Should We "Vote with Our Dollars"? Part 1

When last month’s Expelled was released, I was encouraged by several believers to see it in theaters in order to support “that kind of movie,” to vote with my dollars. The last time I heard “vote with your dollars” regularly used in the Church was the release of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. When that film was in theaters I questioned whether it actually presented a Christian worldview, but my objections were disregarded by some who would counter by replying, “well, it may not be perfect, but you should still vote with your dollars,” the same reply I received when I objected to some of Expelled‘s more manipulative tactics. As with many phrases, “vote with your dollars” appears to be a compelling statement, but its exact meaning is not entirely clear. And more importantly, the logic of this statement is obscured behind its rhetoric. Just what does it mean to “vote with your dollars” and is it really something we ought to be doing?

In a capitalist society, objects (films in this case) are produced when they make money. If sex sells, films will include sex scenes. If modesty sells, films will avoid sex scenes. As Rich pointed out in regard to Prince Caspian, some Christian leaders are encouraging us to see certain films in order to essentially game the system. If enough Christians see “clean” movies, or even better, Christian movies, then Hollywood will have to make movies for us, which in turn will mean less immoral films are made. This idea is essentially the same theory that drives political Dominionists: even though most people in American are unbelievers, if enough Christians are mobilized to vote (at polls or box offices) we can out vote them and make this a Christian nation. While there are real and significant benefits to be had from righteous government policies and movies with a Christian worldview, there are two serious problems with this theory of cultural engagement (and its platitudinous slogan): in reality, Christians are encouraged to “vote” for films that are either produced by Christians or are overtly “Christian” in their message regardless of their quality or the accuracy of that message, and biblically we are not called to covert systems, organizations, or businesses, we are called to share the Word of God to individual people. For the sake of brevity, this post will only discuss the former.

As it is commonly used in the Church, the purpose behind theory of culture promoted by “voting with your dollars” appears to be two-fold. First, it tries to encourage the media to make more Christian films. Second, it gives Christianity a louder voice in the world, particularly the media-controlled world. If we take a look at how this idea practically works in our communities, I think we’ll find that “voting with our dollars” does not actually produce Christian films made with excellence and the voice that it gives Christianity merely adds it to the inhuman cacophony of marketing and public relations.

If we are to “vote” for certain films in order that more Christian films will be made, exactly what films should we vote for? Here are some possible guidelines:

  • The film is an adaptation from a Christian book (The Chronicles of Narnia)
  • The film is made by, written by, or directed by a Christian
  • The film is funded by Christians
  • The film explicitly states the Gospel
  • The film can be treated as an allegory of the Gospel (The Matrix)
  • The film is about a famous Christian (Amazing Grace)
  • It stars Kirk Cameron
  • The film is pro-life (Juno)
  • The film is politically Conservative

How Christian does the worldview of the film have to be in order to “vote” for it? Typically, what a “Christian film” or one deserving our “vote” means is a film that is inoffensive to our sensibilities, includes a “positive” message, and is in someway connected to the Church or Christianity. But what is all too often missing from these lists of guidelines is excellence. When we look at Philippians 4:8 somehow “whatever is excellent” doesn’t seem as important when it comes to “voting”. What this has led to is a situation in the Church where we are encouraged to see films that are not excellent, and often are not even biblical, merely because the success of these films will show the world that Christians have money. In other words, sometimes we are asked to support “Christian” films merely because it makes the Church seem like a more respected demographic. And to some extent, this effort has been successful. We can owe the recent Narnia adaptations, Expelled, Amazing Grace and other such films to the success of The Passion amongst other “Christian” movies. But the question we need to ask ourselves is, are we supporting excellent creations made by Christians, or are we supporting the culture or image of “Christianity.” Since most of the guidelines used to determine what to “vote” for ignore the principle of excellence, we are not really encouraging Hollywood to make more excellent films or young Christian filmmakers to create movies that glorify God through their beauty and truthfulness, but rather we are encouraging both groups to cash in by pandering to a certain cultural sensibility. In this sense then, “voting with our dollars” will not (in general) produce the kinds of works that people will see and glorify God in heaven, but rather works that tickle the ears of the American Church.

Tomorrow, come read the second half of this series, which will deal with the “voice” of Christianity in the media and conclude the article.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • http://www.csun.edu/~blw09471 Brittany

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I see every film that stars Kirk Cameron.

    But seriously…

    The insular nature of the films described above can be observed in the Christian music scene. The danger is that in the interest of sharing a Christian worldview with unbelievers, works are made which are only appealing to believers.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I feel fortunate in that I do get to vote my conscience with my dollar every time—because Hollywood makes enough movies I want to see and think should be on the market that I really can’t complain. Add to that imports and indie projects and I can’t possible say that I’d want more from the movie industry.

    The reason I’m fortunate is that I don’t care for or want films that present a Christian worldview. I mean, really. I have a Christian worldview already, why would I prefer to see that represented over again for me? It’d be like watching the same thing over and over again. Children might get stoked on watching Lion King over and over again, but I’m not a child.

    When I go to the theater, it’s for one of three reasons: 1) I want to indulge in fantasy; 2) I want to experience someone else’s life; and 3) because I want to admire the craftsmanship of a well-made film.

    1) Christianity is not fantasy, so a film that caters to Christian values or represents Christianity is not going to be an indulgence in fantasy for me.

    2) While the spy or mobster or archaeologist or cop or killer or animated bear might be Christians, it’s their lives apart from their Christianity that engage me. I’m a Christian, so I don’t need to see someone acting as if they are like me in order to appreciate a film or its characters. It’s usually pretty inconsequential to me whether a character is a believer unless there is a major plot point that turns on that key element.

    3) Good craftsmanship doesn’t have anything to do with one’s faith. Except for maybe that the absence of good craftsmanship often comes alongside those who are believers simply because Christians who vote with their dollars are most times supporting substandard product simply for the sake of having product that affirms what they believe.

    While a film’s themes may be interesting (or not), I never intend to see a movie because of its themes. And it’s only the more esoteric films that are interesting enough that they would merit an evaluation of theme. And if there’s one thing that’s true, it’s that evangelical Christians don’t make esoteric films. You don’t have Christians making anything like L’avventura, Paranoia Agent, Dead Man,or Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (to name four interesting works I’ve recently consumed). Christians are too obvious—usually even when they think they’re not being obvious.

    @Alan – BTW, just wanted to say that I appreciated the connection you drew between the dominionists and those who admonish believers to vote with their wallets. A good point and one well worth exploring.

    The Danes last blog post..20080528

  • Alan Noble

    -Dane

    As I was writing this piece I was thinking about how one could read both parts of this series in an interesting light by replacing “film” with the government.

    It could also have some interesting parallels to the coming election and what we hope to gain with our votes–but I’m not quite ready to piece together the significance of that.

  • http://branninggroup.com/ Alex Branning

    @Alan – I’m looking forward to reading tomorrow’s post in the hopes that you’ll cover more than picking which movies to watch ;)

    In response to part 1, I agree that we need to support *good* movies and not just movies geared towards our demographic or deemed acceptable to watch according to our moral code.

  • Alan Noble

    -Alex,

    Hmmm, well I think the second half should please you. It is not nearly as focused on “films.” I suppose I focused on the use of the term in regards to movies since that is when I’ve heard it used most. But really, this whole discussion could be applied to music, books, websites, etc…

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Alex – But do we really need to support movies—of any type, really. I mean actively support, here.

    I’m always curious when people talk about supporting the arts. It strikes me that the arts will exist whether supported or not and will probably be purer for it if we cease our support. I mean, really, what is “support” other than money and what does money do besides actively work to tarnish a vision?

    The kinds of books and movies and music that I really enjoy would have been made whether or not there was support out there for it. Because that’s what the truly creative do. They make stuff. If they somehow get a little scratch from their labours then good for them, but we shouldn’t dangle carrots in front of them.

    That’s the surest way to give life to soulless, inconsequential art.

    The Danes last blog post..20080528

  • http://branninggroup.com/ Alex Branning

    One more thought: Voting with our dollars in one way of showing our muscle in this capitalist nation; so in answer to the general question posed by the title: “YES!”

    Broadening the discussion to other arenas; voting with our dollars can help get politicians with similar ideals to ours further in the election process (sending them money to cover costs, etc), can support artists who are working to get our ideas into the mainstream audience and help organizations who are dedicated to a cause we believe in.

  • Alan Noble

    Alex,

    Hold that thought until tomorrow.

  • Pingback: Christ and Pop Culture | Should We “Vote with Our Dollars”? Part 2

  • http://economicsandfaith.wordpress.com Justin

    “This idea is essentially the same theory that drives political Dominionists: even though most people in American are unbelievers, if enough Christians are mobilized to vote (at polls or box offices) we can out vote them and make this a Christian nation.”

    I disagree and don’t see how you can equate the two. Demanding more of something (ie: family-friendly films) isn’t the same as trying to mandate morality through a ballot box.
    Should Christians cast their ballots and be the pillar and support of truth (1 Timothy)? Absolutely. Some legislation is simply bad for the foundations of our society, and Christians who see through Biblical lenses can see how it will harm the society (such as gambling, same-sex marriage, etc.) We’re free citizens, so why not vote to help the society we live in?

    There have been some good economic papers published on why Hollywood produces the movies it does. Its biggest money-makers are family-friendly films. However, those are also often it’s biggest losers. It either hits a home run (like Cinderella Man, Narnia, etc.) or it strikes out (Antz).

    While the $ returns overall are greater for family returns, there is high variability. Successful sexually charged & violent movies earn less than successful family films, but they produce money more consistently (less variance) and don’t flop as badly if they’re losers. Most of those films can be marketed overseas as well.

    Movies are no different than any other product. If you like your detergent, you recommend it to your friends. If you think it’s more environmentally-friendly, you do so and appeal to people’s senses of morality and responsibility. How are movies any different?

    Justins last blog post..Chapter 2- Allocation of Resources

  • Alan Noble

    Justin,

    Thanks for the comment! I appreciate the unique economic expertise that you can bring to this discussion. I’m not sure why it is that we disagree here. My point is that the principle of “voting with your dollars” is essentially the same as that of dominionism. Their goals are different, but the process is the same. What is there to disagree about? I think that perhaps I was a bit unclear in my post.

    And I don’t have a problem with voting for righteous laws. In fact, in the article I state: “there are real and significant benefits to be had from righteous government policies and movies with a Christian worldview”

    What I am drawing into question is what it is that we should support with our dollars and why. What is our motivation and what is our object of support. I am certainly not opposed to supporting films with a Christian worldview, but I do believe we need to examine what that means and what we hope to achieve.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Wow, I just got shoe-horned into a category of Christians Who Don’t See through a Biblical Lens. Thanks, Justin.

    The Danes last blog post..20080528


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