Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Engaging the Culture

Matthew Lickona (who, we're glad to see, is back blogging after his Lenten hiatus) links to a few of his movie reviews for a Catholic website -- specifically, Black Snake Moan and Million Dollar Baby. He and his fellow reviewer hold a thoughtful discussion of the viewability, truthfulness, and imagery of the films, and find that they cannot recommend either to Catholic viewers. Their commenters engage in this dialogue about art, truth, and beauty:
"What is this movie review column is doing on an orothodx Catholic site? Why are these movies being reviewed at all? If anyone really wanted to watch these movies, there are plenty of secular sites that could give us the low down. Do you seriously think Catholics striving for holiness are going to waste time viewing such trash? Also, why should we be giving money to Hollywood to make more garbage? Secondly, why are these two Catholic men watching such movies? Couldn't they be occasions of sin? What kind of images are being stored in your subconscious? Is it for the sake of "art" - kind of like "I read Playboy for the articles" Really, I think most Catholics who visit your site would like to see something that is not morally objectionable reviewed. Something countercultural."

"Perhaps Brother Grimm has stumbled upon a jewel of wisdom while searching for treasure at the bottom of the outhouse he claims he was visiting in a noble effort to disinfect todays society ."Somebody's got to clean them, right?" Mr Grimm proclaims meaning he and Lostello. Perhaps he has found a calling to his life his writing skills and crumpet crowd do not fulfill. Janitorial work is a vital occupation that civilization needs in order to run smoothly. Since he and his partner in slime have already become the Ralph Cramden and Ed Norton of film critics, it is time to redirect their time to more earthly pursuits."

"I don't see what good is going to come about by reviewing these movies. What do you hope to accomplish? A serious Catholic wouldn't think of watching them anyway, even if there was a smidgen of good contained. Only the most naive would think most movies don't come with an agenda hostile to the culture of life. Your movie reviews so far are a "No duh..." I gave up on movies a long time ago. It is a waste of precious time. Reading, cooking, playing with the kids, gardening, praying, playing music, singing, performing corporal works of mercy are a far better use of time."

"I think your review should have read something like " I walked into the movie, they started playing sinful trash, I walked out. Don't see the movie." End of review. However, you could have saved some money by reading the review on the USCCB, or simply looking at its rating. How can you see any redeeming qualities in a movie full of "too much copulation", that would require you to go to confession after seeing it?
Here's an upfront admission to stave off indignation: I myself don't intend to see either of these movies -- mostly because I read several reviews that convinced me that I wouldn't like either of them. But as Catholics it is our job to engage the culture and transform it -- and that means at least being familiar with moral and cultural and religious issues raised (however erroneously) by popular forms of entertainment. How many Catholics familiarized themselves with the plot and talking points of The DaVinci Code in order to contradict the vapid theology underlying that opus?

Here at Chez Darwin, we don't get to see many current movies, and when we try to get out to the theater we're often thwarted in our attempts (as testified to by the complete failure two weekends ago of our plans to see Blades of Glory). We do, however, stay abreast of the latest book and movie reviews so that when we are presented with an opportunity to view or read something, we'll be able to make informed choices. (I'm just now reading Ian McEwan's Atonement, for which I saw a review years ago.) I'm grateful to reviewers like Matthew Lickona who can view a movie through my eyes, as it were, and give me an honest Catholic perspective on the issues and images involved. Engaging and transforming the culture requires artistic assessment that's a bit more cogent than " I walked into the movie, they started playing sinful trash, I walked out. Don't see the movie."


Literacy-chic said...

I don't get out much, either, and I take even greater offense to the stupidity in movies than I do to the gratuitous sex in movies. But then, I won't tell you the titles of some of the papers I've written.

I do see the whole "this film is a near occasion of sin" thing a little naive and disingenuous. Dante wrestled with the question of whether all art had to be Christian art, or what we should do with the art that was not Christian art--I'm not sure he ever came to a conclusion that satisfied him. But like Dante, I am deeply skeptical of the suggestion is that if we hide our heads in the sand, we will be holier for it (though it did work for the desert hermits...)

I have had the experience of teaching Plato's Symposium to undergrads who thought I was teaching them smut. One in particular thought it was sinful trash and walked out. While I don't think that Hollywood is striving toward philosophical brilliance, I don't see morality as the only grounds on which art should be judged. (Plato actually stands up well to that test.) Nor do I see (opening myself up for criticism) the Church directing my consumption of art & culture (using the terms loosely). After all, I let my son read Harry Potter...

Interesting post; interesting issues.

CMinor said...

D wondered aloud to me why those commenters persisted in reading the blog, if they found it so offensive.

I am reminded of the hip, charismatic (liturgically speaking) pastor at a local parish back in my salad days who decided to demystify The Last Temptation of Christ by going to see it. His commentary from the pulpit the following weekend ran more or less thus:

"I'm not gonna tell you not to see this movie because it's offensive and irreligious. I'm gonna tell you not to waste your money seeing this movie because it's awful!"

Literacy, there is the school of thought that Harry Potter is actually a moral tale, if a little on the PC side.

Literacy-chic said...

I actually knew the arguments for Harry Potter before I knew that it was condemned from within the Vatican. But thanks! ;)