Ascension of Hollywood Jesus: Biography of a Website

So, by design, it's meant to be way out there and appeal to people who are leaving the Church or just becoming aware of Christianity.  Yes, the vast majority of our readers tends to be people who are very firmly entrenched in the Church, primarily because they perceive what Hollywood Jesus is doing as unique and much closer to the intent of Christ than a lot of the websites designed to appeal to the faithful.  So it's an odd thing.  It has an appealing flavor to people, because there's so much snark and negativity out there, yet the Hollywood Jesus approach is to find something spiritually positive in everything. 

Right.  I read a recent review on Avatar, a movie some Christians have criticized as tending toward New Age or pantheistic spirituality.  The Hollywood Jesus review found a lot to appreciate in the film.  Do you have to train your writers and reviewers in the way you want them to write?

We really encourage them to look for the positive.  Compare the mission of Hollywood Jesus to that of MovieguideMovieguide's purpose is essentially to classify films as morally uplifting or morally corrupt.  That's fine; there's a place and a purpose for that, but it's not our purpose. 

Given that there are so many other sites telling you whether a movie is safe for your family or morally repugnant, or how many breasts are exposed or how many swear words there are, we ask what positives can be found.  The example we cite for our writers is David Bruce's review of 2 Fast, 2 Furious.  In that film, David Bruce said to look around you at the people sitting in the theater.  If you miss the people who are watching the film, then you're missing the film.  Those people are finding things in their lives that connect with what they're seeing on screen. 

That's a very positive approach to understanding what's going on with pop culture and entertainment.  This is missing in a lot of what the Church says about pop culture, because pop culture is seen as an enemy or a threat rather than merely a symptom of the human condition.  What are you going to do?  Start complaining because people are broken and sinful?  We know that.  We're all broken.  You can't whine about that. 

You've mentioned the purpose of Hollywood Jesus several times.  Can you share a nutshell vision statement for the site?

The mission of Hollywood Jesus is twofold.  First, to maintain an atmosphere where everyone is welcome, so everyone can join in the discussion on spirituality and pop culture.  It's right there at the top of the page of Hollywood Jesus that everyone's welcome: gay, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, whatever.  If you're interested, let's talk.

The second part of the mission is that this is a discussion of pop culture from a spiritual point of view.  What are you watching?  What are you listening to?  Tell us about it.  Where do we find spirituality -- and what spirituality do we find?  And isn't it interesting how there's so much spirituality in what we're seeing?

I recently interviewed Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington, a prominent Christian screenwriter.  Her website features a quotation from a 1930s film critic: "Theaters are the new Church of the Masses -- where people sit huddled in the dark, listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human."  What does that mean to you? 

My touchstone is something George Bernard Shaw said in the 1920s, pretty much the same period as the quotation you mention.  He said that, "Film will one day form the national consciousness of England."  He was very prescient.  Look at how film influenced the formation of Nazi Germany.  It's undeniable that film wields a disproportionate influence on the thinking of our culture.  It not only reflects what's going on in our culture, but to a certain extent shapes it as well.  David Bruce's conviction was that film is so influential because it reflects in a very potent and powerful way on spirituality and what our culture thinks of spirituality. 

Do I think that it's a religious experience for most people?  I don't.  I say it as often as I can: Film is the crack cocaine of the art world.  It's less a religious than an addictive experience.  It's visceral.  It satisfies deep emotional and spiritual cravings in a fashion that is so efficient and powerful that we can't get enough of it.  Watching movies brings an adrenaline high.  It's a kind of visual Redbull.

Do you have a guiding philosophy for how Christians should engage pop culture? 

When I lecture on the subject, I suggest that we should rethink the language in which we frame that question.  If we ask the question that way, we are using a verbal model that presumes us to be distinct from the culture.  That's a fundamentally deficient way of thinking, because we are not distinct from culture.  The culture that we inhabit is entirely interwoven with the Church and its precepts; and the Church, because of the way it functions, is intertwined with the culture.  There is no high wall that separates Christians from culture.  We are the culture, we are in the culture, and the culture influences us. 

3/2/2010 5:00:00 AM