There I was, a 24-year-old dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, standing in the halls of one of New York’s multiplex theaters. Two theaters, which just happened to be right next to each other, had been rented out for advanced screenings of a film. I was waiting for the doors to burst open.
I was working for a marketing company. The principal clients of the office I’d worked at were Broadway shows and New York-based film production companies. This job had given me occasional opportunities to briefly interact with celebrities (none of whom would remember me today), as well as several opportunities to avoid making eye contact with one very infamous producer. I’d been “moving on up” in the Big Apple, as far as I was concerned.
But this “moving on up” likewise called for me to spinelessly look the other way when my boss routinely deceived clients or colleagues, to awkwardly act as though nothing had happened immediately after declining yet another one of his awkward sexual advances, and to frequently accept being on the receiving end of profanity-filled temper tantrums. The experience of it, overall, was so miserable that by January 2007 I’d begun considering whether to do something I’d previously assumed only nitwits did: converting to Christianity.
The films playing in those two different theaters actually happened to be the same film, but with different endings. It was based upon a short story by a very famous author, and was still several months away from its June 2007 release. One of the theaters began running the film at 7:00 in the evening. The theater next door began running it at 7:30. This gave those of us working just enough time to scramble, to give an initial report of the test audience’s reaction and to conduct a focus group, and then do the exact same thing over at the next theater.
A colleague of mine explained to me why it was that the same film was being screened in neighboring theaters. “The main character lives at the end in one of those theaters,” he said, “but he dies in the other.”
We understood that the version of that film the studio would eventually release would largely be based upon whichever one scored higher with test audiences. Those in the test audiences had been unaware of any alternate endings. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I grew up with the tacit assumption that the filmmakers who’d “moved on up” to work for major studios surely must have felt confident in themselves, that even mediocre films were made by men and women who were at least decisive. This seemed rather … pathetic.
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
The Academy Awards are tonight. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, having reviewed the “best” films released in the year 2022, shall announce which of those films are to receive their highest honors. As of the date of writing this article, I still don’t know which films were nominated for Best Picture. I doubt that I’ll have bothered to check by the time this article is published. Low Nielsen ratings will almost certainly verify that such indifference is now the norm, that most of us couldn’t care less.
In fact, this very article could probably compete with the Oscars for Nielsen ratings at this point!
After years of throwing accolades at films that most of us wouldn’t bother to watch in order to make those “correct” political statements, such as Moonlight, potential audiences have grown increasingly ambivalent. Long and preachy acceptance speeches, as well as incredibly boring commentary about who’s wearing what, haven’t helped either. The prospect of watching any staged “slaps,” or “mixing-up” of cards that name the winners, probably won’t be enough to bring large audiences back.
Stories have tremendous power. The stories we were immersed with as children, and those in which we immerse ourselves as adults, profoundly affect our worldviews. Our Lord, having known the power of stories, taught us with parables. Our Lord was also very careful to use this power to direct us toward Truth, rather than to peddle fads and propaganda.
Hollywood has become out of touch for so many of us. Rampant materialism, political correctness, deliberate attempts to appeal to ever-wider worldwide audiences, and gimmicks that quickly grow stale, are all among those ingredients that have made most of today’s major productions so very forgettable, so lacking in soul. So much of today’s entertainment pushes forward values that are contrary to, or even hostile toward, our own faith and traditions. Values that were largely considered avant-garde not too long ago are now standardized in film and television, and plenty of us (who don’t live in bubbles of political correctness) are very alarmed at how they’re being imposed.
Lightyear, the latest film in the Toy Story franchise, is among those films released in year 2022. This Pixar film had included a same-sex kissing scene. The central concern, of course, is that Pixar films are intended for children. In those weeks leading up to Lightyear’s release, concerned parents throughout the world were compelled to ask themselves: What is Disney attempting to indoctrinate our children with today?
Bros, the first gay romantic comedy to be produced by a major American studio, and produced by Judd Apatow himself, was likewise released in 2022. Hollywood’s broad glorification of lifestyles contrary to our faith and tradition took yet another step forward. Characters who once would’ve been rather quirky sidekicks in films such as Mannequin (1987) have become far more prolific, and taken leads in many cases, and many of our countrymen have been conditioned to noisily dismiss those of us who are reluctant to celebrate this trend as “bigoted.”
Holy Scripture affirms that all people have been made in the image of God. The Gospels record that Our Lord, having never condoned sin, did not shy away from befriending people who were regarded as outcasts and sinners. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (in paragraphs 2357-2359) acknowledges the humanity of those with same-sex attraction, while distinguishing between inclination and acts upon such inclination:
They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided …
But to accept a person does not necessarily mean to celebrate his or her lifestyle, or any poor choices he would make. Is it not the duty of any true friend to be concerned when his or her friend engages in self-destructive behavior? This much seems to have been lost these days amongst so many storytellers in our mainstream entertainment. Chastity has largely been turned into an object of ridicule, and the traditional family has been undermined, throughout our sex-crazed popular culture.
Greed or Ideology?
It’s very difficult to discern the degree to which all of this has been deliberately done to push forward an ideological agenda, or the degree to which this is unwittingly done through lack of awareness. What’s hardly difficult to discern is that some lifestyles are most certainly less healthy than others. Statistical rates of domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, serious mental health issues and suicide, sexual abuse and predation and other correlations all moving in the wrong direction, indicate that not all lifestyles are necessarily “equal,” regardless of how many films and television shows attempt to coax us into believing otherwise. Biology itself recognizes a very profound inequality between lifestyles in the power to give life.
There’s a fine chance that the decision-makers who’d ultimately opted to include the same-sex kissing scene in Lightyear had brazenly assumed that enough of us were going to pay to watch the next Toy Story film, regardless of whether some would object. We, as consumers, bear much responsibility for the direction of our popular entertainment. “Those kids will get exposed to it at some point anyway,” they may have figured, “it’s those parents that object who really need to grow up.”
It’s tempting to perceive Hollywood as some kind of a roaring monster (perhaps a giant Mickey Mouse) whom we are powerless to stop while he stomps on everything that we hold dear. But Hollywood isn’t a community made of any such monsters — it’s made of men. Monsters are very decisive. Men aren’t. Men, in fact, can become so pathetically indecisive that they’d resort to asking test audiences which ending their film ought to run with.
Hollywood isn’t ultimately governed by any ideology as it is by the love of money. Mammon is a very harsh taskmaster, whom even political correctness must answer to. Mammon will continue to allow the forces of Wokeness to run rampant, like kids on a playing field — but only until the money starts to run dry.
The Christian Response
The martyrs whom we celebrate are persons who remained firm in their conviction, even in the face of death. Our saints are such formidable characters precisely because they believed in the Truth, which is very much real. Holy fools don’t look so foolish anymore when they’re in Heaven! But can the same ever be said for any worshipper of mammon? How swiftly would the peddlers of any lies, prolific as those lies may be, recant once they’ve realized that their greedy overlord can no longer be fed through those illusions?
How can any alarming trends in entertainment be put to a stop? The answer is very straightforward: Just don’t watch.
Boycotting can work wonders.
Lightyear was banned from playing on screens throughout much of the world, particularly throughout much of the Muslim world. (Credit is due to those who simply wouldn’t have any of it.) Concerned parents throughout the world, Catholic and Protestant alike, simply refused to bring their children to theaters to watch it. The film grossed $226 million in theaters worldwide, making it a relative failure, considering that the previous two Toy Story films had each grossed upwards of $1 billion worldwide. That decision to include the objectionable kiss in a children’s film caused Disney to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars.
Bros was critically acclaimed. It was also a box office failure, despite having Judd Apatow’s name attached to it. Universal Pictures wasted money on a film that most people, despite having been previously exposed to so much entertainment preparing them for it, still couldn’t relate to.
It’s doubtful that Hollywood will continue with its current course if this just happens a little more often. Yes, the year 2022 has been reviewed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a number of us will catch some blurb about the Oscar winners in tomorrow morning’s news. But could it be that this past year in film has actually been far more historically significant than most in the Academy would even realize?
This past year may finally have been the one in which Hollywood began learning that we’re perfectly willing to fight back.