Every person, parent, and grandparent knows we have a personal responsibility for our health and those entrusted to our care. We know we should watch what we eat, drink, and do. But do we watch what we “watch?!” Few topics stimulate such controversy and debate as our entertainment. We have more entertainment choices, and broader access, than ever before. The internet, shows, and movies, are at our fingertips through our phones, streaming services, televisions, and computers. Like food, entertainment is not neutral.
Entertainment conversations usually turn to issues of accuracy (how “realistic” it is), the emotions produced (how it “makes me feel”), and interpretation (what it “means to me”). But there is a difference between critiquing the quality of an art form from a technical point of view and the message/content of the art itself. Christians are called to “love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). How does that apply to entertainment?
First, evaluate the message(s) and the worldview being presented. The message is the main idea, or theme presented. Despite the packaging, what is the content? A worldview is the underlying philosophy of life or belief system being explicitly (or implicitly) communicated. Every art form arises from, or expresses a particular worldview. To determine the worldview consider what is being communicated about reality, the nature of mankind, or what is right and wrong. What is the source of and solution to, our problems? What gives life meaning and purpose? What is presented as good, noble, and praiseworthy? Don’t just consider the storyline. Listen to the dialogue of the characters. Pay attention to their journey. Who is the hero and the adversary, and what is their goal? What is their “character flaw” and newfound “right way” of thinking? How is the hero, story, or series resolved?
Second, discern the intention of the creator. For many artists, only provoking an emotional response is the measure of success. Such artists minimize their responsibility and miss an opportunity to communicate with clarity, which often leads to selfish art. What kind of parent would I be if my communication goal was simply to produce emotional responses from my children with no guidance toward truth, beauty, justice, or goodness? Only seeking emotional responses twists a shaping opportunity into a selfish indulgence. Eliciting feelings is fine. Encouraging the right kind of response or action is better.
Third, evaluate the outcomes the art form influences. Certainly each person is accountable for their own attitude and actions. To attach direct “cause and effect” to art can become a slippery slope toward avoiding personal responsibility and feeding a culture of blame. While art is not causal, to claim it is “neutral” and not influential is both naïve and dangerous. The concept of art implies intention. If the creator claims no purpose or intention the art form would not exist! Even creating something with “no message” is itself a message! There is no neutral art, therefore we must be honest about its influence and truthful about its impact, whether intended or not.
Jesus prayed his followers would be rooted in truth and sent into the world as influencers (John 17:14-19). We can honestly confess the world is a broken and dark place. We can also contend that a biblical worldview offers ultimate explanatory power and hope. If you are not being “conformed to the image of this world” but “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), you will be more equipped to “watch” what you watch.