The Church of the Masses
John Paul II said that this generation of Christians will have to atone for its failure to use the media to spread the gospel of life. This generation of Christians will be called to account for its failure to use these powerful gifts we have in our hands to create global community and to move people to tears. Others will be asked why they did not recognize Jesus. We will be asked why we did not make television shows.
Many perceive a tension between "heartland" and "Hollywood" values. Is that a legitimate perception?
Again, not to get myself burned in effigy, but Christians feel as alienated from Hollywood as Hollywood people feel watching EWTN or CBN. Hollywood has a value of excellent production value, of talent, and the pagan world absolutely believes in talent, this mysterious gift that comes from they-know-not-where. We know where it comes from; they don't know where it comes from, but they believe in it.
The Church does not believe in talent anymore. We think the most important thing is that everyone feels welcome. So we sit at church and suffer through Doris and Stan, who can't sing, because we don't want to be mean. They would never get a job in Hollywood, because Hollywood has integrity about the beautiful. Or if it's not "the Beautiful" in the classical sense, at least, they value the non-lame.
So when you speak of a tension of values, well, there is the value of the Beautiful, which Hollywood understands and the Church does not, and then there are the values specifically of what is good for human beings. What is it that leads them to their fulfillment, their ultimate destiny, fulfilling their nature? Those things are missing, content-wise, in what you're seeing in a lot of the media.
But in the end, which is more harmful: true words cast in an ugly frame, or untrue words cast in a beautiful frame? I think Hollywood will get people into heaven faster. Even if they have the message wrong, people in the end will turn off some of that. What will really impact them will be the harmony, the wholeness, the completeness of a work.
So for example, a show like Friends, which might make light of pornography, is ultimately not as dangerous because it's very well-produced, well-acted, well-written. It's funny. It works as a whole. Whereas you can have a minister in front of a Bible on CBN with a bad toupee, lit garishly, and saying lovely things, but the message is that Christianity is uncreative, banal, boring, undynamic, and irrelevant.
So I'm deliberately not giving the easy answer. One of the things I do in the Church is, whenever Christians ask me to condemn Hollywood, I always condemn the Church. People always ask me if I am surprised by how many gross things Hollywood produces. Being here, and knowing how few people in Hollywood talk to the Living God in any conscious way, I am actually amazed at how much good they do. They do much more profound things than we give them credit for.
Things are changing, too. The boomers are dying and ceding power, and the power is going into the very troubled, introspective hands of the Generation Xers, people like Jason Reitman, who made Juno and what I consider this year's best film, Up in the Air. These folks are completely ambivalent about the promises of the sexual revolution. They don't have other options, but they know the way they were raised was wrong.