Not too long ago, Alan Noble wrote an article about Movieguide’s Faith and Value awards. Tom Snyder, Movieguide’s editor responded with a defense of Movieguide and their practices. This set in motion a week devoted to addressing some of the claims and assumptions in Tom’s response. However, we wanted Tom to have the last word, so we gave him the opportunity to answer the following questions. They’re provided here for you completely unedited. Thanks to Tom for taking the time to humor us.
Who exactly votes on the Movieguide awards?
The awards are determined by objective, biblical standards looking at the three and four star reviewed movies, the acceptability ratings (to determine the family versus mature audience contenders/nominees according to the appropriate age level) and the qualitative and quantitative analysis in our CONTENT section, including the movie’s dominant worldview, asking whether the movie is primarily moral, redemptive and inspirational rather than merely humanitarian (see the explanation below of our Quality and Acceptability Ratings. The reviewers help determine the ratings and the CONTENT analysis, based on our objective, Bible-centered, and child- and family-friendly criteria based on a traditional understanding of the biblical text and years of scientific research on the impact of media on children and families.
How do you create your annual report (who makes the report, how do you decide which films to include in their figures, etc…)?
Annually, we review the Top 250 or so movies at the box office, reviewing as many movies as we possibly can. Theater owners and studio execs generally only care about the Top 25 and Top 50, but Variety annually lists the Top 250. We analyze the movies by letter code, ratings, dominant worldview, box office using your average database spreadsheet to note the Box Office averages of each category.
Can we really look at box office success as a general indicator of what is considered “excellent” when it comes to art? Or is there such a thing as artistic “excellence?”
We don’t just look at the aesthetic quality of the work, even from a biblical point of view (there are more than one aesthetic theories on beauty, and more than just one “Christian” one), but also at the production values (taking into account the budget that the filmmakers had to work with) and entertainment value. Thus, your question is somewhat loaded here (most secular movie critics seldom consider the entertainment value of a work — if so, ENCHANTED would probably win all the critics awards and the Best Picture Oscar). Goethe I believe developed four questions — What is the work trying to do? How is it doing that thing(s)? How well does it do it? And, Was it worth doing? In that light, the term artistic excellence is somewhat vague. We aren’t looking at box office to determine excellence or beauty or even entertainment but only noting that entertaining movies with high production values and a more refined sense of inward and outward beauty and divine radiance reflecting God’s character generally do best at the box office. If we had more time and more staff, we could do even more statistical analysis, such as combining four star movies and movies with very strong Christian worldviews (CCC) to see if that kind of four star movie does even better than movies with just a CCC dominant worldview. We usually find, however, that Hollywood can do very well at the box office with different kinds of movies with strong Christian content, including I AM LEGEND, the NARNIA movie, THE PATRIOT, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, REMEMBER THE TITANS, ROCKY BALBOA, LAST HOLIDAY, and THE GREEN MILE. We also note the relative success of Christian content movies that opened in fewer theaters, such as AMAZING GRACE and FACING THE GIANTS. Not every four-star movie has equal excellence (it’s only a four category rating system) and not every +4 rated movie is equally sublime.
What defines a “Christian worldview”?
A movie’s implicit and explicit philosophy, theology, biblical references, references to Christian churches, lack of heretical and false or aberrant teachings, Christian orthodoxy, references to Jesus Christ and His life, death and resurrection, allegorical or metaphorical references to Christ or Christianity, its positive references to Christian history, etc.
How do you decide which films display “very strong Christian, redemptive worldviews”?
By looking at the degree of its spiritual, moral and biblical content.
Can the very act of seeing a certain film cause one to sin, or does it require a certain kind of response?
As we have often said, some people are more susceptible than others to various kinds of negative content. For example, I love action movies where the hero battles the villain in some way, but I have not murdered anyone nor do I get into fights. Someone else, on the other hand, may be very susceptible to such imagery. Thousands of studies have shown, however, that visual depictions of violence and sexual immorality do indeed lead to an increased level of such behavior, especially in the few people (about 5-7%) who are most susceptible to such imagery. You don’t have the same degree of problem with literary depictions of vilemce and sexual immorality.
What are some ways that dispensationalism has altered the way many in the church view arts and culture?
I have not studied that specifically, but Dispensationalism does tend to lead to a withdrawal in interaction with the World because the people of God are supposed to be taken out of the way and to lose while the so-called “Antichrist” gains in power until Jesus comes down at the last minute. There is something to be said in favor remaining “separate from the World,” but we also believe that trying to transform the World with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is a good thing (Rom. 12:21). The ship is not really sinking, so it is very important to continue preaching the Gospel because God is in charge of saving people through that preaching and we don;’t want to limit God. I also note that the Christian with the stronger faith is the one who can take a glass of wine without succumbing to drunkenness or mental impairment (I am setting aside the idea of alcoholism and driving or operating machinery during or shortly after drinking). I could go on, but I won’t.
Would you say the primary aim of Movieguide is to spread the gospel or to improve the moral landscape of the world?
Spreading the Gospel actually results in improving the moral landscape of the world, including sanctification of the individual and moral discipline in the Church while Jesus tarries. Otherwise, people could just go ahead, die and go to Heaven just after being saved.
What would you like to see the film industry look like 20 years from now?
We support a return to the Moral Code of Decency and the vetting of all scripts for movies going to public theater and DVD retail within 20 years, if not in 3-5 years. That would probably include the elimination of all R-rated and NC-17 content as well as most PG-13 content. We also look forward to Christian/biblical hegemony within the industry. If this ministry had much more support, our progress would be that much quicker.
I am sure Dr. Baehr could give you some better answers, but he is always very busy. So, I hope all this is not misleading. Here is our glossary of ratings and letter codes, which Dr. Baehr has approved: Click here.