Battlefield Hollywood

Recently this week, Southern Adventist University held a two night “joint worship” program in Thatcher Chapel. The program was titled Battlefield Hollywood: The greatest war ever waged is for your mind. The presenters Thom and Scott Mayer are brothers that work in the Hollywood Entertainment Industry. Their primary focus was on the spiritual battle being waged beyond our human perceptions in the Entertainment Industry. Aside from some historical/detail inaccuracies and sourcing Wikipidia as a scholarly resource, the presentation was thoughtfully presented with conviction and passion.

While I sincerely disagree with some of their premises and anecdotal information, the main point, as I understood it, is one based around a concern that Christians need to thoughtfully consider – that point being, the amount of time we allow ourselves to become enraptured in entertainment juxtaposed to our spiritual growth and consideration.  

This may be a more progressive spin on the presenters’ message, but I believe it serves the same general underlying purpose – to better adjust the time we spend watching movies/television, going to theater, opera, or concerts, (basically entertaining ourselves) and the time we spend worshiping and learning more about God and the world that we are an integral part of.

The presentation went much like one of Dr. Walter J. Veith’s Amazing Discoveries pseudo-lectures; a production which I personally find neither to be ‘amazing’ nor deserving of the scientific termv‘discovery,’ but I digress. There was a lot of emphasis on the symbols that Hollywood production companies use to represent their product. There was presented some five or six companies that have symbols that could have duel meanings and interpretations.

Such, however, is indicative of symbols in general and does not in and of itself connote demonic forces; not that I rule out that possibility, only that Christians sometimes ascribe to the forces of evil more credit than that in which  ought be entitled. For instance, before Hitler and Nazi Germany modified the Swastika that same symbol was used by Native American Indians and Buddhists monks hundreds and thousands of years before as a symbol connoting peace and representing protection, not evil and oppression. The point being that symbols have multiple meanings and are only as meaningful as that which man ascribes to them; which is to say that symbols are ever-changing, like language, to meet the demanding needs of communication. I’m not convinced that all of Hollywood is part of a grand scheme to promote a demonic agenda.  

The statistic that over 99% of American households have a television was shared with students, faculty, and community members to an astounding “ohhh.”  I wondered silently to myself how many Americans have a Bible or read the Bible, should they have one. It is interesting that for a nation that prides itself on being “Christian” there is a plethora of unchristian aspects of our American society.

The presenters went into the many tactics that advertising community use and there were many valid points made. Many of these companies hire psychologists to consult on how to make children brand loyal at an early age; this is a smart advertising technique and though it may constitute an important ethics issue, it does not connote demonic forces behind advertising – rather money. A brief overview of the brain and how it functions was presented in less than five or seven minutes, which is far too insignificant an amount of time to represent such a topic as the brain with its many complexities and intricate functions.

There was much discussion about “subliminal messages.” Lance Prichard, a psychology major at Southern, opined that, “According to reports in newspapers and magazines, James Vicary, an advertising expert, had secretly flashed, at a third of a millisecond, the words "Eat Popcorn" and "Drink Coke" onto the movie screen. This study, lasting six weeks, involved thousands of movie going subjects who received a subliminal message every five seconds during the film. Vicary claimed an increase in Coke sales of 18 percent and a rise in popcorn sales of almost 58 percent, however there is another side to the "Eat Popcorn/Drink Coke" study that is rarely discussed.

“In a 1962 interview with Advertising Age, James Vicary announced that the original study was a fabrication intended to increase customers for his failing marketing business.”

Lance stated that, “During the past few years, I have been collecting published articles on subliminal processes-research that goes back over a hundred years (Suslowa 1863) and includes more than a hundred articles from the mass media and more than two hundred academic papers on the topic (Pratkanis and Greenwald 1988). In none of these papers is there clear evidence in support of the proposition that subliminal messages influence behavior.”

When asked similar questions about subliminal messages psychology professors at Southern agreed with the statement made by Lance. Additional research online substantiates these claims. It would seem that the presenters were misinformed on the affects of subliminal messaging on the human mind; this could be due to presenters being influenced too much by Amazing Discoveries and the lack of credible sourcing in that production.

Further in the presentation some movies were cited as having either demonic elements or suggestive satanic influences. The following six movies were cited in the presentation. A brief discussion about these movies and the presenters’ arguments will be presented.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth – two contentions presented with this film were regarding the title and part of the script from the theatrical trailer. In regards to the title of this film the original Spanish title was El Laberinto del Fauno which literally translates to The Labyrith of the Faun; for English speaking countries the title Pan’s Labyrinth was selected for length and because the faun’s name in the film is Pan. The presenters incorrectly state that Pan is the Greek god of rape/orgies.

In the Greek pantheon Pan is the god of shepherds and flocks, mountain wilds, hunting, and rustic music. In Greek the word “paein” actually means “to pasture.” Like many worshiping practices in paganism there are sexual connotations associated with Pan, however, this later addendum made to the god of shepherds was not an original practice only associated with Pan, but rather a common practice of worshiping the gods and performing religious sexual rituals. Pan is also the god representing male virility.

The following is from the movie’s theatrical trailer:

“In a dark time when hope was bleak, there lived a young girl whose only escape was in a legend that wanted her back. The legend speaks of the lost soul of a princess from a lost world who would one day be reborn. There will be signs that mark her return. There will be secrets that reveal her destiny. There will be a journey that will make you believe . . . in darkness there can be light, in misery there can be beauty, in death there can be life.”

There is nothing in this statement that renders an overt or subliminal satanic message. While there are common fantasy and mythological motifs present, these alone do not constitute or connote some grand conspiracy on the part of the filmmakers to promote satanic worship. Instead this film depicted civil war through the eyes of a child and how her only escape was through a world of fantasy and wonder – satanic, rent the movie and decide for yourself.

2. The Golden Compass – while it is true that the author of the trilogy His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman, is an atheist this fact in and of itself should not prohibit Christians from respecting and appreciating his work. Pullman has said that far from a critique on the views of Christianity, his books are rather a critique on the hierarchal system of the Church and organized religion. His Dark Materials is more of a “fundamental objection to ideological tyranny and the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife, regardless of creed. As one of the novel’s pagan characters puts it, ‘every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.’”

The presenters criticized the title of the series of books, suggesting that it has satanic meanings; the title “His Dark Materials” is not a satanic reference, but a reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost where it refers to the drawing instrument, rather than the navigation instrument.

I believe that many Christians could benefit from looking into some of the more rigid history of the Christian Church’s past and realizing some similar elements in Christendom today that prohibit change and progression in thinking. Pullman is viewed as presenting a children’s story that need not rely on Christian themes to have morality or be successful in conveying a storyline marketable for children. I believe that these stories are more suitable for an adult audience, although the producers and directors of the movie have removed some of the books more antireligious elements for marketing purposes.

3. Superman – the comic was created by Jewish authors Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The presentations suggested that the recent influx of “superheroes” might be due to Satan’s great plan of preparing mankind to accept a man (but in reality Satan himself) as coming to the rescue of mankind. While this is at best a fringe-theory and not worthy of serious scholarly debate, the facts surrounding the creation of Superman and other superheroes suggests that this is yet another representation of the great creative ability that God has endowed mankind.

Religious commentators as well as renowned pop-culture scholars have offered several possible expatiations why the character of Superman resembles some biblical counterparts. Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and British novelist Howard Jacobson have both suggested that Superman's creation was partly influenced by the biblical character of Moses in addition to other Jewish elements. For instance, it is interesting to note that Superman's Kryptonian name, "Kal-El," resembles the Hebrew words קל-אל, which roughly means  vessel of God.”

It is interesting that, “the suffix  el , meaning  of God  is also found in the name of angels (e.g. Gabriel, Ariel), who are flying humanoid agents of good with superhuman powers.” Additionally, “Jewish legends of the Golem have been cited as worthy of comparison, a Golem being a mythical being created to protect and serve the persecuted Jews of 16th century Prague and later revived in popular culture in reference to their suffering at the hands of the Nazis in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.”

Some Christians have suggested that Superman could be an analogy for Jesus, being a saviour of humanity.  

Far from being a story influenced by the “forces of darkness,” I find the Superman story to be another creative venue to express the concepts of Jesus as the saviour of humanity or of Moses or angelic beings.

4. Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – there have been many Christians and non-Christians that have enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia as fantasy novels for children. In addition to employing Christian themes, Lewis also borrows characters and ideas from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales.

The main point of the presenters was the character of Mr. Tumnus represents the faun-god Pan. Mr. Tumnus is depicted as faun in the story and movie and Lewis might have been inspired by the Greek god Pan or his Roman counterpart of Faunus, a nature spirit. The presenters are worried that if Mr. Tumnus represents Satan and that Mr. Tumnus is depicted positively in the storyline than the message is that “Satan is your friend.”

It is interesting that “Lewis has said that the first Narnia story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, all came to him from a single picture he had in his head. It was a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels through a snowy wood. In that way, Tumnus was the initial inspiration for all of the Narnia stories.” If one believes that Tumnus is representing of the Greek god Pan or the Roman god of Faunus and that these characters were inspired by Satan, then the whole impetus of The Chronicles of Narnia was due to the inspiration of demonic forces. I’m not willing to believe in such a theory.

5. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club. The book, like the motion picture adaptation, centers around the “protagonist who struggles with his growing discomfort with consumerism and changes in the state of masculinity in American culture.” The film and book is “popularly considered to be an uncompromising critique of humanity's loss of identity through mass consumerism.” The message is focused around consumerism and not about atheism or Christianity though one author makes the point that “consumer-based” Christianity needs to be reconsidered. Dan Revill writes,

“Well as a Christian I could sprout off a scripture about how we are not part of the world. We should not be part of it. That leads to sin…yadda yadda yadda…Shut up! We’ve all heard it. Some even try to use it to guilt trip people into Christianity. Yes, there is nothing better than the Christian guilt trip. What we should be telling people is that there is an answer. You can say "Jesus." Or you can say, "Let me show you.”

“What’s the difference you may ask? Well by saying Jesus there is a chance that you will turn people off. In this postmodern generation people are looking for a new spirituality. They want to break free of the consumerist ideas that they have grown into. Shopping may get you high for awhile but after awhile you probably are going to realize that you are not your Star Wars collection. Organized religion doesn’t exactly light anyone’s fire these days. It seems that the church has done some damage and people are still bitter about that. But when you say, "Let me show you," people will become curious. No longer can you just invite a friend to church, now you must show him/her God for him/her to come. And that involves actions, loving words and most importantly friendship. Is the drug addict going to respond better to the person that says "Jesus will help," or to the person that says, "I will help.”

“Now onto the theory that you cannot truly live until you have hit rock bottom. Interesting theory. And in some ways it is true. I think for some people that it is true. Look at the apostles. They were tortured, stoned and cursed at, yet they were more alive than anyone else at the time was. They had a reason to live and a reason to die. I can tell you for a fact that I don’t live my day to day life with that kind of fervor. In our society a lot of Christians can tell you that the fire of God comes in waves. I’ve sometimes felt more alive than ever before but other times I have felt like God is nowhere to be found.”

I find this to be an interesting take on contemporary Christian issues rather than a movie promoting atheism or antichristian beliefs; I could be wrong and this could be yet another movie part of the greater Hollywood conspiracy.

6. The Nativity Story – the major contention with this film was that the poster had a prominent photo pf Mary and did not depict Jesus. It is true that Mary was depicted larger on the poster along with the other primary characters of Joseph and King Herod. As I recall the Nativity Story of Scripture Jesus is not a significant character in the story until the eventual birth. The story focuses around Joseph and Mary, the environment that Jesus was to be born into, and primarily Mary’s divine pregnancy. The fact that Jesus is not in the poster makes perfect sense. There is not hidden agenda here, rather a simple depiction of the main characters on a poster.

One additional point was made that this was one of the first films that premiered at the Vatican – playing on an anti-Catholic minority in the Adventist Church. There was also a quotation of Time Magazine’s past article ‘Hail Mary’ which discussed how some Protestants now revere Mary. Personally I have no problem with such a position, I don’t worship Mary because of my belief on the State of the Dead, but that’s because of my Adventist theology. In the greater context of this presentation this is a moot point at best.

David George, film professor at Southern, said when asked about the presentation that, “There are people in Hollywood trying to make good films and I don’t doubt that people are making bad things; but I don’t believe that all of Hollywood is involved in one grand conspiracy.” I would concur with these statements. There have been many prominent “Adventist” films that have been received by Hollywood and audiences. The Conscientious Objector, A Cry In the Dark, Secret of the Cave, Goodbye Lenin, and Hotel Rwanda (about the 1997 genocide in Rwanda and Paul Rusesabagina and Adventist at the time of the genocide).

Southern’s School of Visual Art & Design has graduated several talented film majors that are currently working in the Entertainment Industry. I’m not willing to give up on the Entertainment Industry or to condemn Christians that seek entertainment. I’m also not convinced that entertainment is antichristian.

Thursday, November 8 was the Chattanooga premiere of Secret of the Cave with over 1,600 community members of the greater Chattanooga community present along with the Mayor of Chattanooga and Director of the Department of Education, Arts, and Culture. The movie was well received by the community. It is in endeavors like Secret of the Cave and others that Christians can produce films that are family oriented and representing of Christian messages and motifs. Adventists have done much work in the Entertainment Industry to demonstrate that it too can be used as an avenue to display our many God-given talents.

I don’t doubt that there are less than respectable reasons and motives behind much of the Entertainment Industry, however there is also much good to be seen and celebrated. Hollywood cannot be clumped into one category as so often is the case. Human beings are creative by nature and that God-given talent must be celebrated and respected. I’m not convinced that Hollywood is part of a grand scheme conjured up by the devil, although I do believe that there are many films that Christians ought not to endorse. Hopefully we don’t become fanatical in our zeal for Christ and reject different forms of and avenues for creativity.

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Sat, 05/10/2014 | San Diego Adventist Forum
Monique Vincent, PhD candidate, University of Chicago

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