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Volume 7, Issue 3: Cultura

Godzilla Meets Bambi

Roy Atwood

One of the earliest motion pictures, A Trip to the Moon (1902), showed a group of scientists and chorus girls (really!) launching a rocket to the moon. The cheesy special effects rocket landed smack in the eye of an equally cheesy Man-in-the-Moon. Ever since, special effects and whiz-bang spectaclenot biblical insightshave fueled the film industry. And ever since, Hollywood has been spiritually blind. Hollywood's spiritual darkness is so obvious that even insiders describe Tinsel Town as "a place that attracts people with massive holes in their souls." But recognizing the deep depravity of the film industry is not the same thing as having a biblical perspective on movies and the film medium. Our approach to film and the visual arts must begin and end with Christ, who came not to destroy, but to redeem the whole of his creation, including the visual realm.

A redemptive view of film necessarily excludes theological Godzillas, who smash the sinner with their sin and the medium with its message in an indiscriminate tirade. Because Hollywood's heart is spiritually darkened does not mean that the medium of film, in-and-of-itself, is evil. No one seriously condemns all books or human speech because sinners can use them for their obscenities and pornography. The Creator endowed (and limited) the film medium with characteristics unique to itself which may be used for good or evil.
To criticize movies and the visual media because they are not as good as books or other media is equally wrongheaded. This is like condemning an apple for not being an orange. Is Bach a better composer than Milton is a poet? Is the historical narrative of the Acts of the Apostles better than the poetry of the Psalms? Aren't books really better than movies? To consider such questions seriously is to reveal how easily we misplace the biblical antithesis between good and evil, and make illegitimate comparisons within God's created order. Each is excellent (or not) after its own kind. Luther warned the reforming church that even printed images were not immune to our idolatrous ways. Pictures, he said, "do no more harm on walls than in books." The Reformers knew that the faithless heart could pervert sola scriptura and turn the Bible into an idol. The problem is not the limitations of visual imagery, but our idol-making hearts.
The Second Commandment warns us against the dangers associated with the sinful use and abuse of visual imagery. God knows that the fallen human heart is a sucker for special effects and whiz-bang spectacle, and that it easily turns from the Creator to other creatures. Ancient Israel had a weakness for shiny golden bovines. Churchgoers in the Middle Ages were partial to shiny marble statues, souvenir body parts of dead saints, and the Bible's greatest hits reproduced in full-color, stained glass. Churchgoers in the 20th century are fond of their shiny new cars, cell phones, and full-color computer graphics. The Reformers understood that the special effects of their day had become objects of adoration and worship, and so they called the church to repent of its idolatry. Calvin, for example, rejected Gregory's dictum that religious statues served as "the books of the illiterate." He countered that the illiterate should not learn the meaning of images in glass and stone (which they easily misun derstood in their biblical ignorance), but that they should learn to read the Word of God itself. The Reformers also knew that God himself had commanded Moses to fashion the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant with golden cherubim (Ex. 36-37). He had Solomon build the temple with stunning images of lions, bulls, pomegranates, palm trees, flowers, etc. (I Kings 6-7). Again, the problem was not visual imagery itself, but the worship of the creature rather than the Creator.
A redemptive view of film also excludes theological Bambis, who naively graze in the spiritual wasteland looking for what is good and sweet. Discriminating viewers can avoid pornographic or obscene films, but those are only the most vile manifestations of Hollywood's worldview. The film industry is committed less to specific ungodly themes and images than it is to unbridled greed. Long ago, Hollywood rejected the Word of God for idols of gold and statues called "Oscars." The first commercial blockbuster, D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (a sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan credited with reviving the Klan in the south), used all the industry's whiz-bang techniques and made an astounding $18 million in 1910 dollars. Hollywood hasn't looked back. When television threatened box office revenues in the 1950s, Hollywood seized on the restlessness and rebellion of young people in a sympathetic way and sold us James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause , and rebels without a clue in Beach Blanket Bingo. Movie moguls even discovered that biblical themes could produce box office successes such as The Ten Commandments or Jesus of Nazareth. Theological Bambis turned out in herds, and the pagan producers laughed all the way to the bank.
Today, the idolatrous hearts of those who dominate the film industry have turned their visual images of their medium into objects of lust, greed and all kinds of perversions. Young people keep getting Dumb and Dumber , and Hollywood keeps setting box office records. The themes and subject matter may change over the yearsfrom weird science to New Age mysticismbut the driving motive and underlying worldview have remained the same. Hollywood produces what it thinks will sell, be it graphic portrayals of sin or sappy sweetness and light. As Christians we need to keep a critical perspective on the spiritual blindness of Hollywood, drawing the clear biblical antithesis between good and evil in film and the visual arts. We also need to make all things, even movies, captive to our Lord Jesus Christand to remove the rocket from our own eye.

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