Monday, February 9, 2015

The Art and Value of Entertainment

My husband recently asked me if everything I listened to, read, or watched had a positive value.

This was after we got into a fight over the Superbowl halftime show. I had to leave the TV for a bit, because I found the spectacle, like every single Grammy's Award show I have ever subjected myself to, annoying. I left, but I did not leave my husband and son alone; I had an ear cocked, because I did not trust Katy Perry. Nothing had seemed visually indecent, but the lyrics to her songs are extremely frivolous and often raunchy. So, overreacting as I tend to do, as soon as I heard the song "California Gurls", I blurted, "This song isn't appropriate for Berto!"

Yes, I am really that protective when it comes to material that may form my son's opinions about women. I turn the station on the radio all the time. And, yes, I am very likely - not positively, mind you - too sensitive.

I told my husband flatly and haughtily, "When it comes to entertainment, I do not believe in pure entertainment. Everything has either a good value or a negative one."

That has always been one of my favorite pet sayings. It's very pithy, isn't it? Well, it was my favorite until my husband called me on it, made me stop and think.

"So everything you listen to or watch around the kids has a positive value? Nothing inappropriate at all?"

Whooo....."Well, nothing explicit. I mean, most of it is probably neutral, come to think of it - neither good nor bad. [As if he didn't know what neutral meant] But....uh....touché."

So I was wrong, but I amend my ways by asserting that most entertainment has a good or bad value. I still really like the saying.

I can find the value in stories that others would challenge. Take, for example, the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. That romantic comedy, a childhood favorite, has a wealth of value based in the story of a selfish, self-centered, pride-filled man who over a seemingly endless day confronts the truth about himself and his ambitions and gradually learns to use his excess time, not for pleasure, consumption or self-aggrandizement, but to grow in kindness, humility, selflessness and skill. And he does it at first to win the attention and love of a woman - not too bad thing - but in the end continues because he grasps the value in doing good and helping others.

On the other side of the coin, I detest Adam Levine's song "Animals". Though just a song, some might say, to me it has terrible, unhealthy, carnal lyrics. I do agree with others that it sounds like a disturbing and explicit stalker song. The imagery has nothing to do with a loving relationship, and I have had a few talks with my 12-year-old son about it, because it seems to be a very popular song with his age group.

My husband and I also had a recent, quite lengthy discussion with our oldest boy about movies and books. Berto was upset that we didn't want him to read the book American Sniper until one of us had read it or until we had spoken with Uncle Dave about it. He was very distraught about the whole thing, and I couldn't understand why until it came out that his friends had told him repeatedly that his parents were too protective. Apparently, they also regularly spoke of usually vulgar movies that we wouldn't allow him to see because of content, and he felt completely left out of conversations, the odd man out of classroom culture, because his parents were "overprotective".

Well, what could we say but tough luck? I feel for him, but as I told him, I have myself walked out of or stopped watching many movies, because I found them offensive or too disturbing. I also have, regretfully, persisted in watching or reading things that I wish I had given up on much sooner, because the junk still clutters my mind.

My husband made the best point. He said that many times at work he has encountered the same situation. He doesn't pretend he has seen the movie or is going to see it. He says clearly that it is not a movie he has or will see - if asked. Then my man pointed out that it is our responsibility to raise our son to know healthy boundaries. God has given us that responsibility - to form his character, to foster good judgment, to teach him to swim against the current of the culture. We couldn't really care much less what other parents allow.

But....I have allowed Berto to read and watch things that other parents would not allow for their 12-year-old, including The Hunger Games (well, not the first violent movie). I believe that story has value in its commentary on good and evil: in its promotion of sacrifice, its lack of promiscuity; its apt portrayal of a society so disordered in the Capitol that people have lost their depth and discernment and parade about like outrageous plastic figurines, completely wrapped up in the superficial, in the sensory. I can say similar things about the value of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars and the Harry Potter series, the latter of which I allowed my son to read when he was too young for it according to one of his teachers; my mistake, I admit. All these fantasy tales promote courage, community, love, honor and justice while not avoiding the intense heartache, cynicism, death, moral struggles, physical limitations, compromises and discouragement that come with personal and communal battles against evil.

In fact, any tale that promotes the best gifts we humans have and can foster, like love, hope, and courage, in battling evil have my support. There are millions of these stories for a reason.

Yet, I have also allowed my oldest children to watch things or read things, and later I regretted it. Berto watched Captain America and Iron Man, for instance, and they were both far more violent than I anticipated.

Recently I also allowed Ana to read The Princess Bride. Truly, I love the movie. Like many people, I grew up on it; my brother and I would watch the fencing scenes over and over again. But the book? Not so charmed. I am not sure what William Goldman's experience with women has been in general, but in his tale it seemed to me that he mostly portrays them as vain, capricious, simple creatures who once they have lost their looks, lose a good portion of their value and self-esteem. You can imagine I talked quite a bit to my girl about what she thought of his portrayals of our gender. Though he has a satirical writing style that grows on you, I most certainly could do without his anemic portraits of the female sex, and I'm glad that some of that was excluded from the movie.

Yet no one would argue that Buttercup and Westley fight for the right. They fight for love, the greatest thing. Even poor Inigo, lusting after revenge, is battling evil in his convoluted, obsessive way.

I really must wrap this up, for I believe I have lost my point and possibly my credibility. (Let me 'splain. No, it is too much. Let me sum up.) My point is that, for my own family and my own children and my own self, I do often find that "entertainment" either promotes the good or that it glorifies evil - sometimes in clever ways. I will not subject myself to gory horror movies or allow my children to ever play certain video games, because I think they intrinsically have a negative value based on their promotion of death, lust and violence. But I will someday (and I say someday because children can miss the central message in material that is too mature for them to handle) allow them to watch movies about the Holocaust, various wars, and mysteries, because they so powerfully express just how great the problem of evil is and just how bravely and inexhaustibly it has been challenged, contained, or transformed by mere mortals.

My family and I have discovered some really great stories lately that I believe promote the good. I will rattle off a few:

The Fifth Quarter movie: The story of a high school boy's death in a tragic car accident and how his family comes to grips with his senseless death as their community embraces them. His older brother returns to his college football career, and the whole team dedicates themselves to winning for his deceased brother. Powerful based-on-true-events story of faith, courage, community and one family's profound loss.

Get Low movie, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray: Wow, I loved this movie, far more than my husband thought I should, but it so eloquently expresses the effect of our sin in an unusual, brilliant way. Truly, you want to know what penance and confession might look like after years of silent guilt? Watch this. I balled like a baby.

A Child Called It memoir by David Pelzer: A memoir about surviving child abuse that is too powerful for me to sum up effectively. Nevertheless, I will try to review it in another post. Too disturbing for children.

Grantchester PBS TV series: Ah, murder mysteries. I love them, because they always get their man but do not overlook his humanity. Grantchester is an excellent series about an intelligent, nonjudgmental Anglican priest with great instincts and a gruff, cynical, but goodhearted policeman and their respect for each other as they work together solving crimes.

Ghost No More memoir by CeeCee James: This is the heartbreaking story of a childhood nearly devoid of love and the dignity that belongs to every human being, a girl's constant yearning for love, recognition and mercy from her parents. I will also review it in a post.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas movie: My husband had to hold me at the end of this movie, because I was sobbing uncontrollably. It is about the friendship between a boy whose father is a commandant of one of Hitler's death camps and a boy who lives behind the fence of the nearby concentration camp. It is understandably controversial in its portrayal of events and people, but I thought the message of its final moments was powerful.


  1. Thank you so much for the mention. It's an honor. :)

    1. It was an honor to read your memoir, CeeCee.

  2. I like Get Low and the Grantchester series - haven't seen the others.

    1. I think you would like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Dad.


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