Letter from the Editor:  Awarding the Year’s Best Stories

If you haven’t noticed, it’s award show season. Red carpets and flash bulbs. Fancy dresses and the Fashion Police. Speeches and hugs and tears. Winners and losers and opinions about both. There is plenty of hype. But is it worth our time and attention?

Some have no qualms watching various award shows, whether the Grammys or the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards. There is beauty to behold, whether it’s the glitzy fashion or the heartfelt speech. There is art to appreciate, whether it’s a favorite film or a special live performance. And for some, there is the hosting of an elaborate viewing party for friends.

Award show season reminds us of the power stories have to change hearts and sway the masses.

Others hold disdain for these events. The awards are simply a construct for the famous and popular to gain some additional time in the spotlight. The system is flawed, with awards going to favored actors and films rather than those most deserving. And Christians? Christians have the additional perplexity of being invested in an event that seems to promote and endorse so much that directly opposes the faith we hold dear.

Whether we watch the awards shows or not, they are happening, and many millions are watching. It’s our culture’s way of recognizing the messages and stories from the past year that our society has deemed Award Worthy. It’s a reminder of the power stories have to change hearts and sway the masses. It’s proof that parables work.

From this perspective, the stories packaged and delivered on the silver screen and on the airwaves become avenues by which we can engage others with another story, the beautiful story of redemption. In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and support articles highlight aspects of our culture’s use of stories and the good we gain by understanding them.

First is a look at the history of the Academy Awards from Gina Dalfonzo, who believes some Oscars were given out erroneously. In “Oscar’s Biggest Flubs,” Dalfonzo argues,

In the final analysis, perhaps no award can truly measure the impact of a great performance. It can be fun to watch, predict, and analyze awards, and thrilling when a truly deserving nominee wins one. But when it comes to gauging what’s good, true, and beautiful in filmdom, maybe we’re better off looking to the artists whose work stays with us all our lives, helping to shape our feelings and ideas. No Oscar can dictate whether or not that happens—and looking back over all the mistakes Oscar has made, perhaps it’s just as well.

Did the Academy make mistakes in the past? Perhaps. But it’s unlikely anyone would argue that was the case for Denzel Washington. Almost universally revered, Washington’s most recent performance in Fences has wowed everyone once again, including Jonathan C. Edwards. In “The Tragedy of Family Fences,” Edwards explains,

[Washington’s] performance is deserving of its host of nominations because in one role he encapsulates and brings to life the character and embodiment of our own fathers with such haunting authenticity. By playing one man so well, he plays millions.

[…]

Fences takes us back into those paradise-disproving conversations where we felt more like an object or a burden rather than a son or a daughter.

This is the power of film. It has the ability to crack us wide open and show us things hidden, long forgotten. It also has the power to teach us what we would otherwise never know. In “A Land of Lost Sidekicks in Life, Animated,” Alice Daniels urges us to learn what life is like for someone with autism. Owen Suskind is able to process life best via the Disney films he’s memorized, all of which is documented in a film up for several awards this season:

The utter charm of Owen is that he doesn’t play to the camera; that is not even within his frame of reference. He works only in raw truth; we see his unfiltered reactions as a variety of his life events occur.

[…]

Documentaries, by telling us stories that are true, actually can have the power to change the way we think. In regular films, the actors can wipe off the makeup and go back to their separate lives, having delivered the message from a script. Here, in a documentary, we are invited guests into real lives. One of the ways this film moved me intensely was seeing the genuine joy on the faces of Ron, Cornelia, and Walt whenever they see Owen, as well as seeing Owen’s face absolutely radiate when looking at them. Disney movies are all about love conquering all, in maybe a not-so-realistic way, but it actually has happened here, leading the Suskinds to say, “Having Owen in our lives isn’t a blessing in disguise. It’s a blessing. He’s our best teacher.”

Not all of the art created in the past year is as powerful as Fences or Life, Animated. Some films, Tommy Welty points out, are meant to be sheer entertainment, a small escape from the mundane. And some fail, even at that aim, which is why award show season now includes the Razzies. In “Winning at Being the Worst: What the Razzies Teach Us about Creativity and Art,” Welty analyzes our delight in calling out our least favorite cultural artifacts:

“When The Razzies crown the most obvious candidates with a cynical shallowness, they teach audiences to treat art in the most crass and pragmatic ways. Instead of asking what a film is, what it is saying, what it means, they train us to judge a film on what will get the biggest laugh or most attention. In this paradigm, the art and entertainment we interact with is a bludgeoning tool of our own self-aggrandizement. This makes art propaganda. It puts art in the service of our egos, agendas, and tastes.

The art we engage with teaches us something about others, and ourselves, whether it’s in lifting high those we deem the talented or in tearing down those we find lacking. The tales presented to us—whether in film, music, literature, or games—cause an emotional response precisely because we are a people whose hearts are wired to receive truth by way of stories. By understanding the human desire to be awed, taught, and entertained by stories, we are connected to one another, finding common ground where truth can come forth.

In This Issue

Oscar’s Biggest Flubs

There have always been awards given out for not-so-award-worthy reasons.

by Gina Dalfonzo

The Tragedy of Family Fences

Denzel Washington encapsulates and brings to life the character and embodiment of our own fathers with haunting authenticity. By playing one man so well, he plays millions.

by Jonathan Edwards

A Land of Lost Sidekicks in Life, Animated

Life, Animated allows us to see how a family loves each other, though they were required to take a journey they hadn’t been expecting.

by Alice Daniels

Winning at Being the Worst: What the Razzies Teach Us about Creativity and Art

Full of armchair critics with penchants for lazy analysis, The Razzies stunt an audience’s ability to interact with movies instead of doing the good work of a critic.

by Tommy Welty

Me Before You : Should Christians Engage a Film about Physician-Assisted Suicide?

If our desire is to articulate a robust pro-life position that honors all people, then boycotting Me Before You does not serve to bring about the type of purposeful dialogue that engagement would provide.

by Abby Perry

Spider-Man Comes Home to Marvel and His Fans

Spider-Man finally joins his superhero friends in the Marvel universe. Is he still the same Spidey?

by E. Stephen Burnett

Love and Friendship : An Ode to the Antihero

While Love and Friendship dishes up the antihero antics with panache, it becomes something truly special when it takes us into unexpected thematic territory.

by Kevin McLenithan

Kind to Be Cruel: The Tragedy of Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins was surrounded by people who told her, wrongly, she could sing, and her life was stunted as a result.

by Gina Dalfonzo