Friday, May 9, 2008

Open Doors: Movies and Television

(This is the second in the Open Doors series - you can read the intro here, and part one here)

Depending on the kind of cable or satellite package you have, there are some really great tv channels and movie channels you can have in your house. From the comfort of your own home, you can sit with your family and watch some spectacular documentaries, historical biographies, the original Pink Panther cartoons, or some of the most fantastic movies ever made. Really, having a tv in your house can be a wonderful thing - if used properly.

It can also be a really bad thing, and every parent already knows this.

What kids don't know, and what teenagers don't know (as much as they will argue with you about what it is that they do know) is that what they watch on tv slowly becomes a part of them, just as much as what they listen to on the radio or via their iPods. They will want to deny this with their very last breath however, because they honestly do see themselves as individual thinkers. The very idea that their minds are susceptable to this kind of influence is an insult to them. Well, welcome to reality, it can be pretty ugly.

Something I have told all my kids for as long as I can remember, is that there is a reason why companies go to the lengths they do, and spend the kind of money they spend on advertising. They do it because they want to land the best campaign to convince YOU, to buy their product, wear their apparel, drive their cars, or shop in their stores. They do this because it works, and it makes money for THEM. They'll use all kinds of tricks too, to make their product memorable to you. Betty Crocker is famous for creating this picturesque environment of a loving, inviting, warm, happy home - as long as you're baking a chocolate cake. As silly as that sounds, it actually works - to get us all to buy that brand. From catchy jingles for antacid tablets, to "where's the beef?", to beautiful Clydesdale horses for selling beer, just about every national product out there has a memorable ad campaign geared directly to influencing the buying public - and it works. We are very easily influenced, no matter how much we'd prefer to think of ourselves as being able to think for ourselves.

TV shows and movies work in very much the same way. They have a story to tell, or an image to sell, and they want us to believe it. They want it to be so appealing, that we'll watch it again and again, buy it on dvd, and tune in every week when it's on.

The difference between ad campaigns for products and tv shows and movies, is that one just wants our money, and the other wants our attention. Where they are exactly the same, is that they will indeed affect our thinking, and influence us toward that object (whether it's a Barbie doll or a tv show about sleezy beach babes).

Without coming across as overly-conspiracy theory or paranoid, the truth is, is that there is a battleground out there in TVland for your kids. TV show producers don't care how you're raising your kids, THEY want your kids to like their shows no matter what the content is. That content ranges from evolutionary teachings, to paganistic tree hugging messages, to occultic and/or atheistic overtones. In younger children's television programming and movies, most of those messages are often still rather subtle and veiled (obviously Harry Potter and that genre are excempt, since there is nothing subtle about that), but as a discerning parent it's rather easy to spot them. Add to this mix, kid tv shows where the stars of the shows are kids themselves, and kids with a smart mouth, rotten attitude, disrespect for parents, kids who lie at the drop of a hat, skip school, betray their best friend or bully others on the playground - and you've got a nice balance of ample trash all vying for your kid's attention.

If that's not bad enough, the tv shows and movies aimed at the pre-teen and teen crowd only get worse. They zero in on all the things that we as Christian parents teach our kids are immoral, and they promote it as normal, acceptable, and common. Getting drunk, doing drugs, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, lying, betrayal, gossip, slander, narcissistic "me first" attitudes, and more. In fact, if you lined up "works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19-21) with the plot line of any tv show or movie aimed at teenagers, I think you might be surprised at just how many of those character traits are portrayed and actually promoted. It's always a pleasant surprise when a movie aimed at the teen crowd actually defies this, since it's something producers have been aiming for, for decades. (Rembember the slasher flick popularity that began in the 70's? Target audience: teenagers. Main themes: sex, deception, violence & death.)

Not that long ago, my 17 year old was flipping through the channels one night to find something to watch. She stopped on what I call a Skank Show. Then she flipped the channel to another Skank Show, and then yet another one. On these particular shows, the combined plot lines went like this:

One of the teenage girls had slept with another one's boyfriend, and he was actually gay, but hadn't come out of the closet yet (he did later, to a very accepting and supportive group of friends and family and school), so she was hatching some vile scheme to get back at her and ruin her life (and it did, and she tried to commit suicide). Another character on one of the shows couldn't handle teenage life anymore so she consoled herself with sleeping with older, married and unmarried men & staying high on drugs all the time. Not only were the entire plot lines pure trash on all the shows, but the language used was vulgar and profane, the Lord's name taken in vain CONSTANTLY on all the shows, by all the characters, and the way the girls were dressed in various scenes on one of the shows (the setting was a beach city in California) would make a pole-dancer blush.

Now keep in mind, on all three of these shows, the main setting was highschool, and the main story lines seemed to revolve around girls. Girls in highschool are between 14 and 17 years old, and these are VERY popular shows (at least here in Canada). So this is the kind of tv show that teenage girls get to watch these days where every possible "work of the flesh" is promoted as normal, common, and even desirable.

So, mom... dad... what do you do?

Ideally, you're reading this when your kids are little and you can begin to really invest the time into watching their shows and movies with them, so that you know what they're watching and can talk to them about it. In doing that, by the time time they're teenagers they already have a habit in practice of questioning what it is they're watching (or being tempted to watch) and can think about these things.

Just the same as music influence, you have to be willing to talk to them & willing to enter into what might be a bit of confrontation & disagreements. Ask them why they're watching that, ask them what about it they find exciting or entertaining. Ask them if they honestly think the way these young people act on these shows is the way the Lord would have them act, or set before their eyes as examples. Be prepared for teen-logic to come into play here, such as "it's just a show" and "they're just actors, they're not like this in real life". Be prepared to answer those questions. In addition, be prepared to hear some rather pleasant surprises. It's not all bad, when dealing with teenagers!

Even more importantly, you have to be willing to be the bad guy and simply turn it off and not allow it in your house - with a very thorough explaination as to why. These visual images combined with the high-drama and intrigue can be even more destructive and addicting than music can. Sometimes, you just have to be the "bad guy" for the best interest of your kids, even if they don't understand it. In doing this, a lot of people will counter with "but, if you outright ban it from your home, that will make it even more tempting and they'll go after it!" That's actually not always true. Not all teenagers run after destructive things. Some kids might do that, but the painful truth of the matter is, those kids would have done that anyway, if that's where their heart was leading them. Your job is to have the courage to BE the parent, and do what YOU know is right for your kids.

Don't take this influence lightly. Sure, it's "just a show" and sure it may be "just a movie" but the enemy wouldn't be more pleased if you'd just slack off and let your impressionable teenagers fill their minds with blatant examples of exactly how NOT to act, or think of themselves or others.

No, taking this lightly or ignoring it is definitely not something you want to do as a parent.

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