Rick Santorum: Hollywood mogul

Former U.S. senator and Republican primary runner-up Rick Santorum has a new job: CEO of Echolight Studios, “a faith-based film company.”

“I often say that culture is upstream from politics,” Santorum said, “and I know entertainment also can be strength and light for people who want to be uplifted and reinforced in their values.”

Here’s part of Santorum’s announcement to his followers on “Patriot Voices”:

If we are going to make a positive impact on our country’s cultural challenges, we have to do it by reaching the masses often through entertainment. For too long, Hollywood has had a lock on influencing the youth of this country with a flawed message that goes against our values. Now, we can change that.

EchoLight Studios has the resources and commitment to produce, finance and distribute faith-based and family friendly films.

So what, exactly, is EchoLight Studios?

Pretty much what you might guess: A low-budget studio producing aggressively “wholesome,” mostly direct-to-DVD films featuring struggling former TV actors who further struggle trying to transcend material that also couldn’t cut it on TV.

I haven’t seen any of these films, but I’ve now watched all the trailers that EchoLight has online. A few of these look like they might actually be not terrible. But only a few.

The Redemption of Henry Myers looks like a World Wide Pictures version of Shane-meets-Witness. It’s a decent, if unoriginal, premise, and they get bonus points for trying to bring back the Western. But they lose points for including a prayer-of-anguished-repentance monologue. Spiritual intimacy, like sexual intimacy, is almost impossible to film without reducing it to pornography. Christian filmmakers need to learn when to fade to black.

• “Seasons of Gray is a modern-day retelling of the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.” That premise seems cleverly executed — and Andrew Cheney seems a likable, Rob-Lowe-ish screen presence. But the film — from 2011, but still awaiting theatrical release — also seems to reduce the biblical story of Joseph into a moralistic little fable about “the power of forgiveness.” The actual story is much stranger and more problematic. It is, among other things, an origin story — “How Pharaoh Became a Despot Owning Everything and Everyone.” The alleged happy ending of the Genesis story comes about by Joseph exploiting a famine to oppress an entire nation, which doesn’t so much suggest “the power of forgiveness” as it does the will-to-power of a psychopath who sees the vulnerability of the poor as his divine right to prey on them and take what is theirs for his own enrichment. The trailer for “Seasons of Gray” is intriguing enough to make me wonder how they handle that horrific ending in this revision of the story.

• Corbin Bernsen wrote, directed and stars in 25 Hill. The Soap Box Derby flick has a professional cast (including Psych co-star Timothy Omundson, who’s always good) and seems like a pleasantly wholesome, familiar story, albeit one that’s kind of, well, coasting.

• Bernsen’s 3 Days is a Christmas comedy that promises a “heartfelt message” — some pious platitudes — layered onto a frazzled-father family farce with a bit of Home Alone tossed in (Christmas burglars foiled!). Think of it as National Lampoon’s Vacation Bible School.

• Bernsen also wrote and directed Beyond the Heavens. Who knew Henry Spencer was an auteur? This looks like an unholy mess:

Oliver is a bright 12-year-old who lives in the shadow of his parents’ loss of their first son. His family appears fine on the outside, but is broken behind closed doors. As they work out their faith, Oliver is left to grapple with his own belief in God and the answers to life’s biggest questions: Why am I here? What happens after death? Who made us? An angel disguised as a quirky traveler is sent to help him bring the pieces of the puzzle together. As Oliver’s struggles cause him to mistakenly look to science for answers, he discovers God is found by faith not by sight.

Those first two sentences are movie No. 1. The horrible false dichotomy of faith and science is movie No. 2. And the “angel disguised as a quirky traveler” is movie No. 3 — one that has no business anywhere near movies 1 & 2.

• I Am Gabriel is another angelic visitor movie. It’s notable mainly for the Kent family reunion of Jon Schneider and Dean Cain, but not even Superman could save this thing and its treacly advocacy of the so-called prosperity gospel. Yes — the prosperity gospel, meaning this one doesn’t so much look wholesome as, well, evil.

• In church youth group we went to evangelistic events by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — a display of athletic prowess, followed by an awkward segue into an altar call. We saw that same formula in a host of similar events: Christian magicians, Christian weightlifters, Christian break-dancers, and of course Christian rock concerts. Foolishness is a video version of exactly the same thing, this time with skateboarding. EchoLight and director/skateboarder Brian Sumner seem to misunderstand that simple formula. The trailer showcases the altar call while downplaying the attraction and the hook: skateboarding. There’s nothing in this trailer I couldn’t see done by the kids at the local skatepark, and it all seems filmed in an attempt to make it seem even less impressive.

This doesn’t look like a movie that’s even trying to “make a positive impact on our country’s cultural challenges.” It looks like the kind of movie that will be shown in church basements by youth ministers who desperately hope that it will make the kids in the youth group think they’re cool.

• “She was broken, betrayed, and finished with life. But life wasn’t finished with her.” That’s EchoLight’s summary of 1 Message — which looks indistinguishable from countless disease movies on basic cable’s Lifetime Movie Network. It stars Ashley Kate Adams as Meredith Baxter Birney.

Clancy is “an inspiring story of one girl’s hope.” But wait, it gets worse:

Clancy is a little girl with a big heart. At the tender age of 11, she takes to the streets to dodge social workers in hopes of returning to her mother once her home life improves. In the grit of the city, she latches on to Nick, a homeless war veteran who wants little to do with life—much less a runaway who won’t leave him alone.

• Clancy gets to live because that movie is about her and not about her parents. When the focus is on the parents, EchoLight movies seem to like killing children. Here’s their summary for The Potential Inside, which focuses on a professional cyclist:

When an unexpected tragedy takes the life of his young daughter, Chris finds his own life changed in an instant. After years of climbing rugged trails, he hits rock bottom. Now, estranged from his grieving wife and consumed with guilt, Chris struggles beneath the weight of his selfish past. But when he surrenders everything to Christ and begins living for others, Chris finds peace where once there was only pain – and resolves to rebuild his life and serve his family as God intended.

Romans 8:28. You keep quoting this verse. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The best thing that can be said for The Potential Inside is that they at least refrained from having the child-killing car accident happen on Christmas Day. The trailer also features prayer-porn.

• And then there’s Undaunted: The Early Life of Josh McDowell, a biopic of the pop-apologetics evangelist and favorite convincer of the already-convinced. It chronicles McDowell’s awful childhood living with an abusive, alcoholic father, potentially providing theological insights for the audience that seem to have escaped the film’s subject.

That last film shows why all of Santorum’s talk about making “a positive impact on our country’s cultural challenges” is hogwash. EchoLight doesn’t make movies that aspire to influence the wider culture. It makes movies that will be deemed safe and permissible within the subculture. These are tribal movies produced by and for members of the tribe.

And who is that tribe? White evangelicals — the kind of people among whom Josh McDowell is a top celebrity.

That tribe loves Rick Santorum and Rick Santorum loves that tribe. But Santorum has never been a part of that tribe. He shares their opposition to feminism and LGBT rights, but beyond that, he doesn’t share their religious culture any more than Opus Dei shares the religious culture of Campus Crusade.

Look again at all the “family friendly,” G-rated melodrama described above. Not one of those films is about abortion or homosexuality. And once you stray from those subjects, Rick Santorum doesn’t have a lot to talk about with the white evangelical tribe. (School prayer, maybe, but they’ll wind up arguing over whether or not state-mandated school prayers should be in Latin.)

 

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    Santorum was the second-place finisher. Sure, there were a lot of candidates, but there were quite a few in 2008 as well – and Mitt Romney took second place then, presaging his win last year. This has been the pattern in every GOP primary back to the Nixon era (except, as noted, 2000).

  • Persia

    So Benjamin was also the son of his old age? Oh, Bible, you are so pretty with your language and so fucking confusing.

    EDIT: I should note that I, like, The_L1985, mostly have sanitized Bible School stories to remember so I apologize for my fuzziness.

  • Lori

    Yup. It would be more precise to say that they were the sons of his old age, but since he didn’t favor Benjamin the way he did Joseph that creates some inconvenient issues for the narrative.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Apparently you can tell because the Reprobate aren’t real people, so they lack a certain spark, as it were. Meaning, yes, the Elect reassure themselves that they’re in the right by dehumanizing the Reprobate.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    *Winces* Yeah, I’ve heard that one too. I haven’t told my parents that I probably have PTSD because I already know the response will be “*Irritated sigh* Well, if you choose to be that way, you’re just going to have to deal with it. *Tsk*”

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Which in itself is more berserk button material.

    1) Dinah gets raped.
    2) Jacob tracks the rapists to the town and holds the entire town (including probably dozens of innocent people) to an ultimatum, “Get circumcised or all of you die.”
    3) They get circumcised.
    4) Jacob’s brothers wipe out the town anyway.
    5) Jacob complains that now people will think he’s a murderer.
    6) Jacob merrily goes along his way and apparently never gives it a second thought.

  • Ben English

    I can’t speak for your experiences but in my experience, I’ve never known the story to be read like that even in the more conservative Churches I’ve been in. The birthright and blessing are not just boons but a responsibility. Esau may not get to be father of the nation of Israel, but he also doesn’t have to deal with believing his son is dead for years only to later find him and watch him become a tyrant.

    An professor of mine (who is an atheist) observed that in a lot of ways Genesis is the story of a bunch of people who royally fucked things up. It’s not that their bad behavior is endorsed, it’s that you’re the people God chose, dammit, and you’re going to be a light for all the nations whether your like it or not.

  • The_L1985

    Because after all, why wouldn’t anyone choose to have more difficulties in life!

  • Lori

    The whole dead son/tyrant thing is, as we’ve been discussing, something Jacob largely brought on himself. It’s not like it was an automatic consequence of receiving the blessing. It’s entirely possible that had Esau received the blessing his sons would not have been like that.

    I was also raised with the idea that the Israelites often screwed up, but they were God’s chosen people dammit. It’s always struck me as being rather Calvinist, which I don’t find comforting or convincing.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    In their minds, the only reason you would claim to have a mental illness is so that you can get out of your responsibilities and have people feel sorry for you.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

    My filthy mind has already started writing this movie. I appologize for the crude humor below but well… given the source material >.>;

    Preacher: “And so you see, sin is like the drain on a bathtub, when there’s no sin there’s no drain and God’s glory fills the world, but every time we sin we step further away from that glory; in a sense, sin is a glory-hole…”

    Goofball Protagonist: *starts giggling*

    Preacher: “What’s so amusing Mr. Mendez?”

    Goofball Protagonist: “N-nothing, nothing… it’s just… well nothing.”

    Preacher: “As I was saying, sin is like a glory-hole it sucks out all of God’s glory…”

    Goofball Protagonist: *full on laughing*

    Preacher: “Mr. Mendez what is the matter?”

    Goofball Protagonist: “I-I-I’m not sure, I think th-the glory of God is on me.”

    Preacher: “The glory of the Lord has come upon you?”

    Goofball Protagonist: *dies laughing*

  • Lori

    And now I have a There’s Something About Mary quote stuck in my head—How could you not know what a glory hole is?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Tradition holds that he did not sort it out until afterward. It was dark, they’d made sure he’d had his fill of wine, there was a pretty strong familial resemblance, and it wasn’t like Jacob had seen either one of them in the altogether before.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    That sounds kinda victim-blamey, “If all those siblings hated Joseph, it can’t just be sour grapes; Jacob really must have mistreated them.”

    My father’s family had a bit of a schism as a result of the children who were born in the 1920s not feeling the love when mom and her new husband started doting on the kids who were born in the 1940s. And the one who took it the worst (in the “and then they didn’t talk for 20 years” sense) was the one who already had a kid of her own by then. Obviously, there was no attempted fratricide involved, but my dad’s got a sibling who survived to adulthood but who he’s to this day never met.

  • hagsrus

    Calvin was a POE?

  • hagsrus

    Punch and Judy was standard puppet entertainment offered to children in my far-off days of innocence…

  • Lori

    It’s not victim-blamey since the victim was Joseph and I’m blaming Jacob.

    My dad’s family had an ugly split when his parents died over issues of favoritism. That’s been almost 15 years ago and it still hasn’t fully healed. All the people involved were adults by that time, but it still happened. The unhappy siblings handled their complaints really poorly but the thing is, they weren’t wrong. My grandparents did unfairly favor some kids over others. That’s not the favored kids’ fault and, like Joseph, they shouldn’t have born the brunt of it. However, the complaint was totally legit and the parenting was crap.

  • Fanraeth

    Probably Facing the Giants, made by the same people that produced the dreadful Fireproof.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    My apologies if someone’s already hit this – I’m afraid that by the time I’ve caught up on the comments, I’ll have forgetten what I wanted to say – but the summary given here of The Potential Inside makes me think that Double Edge Films already did that story, and a wildly better job of it, with Ink — not least because

    SPOILER

    …ROT13:

    gur puvyq jubfr yvsr-guerngravat fvghngvba ercerfragf n pevfvf cbvag sbe ure sngure? Fur trgf gb yvir ng gur raq! Nyfb fur trgf gb or n erny punenpgre ba fperra, jvgu n qrprag nzbhag bs ntrapl naq rirelguvat! Bar pbhyq cbvag gbjneq ure ershfny gb fvzcyl or n cebc/Znpthssva sbe bguref gb svtug bire vf n uhtr snpgbe va erfbyivat ure sngure’f pevfvf cbvag va n ubcrshy qverpgvba, gbb.

    …/end ROT13

    /end SPOILER

    So there you go, EchoLight. You have Double Edge Films to live up to in more ways than three. It doesn’t sound good for you.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I can’t reread that book. It makes me so futilely burning mad that I’ve had to regrettably set the beautiful parts aside as “not worth the rage-corrosion on my soul to get to.”

    Sometimes reading books in which the main character suffers a lot of unfair treatment creates a sort of low-level rumble of Unhappy With Humanity in me that persists even after I close the book, and I don’t realize it until I start taking it out on real people who then call me on it. Reading Jane Eyre was like that, too. I have to read books like that in total isolation from others and then have some sort of a unicorn chaser* before I rejoin society.

    *Literally, or almost. Pretty much anything by Peter S. Beagle will reset my meters to Well-Disposed Toward Humanity.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    Armageddon is far, far worse than The Abyss, on which I’m certain the former was based on.

  • Steph

    I read somewhere that a few theologians speculate that Isaac was retarded. He was born to an old mother, is the only man who has to marry a woman other people find for him, was fooled so easily by Jacob, etc. This was also supposedly the reason that Abraham thought God wanted him sacrificed?

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    If EchoLight can compete with Ink, they might make a convert. It would take that much.

  • Lori

    That’s sort of horrible. Which obviously doesn’t mean it’s not the case since the story is pretty much just a parade of horrible.

    I don’t think any assumption of mental disability on Isaac’s part is necessary to explain Jacob’s ability to fool him though. He was nearly blind and at death’s door, so it figures that his perceptions weren’t all that keen. Also, as far as he knew Esau was the only one who knew that he was ready to pass on the blessing. He had no way of knowing that his lovely wife had overheard their conversation and was scheming with her favorite.

    And it’s not like he wasn’t suspicious at all. When Jacob comes in Isaac asks which one of the twins it is. Jacob assures him that it’s Esau, but Isaac isn’t convinced and asks to feel his hands (Esau was hairy & Jacob was not). Even after feeling the hair Isaac knows the voice is wrong and Jacob has to lie to him straight up a second time, which Isaac would not have expected him to have the nerve to do. Even then Isaac is not totally convinced. He makes Jacob kiss him so that he can sniff him and it’s Esau’s smell that finally seals the deal. (Jacob smells like Esau because clever, clever mom put him in Esau’s favorite clothes before she sent him off to lie & steal.)

  • alegrenaje

    And me here thinking that ~all~ the denominations got along.
    I guess I understand a dislike of the culture? But to go as far as saying that they aren’t Christian (given the implication that this is a serious statement in the evangelical circuit- I could write a small term paper on its usage in my own house…), shows a very hateful standpoint.
    Why even was she writing about the Amish life if she was so disgruntled by it?

  • The_L1985

    The thing is, the first 2 books showed no sign of being anti-Amish. They were about a young woman who felt she didn’t belong in the Amish town where she grew up. She finds out she was adopted, and goes to find her birth mother. Book 3 is where she “accepts Jesus as her savior,” which is of course Christianese for “this is the moment at which she first becomes a Christian.” Implying that as an Amish, she wasn’t Christian.

    Also, there’s talk about “teaching the other Amish” about Jesus, as if they somehow didn’t know, and converting them to “Christianity,” which in this context means “get out of those dowdy clothes and start living like the typical middle-class white American.”

  • The_L1985

    “It’s not that their bad behavior is endorsed, it’s that you’re the
    people God chose, dammit, and you’re going to be a light for all the
    nations whether your like it or not.”

    I like that sentence very much. It also fits with my idea that much of the OT is about God more or less saying, “You see this? This is why the children of Israel can’t have nice things. Seriously, when are you people going to learn to behave?”

  • The_L1985

    You’d think in 7 years, you’d know more about someone than “Her name is Rachel and she’s really pretty.” But this is Jacob we’re talking about here.

  • The_L1985

    I remember reading about Punch and Judy as a kid, and thinking it sounded hilarious. I felt like I’d missed out.

    Then again, Tom & Jerry is about the same, only with animals.

  • The_L1985

    Sounds right. I was accused of blasphemy for the particularly irreverent way I MST’ed the damn thing.

  • Fanraeth

    I was spared that particular movie, fortunately. Suffered through Fireproof though with my mom who loved it so much she cried in spots. I was actually still pretty conservative when I watched it, but it was so blatantly misogynistic that even younger non-liberal me picked up on it.

  • Kagi Soracia

    I think, more specifically, it is the presenting of the morally complex situations and the lack of easy answers that they object to (basing this on my dad, who totally wanted to vote for Santorum and was hugely disappointed that he lost the primary) because they prefer to see ALL moral questions as black and white and having only one right answer. Because if there is not only one right answer, if everything cannot be cleanly divided into ‘Wrong’ and ‘Not-Wrong’ then you will never be certain you are right, and that invalidates their entire identity. They have to be completely, absolutely Right, or their whole faith and value system falls apart. Which is sad, really. Nothing in life is actually that simple.

  • dpolicar

    IME, people who want simple, pat answers to complex answers sometimes end up in the kind of rigid authoritarian framework you describe (“there is ONE right answer and all other answers are WRONG”), and sometimes end up in a kind of rigid relativist framework that is superficially opposed to it (“there are NO right answers and all answers are EQUALLY WRONG”).

    I suspect they have more in common with each other than they do with thoughtful egalitarians (“there are shared values we can agree on, and nonshared values we can agree to mutual tolerance about, and conflicting values we will enforce, and it’s important to keep them distinct”) or thoughtful majoritarians (“there’s a majority that can agree on most of their values, and it’s most efficient to let them define what’s right in a culture”).

    Nevertheless, in the U.S. the egalitarians tend to get classed with the relativists in “the Left” and the authoritarians tend to get classed with the majoritarians on “the Right.”

    It can get confusing.

  • Kagi Soracia

    Those are good points; I probably lean farther to what you are calling ‘the relativist’ than I should, because when you have grown up with rigid, black and white thinking, it’s hard to see all the ways it affects the way you view things, even when you realise that the original authoritarian premise is flawed. I am sometimes, I think, too inclined to think ‘nothing is 100% right’ because I just don’t trust absolutist framing anymore, but a blind spot of this perspective is that it effectively does sometimes work out to ‘everything is equally wrong’ or more exactly, has an equal chance of being wrong – I don’t know, it all does get a bit confusing, but mainly I just try to remember that while we all do our best to figure out what’s right for us, what that is can change over time, and I may be proven wrong eventually about any given thing, and should be prepared to accept that if so.

  • Kagi Soracia

    When I was a kid, we were, as homeschoolers, all voracious readers. Our parents would try to make sure we didn’t read certain things, but were often too busy or neglectful to enforce the rules. That particular book was considered subversive enough that we were strongly discouraged from reading it, and since it sounded depressing for various reasons I never went out of my way to sneak it in (it was all the unedifying SFF and romance and comics I was hiding under my mattress). I always remembered the title though, I was just thinking of it as I was reading the discussion and wondering if I should check it out again.

  • Kagi Soracia

    Yes, that was pretty much the reason I decided against reading it at the time. I was like, this is going to make me hate everything, isn’t it?

  • Kagi Soracia

    I’m actually really puzzled because I still have never heard it any other way; it was always presented as a very noble and virtuous thing that Joseph and by extension, Egypt was doing for everyone else. I’m going to have to reread the original, if I can. Maybe I will have a look at the lolcat version. Bible-reading of the traditional sort is kinda triggery for me. :/

  • alegrenaje

    Huh.
    The idea that she would go back in the first place is a bit silly, I think? Don’t some Amish people do that shunning thing? (I think the sect is Mennonites, though that may not be at all related.) I’m thinking that everybody from her area would avoid her on the word that she had converted.

  • The_L1985

    Basically, Joseph never told anyone else the famine was coming, except the Pharaoh, even though he easily could have gotten word out with his new position of power. Joseph also encouraged the Egyptians to sell the grain at very inflated prices, which is obvious exploitation.


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