Movieguide gets the Last Word

movieguide1.jpgNot too long ago, Alan Noble wrote an article about Movieguide’s Faith and Value awards. Tom Snyder, Movieguide’s editor responded with a defense of Movieguide and their practices. This set in motion a week devoted to addressing some of the claims and assumptions in Tom’s response. However, we wanted Tom to have the last word, so we gave him the opportunity to answer the following questions. They’re provided here for you completely unedited. Thanks to Tom for taking the time to humor us.

Who exactly votes on the Movieguide awards?
The awards are determined by objective, biblical standards looking at the three and four star reviewed movies, the acceptability ratings (to determine the family versus mature audience contenders/nominees according to the appropriate age level) and the qualitative and quantitative analysis in our CONTENT section, including the movie’s dominant worldview, asking whether the movie is primarily moral, redemptive and inspirational rather than merely humanitarian (see the explanation below of our Quality and Acceptability Ratings. The reviewers help determine the ratings and the CONTENT analysis, based on our objective, Bible-centered, and child- and family-friendly criteria based on a traditional understanding of the biblical text and years of scientific research on the impact of media on children and families.

How do you create your annual report (who makes the report, how do you decide which films to include in their figures, etc…)?
Annually, we review the Top 250 or so movies at the box office, reviewing as many movies as we possibly can. Theater owners and studio execs generally only care about the Top 25 and Top 50, but Variety annually lists the Top 250. We analyze the movies by letter code, ratings, dominant worldview, box office using your average database spreadsheet to note the Box Office averages of each category.

Can we really look at box office success as a general indicator of what is considered “excellent” when it comes to art? Or is there such a thing as artistic “excellence?”

We don’t just look at the aesthetic quality of the work, even from a biblical point of view (there are more than one aesthetic theories on beauty, and more than just one “Christian” one), but also at the production values (taking into account the budget that the filmmakers had to work with) and entertainment value. Thus, your question is somewhat loaded here (most secular movie critics seldom consider the entertainment value of a work — if so, ENCHANTED would probably win all the critics awards and the Best Picture Oscar). Goethe I believe developed four questions — What is the work trying to do? How is it doing that thing(s)? How well does it do it? And, Was it worth doing? In that light, the term artistic excellence is somewhat vague. We aren’t looking at box office to determine excellence or beauty or even entertainment but only noting that entertaining movies with high production values and a more refined sense of inward and outward beauty and divine radiance reflecting God’s character generally do best at the box office. If we had more time and more staff, we could do even more statistical analysis, such as combining four star movies and movies with very strong Christian worldviews (CCC) to see if that kind of four star movie does even better than movies with just a CCC dominant worldview. We usually find, however, that Hollywood can do very well at the box office with different kinds of movies with strong Christian content, including I AM LEGEND, the NARNIA movie, THE PATRIOT, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, REMEMBER THE TITANS, ROCKY BALBOA, LAST HOLIDAY, and THE GREEN MILE. We also note the relative success of Christian content movies that opened in fewer theaters, such as AMAZING GRACE and FACING THE GIANTS. Not every four-star movie has equal excellence (it’s only a four category rating system) and not every +4 rated movie is equally sublime.

What defines a “Christian worldview”?
A movie’s implicit and explicit philosophy, theology, biblical references, references to Christian churches, lack of heretical and false or aberrant teachings, Christian orthodoxy, references to Jesus Christ and His life, death and resurrection, allegorical or metaphorical references to Christ or Christianity, its positive references to Christian history, etc.

How do you decide which films display “very strong Christian, redemptive worldviews”?
By looking at the degree of its spiritual, moral and biblical content.

Can the very act of seeing a certain film cause one to sin, or does it require a certain kind of response?
As we have often said, some people are more susceptible than others to various kinds of negative content. For example, I love action movies where the hero battles the villain in some way, but I have not murdered anyone nor do I get into fights. Someone else, on the other hand, may be very susceptible to such imagery. Thousands of studies have shown, however, that visual depictions of violence and sexual immorality do indeed lead to an increased level of such behavior, especially in the few people (about 5-7%) who are most susceptible to such imagery. You don’t have the same degree of problem with literary depictions of vilemce and sexual immorality.

What are some ways that dispensationalism has altered the way many in the church view arts and culture?
I have not studied that specifically, but Dispensationalism does tend to lead to a withdrawal in interaction with the World because the people of God are supposed to be taken out of the way and to lose while the so-called “Antichrist” gains in power until Jesus comes down at the last minute. There is something to be said in favor remaining “separate from the World,” but we also believe that trying to transform the World with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is a good thing (Rom. 12:21). The ship is not really sinking, so it is very important to continue preaching the Gospel because God is in charge of saving people through that preaching and we don;’t want to limit God. I also note that the Christian with the stronger faith is the one who can take a glass of wine without succumbing to drunkenness or mental impairment (I am setting aside the idea of alcoholism and driving or operating machinery during or shortly after drinking). I could go on, but I won’t.

Would you say the primary aim of Movieguide is to spread the gospel or to improve the moral landscape of the world?
Spreading the Gospel actually results in improving the moral landscape of the world, including sanctification of the individual and moral discipline in the Church while Jesus tarries. Otherwise, people could just go ahead, die and go to Heaven just after being saved.

What would you like to see the film industry look like 20 years from now?
We support a return to the Moral Code of Decency and the vetting of all scripts for movies going to public theater and DVD retail within 20 years, if not in 3-5 years. That would probably include the elimination of all R-rated and NC-17 content as well as most PG-13 content. We also look forward to Christian/biblical hegemony within the industry. If this ministry had much more support, our progress would be that much quicker.

I am sure Dr. Baehr could give you some better answers, but he is always very busy. So, I hope all this is not misleading. Here is our glossary of ratings and letter codes, which Dr. Baehr has approved: Click here.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ed_aisela Ed from Ohio

    “Hegemony”? He actually used that word in an aspirational sense? Since its a film-thing, I can only respond with, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

    But I’d probably be wrong.

    Hegemony. Wow.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    While I’m not sure that Tom answered many of your questions, I did find it interesting reading.

    Striking was the forwarding of a film’s dominant worldview and an objectively quantifiable concept. This seems a largely impossible task with films that are not overt in projecting a particular worldview.*

    Take Ratatouille for instance—as the film has received mention several times over the course of the discussion. I’m not certain how one would go about determining which worldview (if any in particular) the film proffers. There is little of any particular philosophy presented in either the narrative or in the chief characters’ actions or motives. One might guess that such neutrality might be part of the reason the film is so broadly embraced by American audiences—it is entirely innocuous in it’s proposals.

    To another point, I found Movieguide’s goal of the vetting of scripts to exclude content above a PG-13 (and even most PG-13 content) to be a dismal prospect. Of the most worthwhile films in the last twenty years, the lion’s share have been graced with an R rating.** And the bulk of those would not be as good if stripped down to innocuous levels.

    Take for instance one of my favourite films. Snow Falling on Cedars is an good, worthwhile film and might even fit somehow through dark arts and arcane means into Movieguide’s CCC rating*** simply because the values that it champions are good values. But I would not remove a single R-rated moment from the film for the presented story would be yards more shallow for the loss.

    When we look at the great films of the Hays’ Code era, we consider them great despite the fantasy worlds they inhabit and not because of them. Casablanca works because we recognize that Curtiz couldn’t portray the devils inhabiting his film with any degree of realism. Double Indemnity works because we recognize that Wilder couldn’t actually portray the kind of lust that would drive Walter Neff to murder. We position ourselves in a state of mind by which we suspend our disbelief, knowing that that period was an era of rampant puritanism and fundamentalist quote-unquote decency.

    It was an era of strange hegemony. A pejorative term that Ed points out is ironically presented as a positive goal by Tom in his conclusion to the interview.

    And as I wrote about last summer in my post “Commodify This?” As Daniel R. Nicholson (the subject of the article) proposes, counter-hegemony ought to be the ideal in opposition of hegemony. Counter-hegemony focuses on personal and continued enlightenment and, once having achieved enlightenment, action based upon the truths learned. Counter-hegemony is based wholly on the discontent that full-comprehension ideally must engender. Nicholson goes on to propose that criticism of pop-culture is inherently counter-hegemonic—therefore, it is ironic that Snyder and Movieguide are proposing hegemony while taking a counter-hegemonic role.
    _________________________________
    NOTES:
    * Even seemingly overt films are difficult to quantify. Fight Club, for instance, is often mistaken for a film that proselytizes on behalf of nihilism.

    ** It may be worthwhile to here point out that I loathe the MPAA’s rating system and think it should be abandoned entirely, giving content-rating over to independent groups like Movieguide, Dobson’s thing, Christian Answers, etc. That way, movies can be what they are and those who are concerned with content can visit their favourite content-reviewer for the goods on that score. Too many films are damaged when film-makers and producers aim to fit their film into a particular rating stratum.

    *** granted, I still have no idea how something achieves such a rating.

  • http://www.joshmshep.com joshMshep

    MovieGuide is a joke.

    Check out this news item from their site (here’s the link http://www.movieguide.org/index.php?s=news&id=53 if they don’t take it down):


    MOVIEGUIDE® Supporters Make a Difference: Fewer American Teens Engage in Sex
    Dec 21st, 2004
    In news that we feel reflects the influence of MOVIEGUIDE®’s faithful readers and supporters, the National Center for Health Statistics reported recently that fewer teenagers aged 15-17 are engaging in sex.

    For girls aged 15 to 17, the percentage of those who ever had intercourse declined from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002. For boys, the decline was 43 percent to 31 percent.

    Although never married girls aged 18 and 19 who ever had intercourse has risen from 68 percent in 1995 to 69 percent in 2002, the percentage dropped for never married boys age 18 and 19, from 75 percent to 64 percent.

    MOVIEGUIDE® feels that these positive numbers are the result of our Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to Hollywood, featuring the John Templeton Foundation Epiphany Prizes for Inspiring Movies and TV, which has encouraged filmmakers to triple the number of movies with moral, biblical and Christian content in the last 10 years.

    By supporting the Gala with your most generous monetary gifts, you can ensure that these positive trends continue. Call 1-800-899-6684 now to make a donation. We need many, many gifts of all sizes before the end of the year.

    MovieGuide’s Awards Gala is the reason teens are having sex less often??? Totally laughable.

    peace,
    -joshmshep
    http://www.joshmshep.com

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    *grin* so much for last words, eh?

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  • James in Texas

    If you’re that worried about content in film take a good look at your Bibles again. Just last night I was reading through Judges and all kinds of violence and sexual accounts abound. Should we censor the Bible? Then don’t condemn the content of secular films before taking a good hard look at the content contained in the Holy Scriptures.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @James in Texas – While I’m not in favour of censoring films (obviously by my comments), the comparison between the treatment of unsavory things in the Bible (a literary text) and in film (an visio-auditory text) has never struck as being very forceful. While both media are vehicles for communication, they are different in both production and absorption.

    If you were making the case that the works of James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler should not be censored because the Bible has at least as many scenes of violence and depravity, then at least you’d have a closer comparison. The Bible was never meant to be a visual work and though David gazed on Bathsheba bathing and Solomon was a pimp-daddy, doesn’t mean we should have no problem watching reenactments of their life experiences in details explicit as those found in Scripture.

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  • http://www.joshmshep.com joshMshep

    We support a return to the Moral Code of Decency and the vetting of all scripts for movies going to public theater and DVD retail within 20 years, if not in 3-5 years. That would probably include the elimination of all R-rated and NC-17 content as well as most PG-13 content. We also look forward to Christian/biblical hegemony within the industry. If this ministry had much more support, our progress would be that much quicker.

    That is a really scary statement to me. Who would be “vetting” all scripts? Didn’t he just conflict with himself by mentioning I AM LEGEND, THE PATRIOT, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, ROCKY BALBOA, and THE GREEN MILE and then saying he wants to eliminate all R-rated films and most PG-13?

    Hegemony is defined as “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group”. America is founded on democracy and republican ideals, not dominance by one group–especially over art.

    The best way Christians can influence the making of good movies is with our $$ — what we go see at the movies. Not by trying to re-instate a Code that would be outlaw some of the greatest films in history.

    peace,
    -joshMshep
    http://www.joshmshep.com

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  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet
  • Alan Noble

    Wow, that’s incredible and distressing.

  • Triatomic Tortoise

    I accidentally landed on movieguide.org because of a link showed up in Yahoo! search results on Darwin. It is amazing how backwards these folks are. They are as racists as Hitler, has no balanced views on any topic let alone films and self-proclaimed right-wing conservatives. It is a despicable site run by mean, culturally ignorant and arrogant people with very little education. Thank You.

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