In RetroPost, we feature a post from at least one year ago (ancient in pop culture time). The posts are featured because they have some relevance to current happenings, because they are timeless in nature and speak to a relevant issue, or because we plan on providing a follow-up in an upcoming post.

This Week: I guess at this point, it’s kind of like a national holiday. Every year Movieguide publishes a bunch of claims and supporting statistics, claiming that movies with “strong Christian world-views” are not only good for Christians, but good for the box-office as well. Like many, we took issue with the specific films they upheld as “good” and spent a week discussing exactly what problems we had with movieguide’s point of view.

That week went like this:

Whatever is Pure: Movieguide’s Faith and Value Awards
Movieguide: “Alan, You’re Wrong!” and CAPC Responds
Reviewing the Critics: Can We Trust Secular Film Critics?
What Does Philippians 4:8 Really Mean?
What Makes a Film “Good”?

Finally, Movieguide got a chance to defend themselves in an interview. Today we are reprinting that interview.

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.

View the old comments here.


6 Comments

  1. The part of this interview that always interests me the most is his looking forward to a “Christian/biblical hegemony within the industry.” I’ve never heard hegemony used in a positive sense before. This, combined with the fact that they tend to praise films specifically for pro-capitalist content, as if capitalism was some inherently Christian or moral system, deeply troubles me.

    Alan Nobles last blog post..What Would Rush Do? Now Do the Opposite.

  2. While I’m not sure that Snyder answered many of the questions put to him,* I did find it interesting reading.

    Striking was the forwarding of a film’s dominant worldview and an objectively quantifiable concept. This seems a largely impossible task with films that are not overt in projecting a particular worldview.**

    Take Ratatouille for instance—as the film has received mention several times over the course of the discussion. I’m not certain how one would go about determining which worldview (if any in particular) the film proffers. There is little of any particular philosophy presented in either the narrative or in the chief characters’ actions or motives. One might guess that such neutrality might be part of the reason the film is so broadly embraced by American audiences—it is entirely innocuous in it’s proposals.

    To another point, I found Movieguide’s goal of the vetting of scripts to exclude content above a PG-13 (and even most PG-13 content) to be a dismal prospect. Of the most worthwhile films in the last twenty years, the lion’s share have been graced with an R rating.*** And the bulk of those would not be as good if stripped down to innocuous levels.

    Take for instance one of my favourite films. Snow Falling on Cedars is an good, worthwhile film and might even fit somehow through dark arts and arcane means into Movieguide’s CCC rating**** simply because the values that it champions are good values. But I would not remove a single R-rated moment from the film for the presented story would be yards more shallow for the loss.

    When we look at the great films of the Hays’ Code era, we consider them great despite the fantasy worlds they inhabit and not because of them. Casablanca works because we recognize that Curtiz couldn’t portray the devils inhabiting his film with any degree of realism. Double Indemnity works because we recognize that Wilder couldn’t actually portray the kind of lust that would drive Walter Neff to murder. We position ourselves in a state of mind by which we suspend our disbelief, knowing that that period was an era of rampant puritanism and fundamentalist quote-unquote decency.

    It was an era of strange hegemony. A pejorative term that Ed points out is ironically presented as a positive goal by Tom in his conclusion to the interview.

    And as I wrote about a couple years back in my post “Commodify This?” As Daniel R. Nicholson (the subject of the article) proposes, counter-hegemony ought to be the ideal in opposition of hegemony. Counter-hegemony focuses on personal and continued enlightenment and, once having achieved enlightenment, action based upon the truths learned. Counter-hegemony is based wholly on the discontent that full-comprehension ideally must engender. Nicholson goes on to propose that criticism of pop-culture is inherently counter-hegemonic—therefore, it is ironic that Snyder and Movieguide are proposing hegemony while taking a counter-hegemonic role.
    _________________________________
    NOTES:

    *The first two questions are perfectly diverted and many other are simply skirted. Amusingly, when asked whether Movieguide’s goal is to spread the gospel or improve the moral landscape, Snyder talks up the benefit of spreading the gospel, but never states that as Movieguide’s actual goal; which is safe because then one would be tempted to ask how it is that Movieguide is spreading the gospel.

    ** Even seemingly overt films are difficult to quantify. Fight Club, for instance, is often mistaken for a film that proselytizes on behalf of nihilism.

    *** It may be worthwhile to here point out that I loathe the MPAA’s rating system and think it should be abandoned entirely, giving content-rating over to independent groups like Movieguide, Dobson’s thing, Christian Answers, etc. That way, movies can be what they are and those who are concerned with content can visit their favourite content-reviewer for the goods on that score. Too many films are damaged when film-makers and producers aim to fit their film into a particular rating stratum.

    **** granted, I still have no idea how something achieves such a rating.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  3. Dane,

    It is true that we can’t speak definitively about what worldview a work of art reveals, expresses, or springs from, but that is hardly a reason to reject worldview criticism entirely. I think a lot of useful criticism can be done by speaking about how texts incorporate various worldviews, and in some cases I do believe that a single worldview will dominate a text. The example of give of Fight Club seems to show that bad worldview criticism is wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that if a critic did a thoughtful analysis of the themes, characters, images, and ideas of Fight Club that a particular worldview might not standout as a controlling principle, even among other worldviews in the film.

    The problem I have with MOVIEGUIDE is what they do with their worldview criticism, which is move to condemn or praise a film based on its worldview. While I think we can say some accurate and useful things about the ideas in a text or film, I believe that it is difficult to judge the aesthetics or moral quality of the work based on those conclusions, particularly since it assumes something about how the audience will react to the ideas.

    -a

  4. @Alan – I agree that there is value in worldview criticism in film. My problem with MOVIEGUIDE®’s system of evaluation (besides the fact that we shouldn’t shy from encountering opposition worldviews) is that its broken from the start because many of the films it seeks to critique do not have an objectively definable worldview present.

    As I say, “This seems a largely impossible task with films that are not overt in projecting a particular worldview.”

    It just doesn’t seem like the a film’s worldviews (since most are not the product of a single mind/perspective) are readily discernible enough to allow Worldview as an objectively quantifiable attribute—even if such information should necessarily inform one’s perspective of a film’s value. Which I agree with you is not the case.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

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