later.]

Cheating in relationships is not new to The Office. Angela, Michael, Andy, Dwight, Stanley, and Oscar have all been involved in relationships where someone was cheating. For the most part, however, these characters and their relationships are so flawed that their moral failings are brushed aside (“Of course she would do that!”). I’m not suggesting that’s right, but that’s why these subplots have never caused much of a stir.

Recently, however, there have been hints of cheating amongst more relatable characters. Most notably, Pam has developed (has been developing for quite some time, apparently) an emotional relationship with the guy who holds the boom mic for the supposed documentary crew (henceforth known as “the boom mic guy.”)

The crazy thing is, they haven’t done anything. All we’ve seen thus far is a touch of flirtation, an emotional connection, and some very sweet comforting. Compared to what other characters have done, this is nothing. But it makes me furious. This form of cheating really bothers me. Pam is married, and her husband Jim has been busy and unavailable. So Pam’s connection with the boom mic guy is dangerous. Pam’s form of cheating is troubling because we’re rooting for Pam and Jim. We believe they ought to be together, so we don’t like outsiders messing with their relationship.

But look at it from another angle. Pam and Jim got together because Pam was acting exactly like this in a previous relationship. In the first few seasons, Pam was engaged to Roy, and Jim eventually won her over by subtle flirting, an emotional connection, and some very sweet comforting. Pam and the boom mic guy in season 9 are basically Pam and Jim in season 1.

This shows how manipulative television can be. We believe that love involves loyalty; that love is something greater than sticking with the person who makes you feel happiest in a given moment. But we don’t seem to hold these views when it comes to television characters. We wanted Pam to leave Roy. The only reason we’re not rooting for the boom mic guy is that we still like Jim. (By the way, a while back I wrote about this very phenomenon in the movie Water for Elephants).

The Office - Season 9An interesting comparison is Erin cheating on Andy with Pete, one of the new guys. Like Pam and the boom mic guy, this one is subtle—nothing much has happened. But in this case, I find myself rooting for Pete. Why? I think it works the same way. When Erin was dating Gabe, she was connecting with Andy, and we were rooting for Andy because we liked him and we didn’t like Gabe. Now that Andy is treating Erin poorly, we’re rooting for Pete. It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops when Andy returns.

The point is this: we need to be careful that our view of love is not shaped by the television shows we watch. I love The Office, but all good things must be enjoyed with discernment. I am certain that the writers will keep Pam and Jim together, but the recent bumps in this relationship brought my attention to the other forms of cheating on the show, and I was surprised to analyze which relationships I was rooting for. And ultimately, love is love—whether our favorite characters realize that or not.