So, now I’m getting emails from people, asking why I’m so negative toward Blue Like Jazz: The Movie. Let me state unequivocally, I’m not against the movie. I haven’t seen it! (One person has offered to buy me a ticket.)
As background, I’m picky about my movies. While I did recently see Hot Tub Time Machine on Netflix, I tend to only watch movies that have scores above 70 on Rotten Tomatoes. I care what critics think. I don’t care much what the American movie-going public thinks. I will never see the Twilight movies. I will see The Hunger Games.
The critics don’t like BLJ. That means that I probably won’t like it, either. My tastes in movies tends to follow the critics’.
But that’s not what’s bothered me about BLJ. What bugs me is all of the people who suggest that I have an obligation to see the movie because it’s Christian — and not just Christian, but slightly progressive Christian. “We need more movies like BLJ,” shout my friends on Facebook, “So let’s all go see it and keep it afloat!” Some even want me to buy extra tickets, just to increase the film’s revenue.
Neither Don Miller nor Steve Taylor are suggesting these tactics, as far as I know. But even Don’s latest post on the movie’s opening weekend is rife with the Christian lingo that gives me the heeby-jeebies.* (Like calling Reed College the “most Godless campus in America”** and talking about “sharing the gospel.”) The post is just the slightest bit defensive, which is understandable. Here’s hoping no one ever turns one of my books into a movie. (I can see it now: Postmodern Youth Ministry: The Movie!)
Here’s the deal: I endorse products all the time. I get a couple books and manuscripts in the mail every week. Authors, publishers, and marketers want me to write a blurb for the back cover or say something nice on my blog. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
But never once has someone implied that I am obligated to endorse a book because it is a Christian book. I’m asked to endorse a book on its merits alone — the lucidity of its argument, the craft of its prose — not because I owe it to my religion to back the book. As a result, I endorse about half the books I’m sent.
Here’s a test case for you: I’ve been asked by his publicists to read and blog about Brian McLaren’s new ebook trilogy. I plan to read them in coming weeks. If I like them, I’ll blog about them. If I don’t, I won’t. And Brian wouldn’t want me to.
At the risk of sounding like Stephen Colbert, the market has spoken. Actually, the market spoke earlier when studios refused to pay for this movie to be made. It’s not because they didn’t agree with the faith portrayed in the script — studios are agnostically Machiavellian about what movies they make. They didn’t make it because they didn’t think it was good enough. A group of earnest and zealous fans disagreed, and they financed the movie through Kickstarter.***
I think this was a “Go Christian team” kind of movie at its core. The central dichotomy is between God-believers and God-disavowers. Don’s struggle is between Christianity and atheism. I may be asking too much of this movie in particular, it’s a decade old story that I hardly find relevant AFTER everything Brian McLaren, Tony, Pete Rollins, Pagitt, Rob Bell, etc. have written at the same popular level Don Miller writes to. That’s why I think the project should have stayed dead. I have to ask more of this movie than I should be I expect more from the Christian community. The movie asks superficial questions, gives superficial answers, and pats itself on the back while the evangelical audience (I was with one at a prescreening) applauds the film but also itself for playing for the right team, inspired to go out and get people back to church, darn it! It’s like how Congress has abysmal approval ratings, yet 90 something percent of citizens approve of THEIR representative. Likewise, I think the audience of this film is blind to the Church’s deep ideological and structural problems because they think that whatever they’re doing in their church is ok.
So, what do you think? Am I being unfair to BLJ?
*Contrary to popular opinion, Heeby Jeebys is not an anti-Semitic phrase.
**The Reed College blog says “Meh” about the film: “the screenwriters rely a bit too heavily on a rather generic ‘young man coming of age’ trope, skimming over the nuances of an existential crisis that this trailer seems to promise.”
***I’m actually envious that Don Miller has fans this rabid. And he deserves them. Let me reiterate what I’ve written in earlier posts: I have not met Don Miller, but I admire him and his writing. This post isn’t about him. It’s about a culture within Christianity that we need to “stick together” no matter what. It’s why people put fish stickers on their cars. And it’s stupid. But I get that Don Miller and I are on the same team.