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.)

 

  • Jason Jones

    I loved Trigun! I saw it long before I became a Christian, and I was always impressed with Wolfwood’s character. He came across as a lot more genuine that many other Christian characters that I’d seen up to that point. The machine gun cross didn’t exactly hurt either.

  • http://algol.wordpress.com/ SororAyin

    Man, this thread takes me back to my Catholic days. Yes, there are quite a few Catholics who would be entirely at home with conservative Evangelicals. They both seem determined to overlook that small and inconsequential bit in the Gospels affectionately known as the Sermon on the Mount.

  • ReverendRef

    I’d be curious to hear your take on Wales

    It’s a lovely country just across St. George’s Channel from Ireland …. Oh, you mean the movie ….

    In a nutshell, it’s one of my favorite movies. I realize it’s “gussied-up Confederate propaganda,” but I like the way that members of the “good” North are portrayed as basically evil. War is hell, and even those on the “right” side do terrible things.

    I like the movement of Josey from single-minded revenge killer to peaceful farmer. In our discussion, we drew on the, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,” passage and how we can get caught up in that. A lot of gang warfare is based on the payback system. At some point it needs to stop. At some point, we need to decide that we will no longer participate in this spiral of violence. I think Josey and Fletcher both got to that point where killing no longer became their focus.

    There’s also the recognition that you do not have to be bound by your past. The war and murder of Josey’s family were the backdrop, but there’s more to life than being defined by your past.

    There’s almost a baptismal moment when Fletcher says, “I guess we all died a little in that damn war.” In baptism, we die to sin and death, and are raised to a new life (sometimes with a new name). Fletcher and Josey let their past lives die, and Josey was raised to new life as a peaceful farmer with a new name — Mr. Wilson.

    So there are a few thoughts in answer to your question.

    BTW — love your avatar.

  • The_L1985

    Or as Andre Norton put it, they sold their soul for a pot of message.

  • The_L1985

    Bonus points if said “bad things” also appear in the Bible.

  • The_L1985

    Or worse–if you retcon Joseph’s amassing wealth and power for Egypt as Egypt providing food for everyone.

    No, really. I heard this story originally as “The Egyptians saved up so much before the famine that they were able to sell their leftover food so that other people could eat, too!” The fact that the Egyptians were essentially getting wealthy off of the suffering of other nations didn’t occur to me until I was older.

  • The_L1985

    I know, right? It was all about Joseph and Benjamin, and the other 10 (!!) children may as well not exist.

    If fewer than 20% of your offspring are getting affection from you, then you have too many offspring and/or have a LOT of trouble with that whole “unconditional love” thing.

  • Alix

    More than 10 additional kids, I think. There’s Dinah, and maybe other sisters?

  • The_L1985

    Ah, yes, the false rape claim by Potiphar’s wife. Or as ABB sanitizes it for kids as young as 1st grade:

    “Potiphar’s wife was jealous that Potiphar cared for Joseph more than for her, so she commanded Joseph to do sinful things. When Joseph wouldn’t obey, she told Potiphar that Joseph was disobedient and had tried to hurt her.”

    I would like it to sink in that I heard this story, along with such non-violent, family-friendly tales as the fall of Sodom and Gommorah and the story of Samson, when I was 5 years old. Just really think about that there.

  • The_L1985

    I would much rather watch that than the actual Call Me Gabriel.

  • The_L1985

    Seconded.

  • The_L1985

    TBH, I never saw the Confederate-propaganda bit. I just remember thinking, “Hey, a movie that’s not afraid to admit that white people did bad things too, from before Native Americans were generally treated as human beings by US culture!”

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

    It’s in a lot of places. Bullying, obesity, fraud, theft, debilitating illness… in general, there’s an element in our culture which believes that anything which you are unable to prevent or correct is your own fault because Real Americans handle their own damned problems without no wimpy crying or giving up.

  • The_L1985

    It’s been 15 years since I read Genesis, so I forgot about the girls. Not that most retellings bother to mention that Jacob had daughters–they’re barely even a footnote in the original!

  • Alix

    Dinah’s the only one with a name, I believe. He may not have had others – but given how the genealogies like to ignore women, and given the odds, I’d wager he did.

  • FearlessSon

    It helps that the creator of Trigun is himself a Christian. You see a lot of Japanese and Christian values kind of mixed together in that series in ways you rarely see in the west. They really hammer on the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and such.

  • smrnda

    And propaganda tends to be bad art almost all of the time, since its just shoddy narratives and shallow characters and trite plots cobble together to make a point that could have been made better (and less ridiculously) on a bumper sticker.

    Good art tends to present morally complex situations and deals with provocative questions rather than easy answers, and art like that is anathema to people like Santorum who want to just shove a particular set of values down the throat of the audience. If something can’t be reduced to a bumper sticker slogan it’s suspect to them.

  • FearlessSon

    I was going to bring up the Hays Code if no one else did.

    This idea that stories meant to entertain must have some moral value, and if it not a certain specific set of moral values then it must be immoral.

    It occurs to me both that some people really give children too little credit, and not all that is meant to entertain is necessarily directed at children either.

  • FearlessSon

    Incidentally, Extra Credits has a good episode on propaganda games, and how interactive medium can be abused to shill certain values.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomstone Thomas Stone

    Haha, thanks. Yeah, I think that reading works- if one assumes that both the intended audience and the actual audience are predisposed to be more sympathetic to the Union, and that the depiction of Union forces as being evil will be read as them being _also_ evil- but unfortunately, that gets harder if one ever watches it with a Neo-Confederate uncle, as I had the misfortune to do. I do love the depiction of the sort of weary grace that is achieved when people are exhausted of killing, however justified. It’s something I suspect Eastwood picked up from Leone, as even his amoral character in the Dollars movies had a certain tenderness and pity about him in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, brought on by the true ugliness of warfare.

  • themunck

    Thirded.

  • Lori

    “Unconditional love” is pretty much a foreign concept to OT parenting. Jacob loved the sons he had with the favored wife and didn’t give a shit about the ones he had with the spare wife he never wanted in the first place. This was supposedly fine because God said Joseph was the important one. Mighty convenient, that.

    And of course no one gave a crap about the daughters, because why would they?

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

    I take it the way you heard it didn’t involve getting to read the full story? I’d have tripped over the parts where people first had to sell their only means of livelihood and then themselves into slavery. o.O

  • Lori

    It’s also easier to look at it as Union forces being evil also, or being evil in spire of being the “good guys”, if you watch Wales in isolation. When you see it in the context of other movies in the genre the Confederate propaganda is much harder to ignore. It’s one of the films that I enjoyed more the first time I saw it, before I had seen enough others to connect the dots.

  • The_L1985

    I heard the sanitized versions over and over. It wasn’t until I was in my teens and decided to read through the whole Bible, cover to cover, that I discovered how fucked-up a lot of the stories in Genesis really are. (And let’s not talk about Judges!)

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

    There are days when mentioning Jacob is my berserk button. I’m… rather biased in favor of Esau, to put it delicately.

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

    Sheesh. In a way I lucked out since my Christianity was absorbed by diffusion and self-direction and not by teaching (as in everybody else was Christian, so I just assumed I was supposed to be too), so I was almost totally ignorant of the Bible. I can imagine turning out very differently in both good and bad ways if I’d had formal instruction.

  • Lori

    I’m with you. I got into trouble the last time they talked about that story in Bible class because I could not refrain from pointing out all the ways in which the whole thing is just totally f’ed up and Jacob is not a hero. The ultimate issue being that unlike the rest of them I don’t think “Jacob was the son of promise” is actually an acceptable reason for, well, anything.

    ETA: Leah is my berserker button.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    Jacob loved the sons he had with the favored wife and didn’t give a shit about the ones he had with the spare wife…
    And the concubines. Let’s not forget the poor handmaids! At least the two concubines had their own names and weren’t just called “Ofjacob” or something, though of course I can’t remember what their names were.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    It’s not just children who are given too little credit–it’s everybody. Even adults in the subculture will get looked down upon or admonished for watching films or TV shows with too much of the wrong kind of content. I’ve got relatives who sincerely worry about my entertainment choices–and I’m over 40 years old, with distinctly grey hair.

  • Alix

    Bilhah and Zilpah, iirc.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    It sounds like they’re asking for propaganda, but who willingly asks for such a thing?
    People who worry about the fate of their souls should they allow themselves to doubt. People who want to take their unsaved friends (or relatives, should they have no unsaved friends) to an “uplifting” movie that might convince them to repent and pray the Sinner’s Prayer. People who really, really don’t want to be even slightly corrupted by the values of the outside world. People who want their entertainment to act as a shield to protect them from the values of the outside world.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    Not worthless to people who believe that if their values aren’t constantly being reinforced, they are going to be under constant attack from the Satanic values of the outside world. Many folks very much want entertainment that eases their fears and erases their doubts. Because everybody has doubts sometimes, but some people aren’t allowed to admit that.

  • Alix

    I don’t know that I agree with that. Propaganda has more uses than just recruiting more people to one’s side – it can be used to reinforce group identity, among other things, and I think that’s the primary way we see it used here.

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

    And then we know Esau is the bad guy because God says he’s the bad guy, the same way we know that Er was wicked because God said he was wicked. Because when people die, it’s because God must hate something they’ve done and it’s up to the rest of us never to do that thing again. In fact, it’s up to us to kill anyone who does that ever again.

    Because that totally doesn’t sound like the reasoning of a…

    Actually, I should probably just trail off there. I’m the patron saint of Esau, let’s leave it at that.

  • http://estneillaamata.blogspot.com/ JulianaSundry

    My church does that sort of thing, at least amongst the youth group: we have an ongoing tradition of gathering the youth together to watch various movies (almost always either currently-popular or classic “secular” movies) and then discussing how the characters handled the moral issues. The Harry Potter movies were particularly excellent for that.

  • Alix

    I … honestly don’t recall Esau being framed as evil. I recall Jacob thinking Esau was gonna fuck him up good for the shit he (Jacob) pulled, and being badly mistaken, and I recall neither Jacob nor Rebekah thinking Esau was too bright, but. I think I’m missing something here. :/

  • Lori

    The traditional reading of the story is predicated on the idea that Esau totally deserved to be conned out of the birthright. To sell that idea the story is that God chose Jacob because Esau wasn’t good enough. Combine that with the bits about him being dumb and murderous and the idea is pretty clearly to paint an ugly picture.

    I’ve always thought it painted a way uglier picture of Jacob the greedhead momma’s boy and Rebekah who schemed like a Borgia to get the inheritance for her favored spawn, including having the asshole take advantage of his father’s age-related disability.

    Edited to correct for the fact that I merged two things that both totally piss me off into one thing. Because being pissed is not conducive to clear thought.

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

    Malachi 1,

    “I have loved you,” says the Lord.

    “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

    “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

  • Alix

    Yeah, wow, I completely forgot about that. :/ Thanks for the reference. (Can you tell I spent a lot more time reading Genesis than Malachi?)

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

    I spend a lot of time reading Romans myself, and Romans references it in Romans 9:13. Scholars tie themselves in knots to explain how God loves all, yet hated Esau. Their explanations often boil down to “Esau must have been a horrible horrible person. Fortunately, we know Jacob was awesome, despite his mass-murdering and rape and theft and betrayal and lying and fraud.”

  • Alix

    I honestly never got the sense (from Genesis, I mean) that Esau was murderous – more that Jacob really misunderstood him.

    I’ve always basically held the view you lay out in the second paragraph. :/

  • Lori

    Most of the people I grew up with take it as an article of faith that Jacob was correct and Esau would have killed him if he’d stayed.

  • Alix

    Now that you mention it, I’ve heard the verse. I just have shit recall. XD

  • Alix

    Huh. The prevailing view at my family’s church is that the whole anticlimactic reconciliation scene was meant to show that Jacob was an asshole who was way overreacting.

    That’s interesting.

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

    Don’t worry, it’s just keyed together in my mind. Patron saint, like I said. Or guardian angel if you prefer the Talmudic interpretation. :p

  • Lori

    Obviously I think that any view that paints Jacob as the asshole is closer to the truth, but I was raised with the idea that it took all that time for Esau to cool off.

    ETA: It always seemed obvious to me that Jacob was a perfect example of the idea that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. Jacob is a nasty piece of work who gladly cheated his own twin and conned his dying father for money. It makes perfect sense that someone like that would believe that Esau would kill over it. I’m sure that if their positions were reversed Jacob would have (and his damn mother would have sharpened the knife for him).

  • Alix

    Your ETA is pretty much exactly Mom’s pastor’s take. I recall going there for one sermon where he explicitly compared Esau to Jesus.

  • Alix

    Leah is my berserker button.

    Yes.

  • http://music.satellitereboot.com/ Matt S

    When my wife leaves me alone for extended periods of time, I acquire munchies and have a Bad Netflix Day. Those movies need to happen.


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