Tuesday, January 08, 2013

How to Make Decisions about Entertainment - the Simple Way

Every day we are bombarded. Not with bullets, but with media choices. Our cultural globe spins so fast, churning out new entertainment options daily for our families to consume, it is difficult sometimes to stop long enough to decide what to allow in and what to keep out. The bombardment is so thick at times you can't even think straight, let alone make decisions concerning the entertainment. So many questions! But what are the answers?

Should our kids read and watch Harry Potter? What about the Twilight series? What if my kids are hungry for The Hunger Games? Is Justin Beiber okay - he seems harmless? And yea her name is strange, but Lady Gaga isn't all that bad is she? 
And what about violent video games - after all, they are not real bullets?  
Isn't Downton Abbey uplifting - everyone is watching it?
And surely there is room in everyone's weekly entertainment for the likes of Honey Boo Boo, right? Or Duck Dynasty? Or America's Got Talent?

Though we don't have all the answers, we have come up with a simple 2 question "entertainment grid" through which we filter each and every entertainment choice that comes our way. It's only 2 questions because it needs to be that simple. Simple means sustainable. Complexity promotes procrastination and indifference. So, keep it simple. Here goes:

First Question: Are the messages God honoring?

Every movie, TV show, song, and book has a message. Period. We have studied popular culture for over 18 years now, and have concluded, emphatically, that every form of entertainment being produced has some sort of message that its creator is attempting to convey. It's not a matter of "if", but "what." What is the message being taught? And is that message God honoring? Paul gives us great guidelines in the Bible when he writes, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." So, how does that apply to a film? Well, take the movie Amazing Grace, the biopic about the life of William Wilberforce, for example. The messages being taught? The film teaches a clear distinction between good and evil...encourages us to help the weak and speak out for those who have no voice...reveals the evils of slavery and the evil of those who turn a blind eye to it...that redemption and the grace of God are real and life changing...and that doing the Godly thing is not always popular, but is always right. These are just a few examples from one film. But not all films have good messages. Many films, even ones popular among teenagers like the Twilight and Harry Potter series, carry mixed messages. The question you must ask is - does the bad outweigh the good, or the good outweigh the bad? To not ask that question is to stop being a parent. So, ask the question , answer it honestly, and act accordingly. You can do it! Yes, we could fill pages with our thoughts on the popular films, TV shows, books, and music artists of today. And yes, we have chosen to forgo much of today's popular entertainment. Why? Well, simply put, because they failed Question #1. The messages sent by Harry Potter, Twilight, Lady Gaga and Mr. Beiber, Honey Boo-Boo, The Hunger Games, violent video games, and even Downton Abbey too often fail the list of things Scripture tells us to think about. Plus, if you read books like Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, you quickly understand that research shows that the more screen time one watches, the more that persons stupidity increases. Those are Professor Postman's words, not ours. But, he is right. God did not create us to simply lounge around and be amused and entertained for so many hours every day. He created us to take dominion, and be a people of intentional action. Are we prudish? Perhaps. Old fashioned? Maybe. Legalistic? Not one bit. God's grace is our Modus Operandi, and we encourage it to be yours, also. So, analyze what comes in your home, ask hard questions, and answer them honestly. Then, take action vigorously!  

Second Question: Is the artistic quality high?

If the piece of entertainment passes Question # 1, then we move on to Question # 2. Why should artistic quality matter? Well, frankly, our view is similar to that of C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and many other dead Christians. They all firmly held that art, at its apex, is BOTH God honoring in its message AND excellent in its presentation. Think of the musical works of Bach, especially. He wrote to worship God, and yet he is considered by musical purists to be the single greatest composer of all time. Yes, even greater than Beethoven and Mozart. Further examples? Handel's Messiah, a brilliant piece of music about the life of Christ. Chariots of Fire, a masterpiece in every way, which won the Oscar for Picture of the Year. The writings of C.S. Lewis, an Oxford scholar who wrote brilliantly, with a complete command of the English language. Or the later writings of T. S. Eliot, the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, the works of Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, and on and on the list goes. Though we would love for you to explore the people we mentioned, the point is to evaluate all entertainment, first at a moral level (what message is it sending?) and then at an artistic level (is it high quality?). Honestly, much of what we would today call "Christian media" fails Question #2. Films, well-intentioned as they may be, such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, No Greater Love, and a whole host of others often send great messages that we applaud, but do so in a less than appealing artistic package. So, should we eschew such things? You make your choice, but yes, we often do in our family. Why? Because we do not NEED entertainment that badly that we will settle for poorly written art forms. So, we do often abstain from the popular entertainment the world offers up, and that which the Christian community puts forth. So, although we consume very little entertainment as a family (which helps to simplify life anyway), the rare delights we do absorb encourage us with their great messages, and excellent artistic quality.

If you have thoughts to add to ours, we would love to dialogue about this further. The foundational points we wish to make are this: Evaluate what comes through your doors, because no entertainment is neutral. Only allow inside what is beneficial to those in your home - Yes, you are the gatekeeper and the policemen guarding your family. It's not our children's role to guard themselves - God tells us to do it. Limit the amount of time spent on entertainment, and simply replace with more family time - playing board games, reading books together, walks, outside work, raising animals, etc. Do these things consistently together as families, and you will find your thirst for entertainment will wane, and your hunger for "real" family time will increase.   

May you enjoy your family even more by considering these things we have written!        

1 comment:

  1. I like your article. My girls have a sign on the homeschool board, in the family room, where we watch our Netflix movies...CORAM DEO:Before the face of God. What we watch or do for entertainment, we do "before the face of God--in His presence"...and so, it matters. It matters a great deal. There are movies we really want to watch. We are women, we love romance--we eschew most modern day romantic films. We cannot watch things that have gone beyond soft porn, we cannot watch things that devalue us as women and cheapen our gender, we cannot watch things that glamorize sex and immorality, we cannot watch things that set the values that we try to uphold in our walk with the Lord as archaic and nonsensical. After setting those standards for our viewing, there have been times we have watched a movie that we dearly wanted to watch, and found that we truly could not watch it without feeling that we should not watch it.

    I also think there is a difference in viewing standards when a child is very young and not completely set or mature in their walk with the Lord. We did not allow "magic" in the kid's movie viewing. I bought The Secret Garden for my 2 oldest, back in the early 90's. I had read the book and loved it, and thought the movie would be nice to watch. There was a scene with a seance in it. I quickly destroyed the movie. When the kiddos are little, magic can seem fun...and because I feel (strongly) that there is evil and a child can fall into evil...I didn't want it to ever be glorified or even given a place of acceptance. I am still not a fan of movies, or books, that contain "magic". Both Jack and I have drawn a very firm line in the sand on this subject. As the kids have gotten older, they have asked why our extensive movie library did not contain such family movies as Sleeping Beauty and a few others...well, they were none the worse for NOT having seen them. Each family has to decide for themselves. I hope they decide prayerfully and do not just assume that it will not affect their child(ren).

    I am chuckling to myself, as I type this, my 3 teenagers (19, 17, and 15) are watching Secret of the Wings (fairies) with their 5 year old, special needs, sister. I would NEVER have allowed them to watch this when they were little. I have softened in some areas. And gotten stricter in others.

    My best times with my kiddos are always spent playing a board game, talking, doing devotions, etc. Because of the dynamics of our family, having 2 small special needs children, and sometimes having to spend days upon days (even weeks at time) without leaving our home due to the health issues of our youngest...we do watch a lot of Netflix movies (we do not have cable). We have more down time than most families and do a lot of sitting with needy littles. So, we have opted for more "old" movies. Less sensuality, more values! And we are so often thrilled to see/hear them mention God as a reason for their good behavior or decision to avoid the bad. When my kids are asked to name their favorite movies--you will hear (even from my 21 year old Marine) things like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Sound of Music, Holiday Inn, etc...my 15 year old son loves Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Fred Astaire movies. My girls love Ginger Rogers.

    Thanks for opening this up. I really do believe there are many out there who just don't realize the damage that can be done to their children by allowing them to decide for themselves.