Hollywood’s Attack on ReligionThe section that I have chosen to analyze from the book Hollywood vs.
America is “The Attack on Religion.” In this part of the book, Michael Medveddiscusses the shift in attitude Hollywood has made toward religion, fromacceptable to contemptible. He takes a look at the messages being sent in films,music and television in the last 15 to 20 years and analyzes their effects. Ingeneral, Hollywood depicts religion in an unfavorable manner, according toMedved. Moreover, Medved also argues that, not only has Hollywood taken ahostile stance toward religion, but it has paid the price, literally, for doingso. All of Medved’s arguments are well supported and documented, making themseemingly futile to argue against.
Yet, Hollywood, which includes films, musicand television, continues to disregard the obvious facts that Medved hasrevealed.In the first chapter of this section, “A Declaration of War,” Medveddiscusses the facts surrounding the protest which took place on August 11, 1988,in opposition to the release of the motion picture The Last Temptation of Christ.MCA/Universal, which funded the Martin Scorsese film, called the protesters a”know-nothing wacky pack” (38). However, as Medved points out, the protest was”the largest protest ever mounted against the release of a motion picture” (37)and included such groups as the National Council of Catholic Bishops, theSouthern Baptist Convention, twenty members of the U.S.
House of Representativesand prominent figures such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Ken Wales, formervice president at Disney studios. Even with such strong opposition from theserespected groups and people, the studio refused to listen and stood behind itsFirst Amendment rights.MCA/Universal was even supported by the Motion Picture Association ofAmerica, which stated that “The .
. . MPAA support MCA/Universal in its absoluteright to offer to the people whatever movie it chooses” (41). However, Medvedrebukes this statement, arguing that “absolute right” wasn’t the issue; theissue “concerned the movie company’s choices, not its rights” (41). He supportsthis argument further by indicating that the MPAA would never support a filmportraying Malcolm X as a paid agent of Hoover’s FBI or portraying Anne Frank”as an out-of-control nymphomaniac” (41). By releasing The Last Temptation ofChrist, the studio positions Jesus, God and Christianity below these prominentfigures in history because it is portraying Jesus and other religious figures inuncharacteristic situations that would never be associated with these historicalfigures. This is supported by past experiences when movies were edited so as tonot offend animal rights activists, gay advocacy groups, and ethnicorganizations: Leaders of the motion picture business showed more concern with possible sacrilege against the religious traditions of a single Hopi village than with certain offense to the faith of tens of millions of believing Christians; the prospect of being labeled “antiwolf” produced greater worry than the prospect of being labeled “anti-Christ” (42).
Of course, the response to this is that the changes were made during theproduction of the other films, not afterward. Again, Medved argues back,pointing out that “Martin Scorsese and his associates kept their plans for TheLast Temptation a closely guarded secret from all church leaders” (43).The press also distorted the movement against the release of the film by”focusing on one utterly unrepresentative individual as the preeminent symbol ofthat movement: the Reverend R. L.
Hymers” (43). His predictions of impendingapocalypse, his violent outbursts, and his history of legal problems “lived upto anyone’s worst nightmare of deranged religious fanatic. Naturally, the presscouldn’t get enough of him” (43). The press also misrepresented the movement’smain objections, according to Medved, by focusing on the “dream sequence” inwhich Jesus makes love to Mary Magdalene, “and asserting that this image alonehad provoked the furor in the religious community” (44). However, Christianleaders objected to more than that; they identified “more than twenty elements”(44) that were offending to them.
In other words, “the press helped to make theprotesters look like narrow-minded prudes” (44). As a result, Hollywood misleditself and the public into believing that the protesters’ main objective was tocensor the film. As Medved says, “What they protester wanted from theindustry wasn’t censorship; it was sensitivity” (45).Besides the fact that The Last Temptation of Christ was so heavilyprotested against, it was a bad movie, according to Medved, who is also a moviecritic. He even went on the record saying, It is the height of irony that all this controversy should be generated by a film that turns out to be so breathtakingly bad, so unbearably boring.
In my opinion, the controversy about this picture is a lot more interesting than the film itself (47).However, the movie industry defended the film by nominating Scorsese for anAcademy Award as Best Director. This response by the movie industry “provides agood example of the film establishment rallying around a bad film to protect itsown selfish interest . . . that film, .
. . was a slap in the face toChristians everywhere,” (48) according to Mickey Rooney, one of only a fewestablished Hollywood figures who spoke out against the film. And in the end,MCA/Universal got what it deserved, according to Medved, losing at least $10million because people, Christian or not, realized how bad the movie was.The confrontation between Christians and Hollywood over The LastTemptation of Christ was just one of the incidents in the last 15 years in whichHollywood has attacked religion.
In the past, leaders of the film industry”understood the importance of honoring the faith of their patrons. For them, itwas not only a matter of good business, but an element of good citizenship'”(51). Films such as Going My Way, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Boys Town,portrayed religious characters “in a sympathetic light” (51). But in the last15 years or so, “Hollywood has swung in the opposite extreme” (52). When areligious figure is portrayed now, it is likely that “he will turn out to becorrupt or crazy or probably both” (52).
Medved goes on to discuss severalmovies which attacked Catholics, Born-Again Christians, and Jews. He gives abrief synopsis of these movies, highlighting the portions which portray religionin a negative way. For the most part, the movie titles are unfamiliar. Thiscan be accounted for by the fact that “the overwhelming majority of thesepictures performed abysmally at the box office” (64).The main reason these films did so poorly is probably due to the factthat there is “a significant and growing percentage of the Americanpopulation” (70) that is committed to a traditional faith.
On the other hand,most of the people who play a large part in producing movies claim no religiousaffiliation whatsoever: “93 percent . . . say they seldom or never attendreligious services” (71). This fact is one of the main reasons why Hollywoodhas lost touch when it comes to religion in movies, according to Medved: “.
. .unrepresentative personal perspective has helped to blind Hollywood’s leaders tothe intense involvement of most Americans with organized faith” (71). And whenmovies “have portrayed organized faith in a favorable and affectionable light,”(75) they have been successful:. .
. the extraordinary films mentioned above shared another common element: an impressive level of both commercial and critical success. These seven pictures won two Oscars for Best Picture . . .
three for Best Actress, and one for Best Actor (76).Of course, the film industry isn’t solely responsible for Hollywood’sattack on religion. The music industry and television are also guilty ofslandering religion. Lyrics by groups such as R.E.
M., Black Sabbath and JudasPriest indicate the music industry’s contempt for religion. For television,”God’s influence . . .
is all but invisible” (79). Statistics show that “only5.4 percent of the characters had an identifiable religious affiliation although 89 percent of Americans claim affiliation with an organized faith” (80).Religion’s only outlet for television is “relegated mostly to Sunday morningsand televangelists” (80).Medved analyzes the reasons for Hollywood’s attack on religion andnarrows it down to two specific reasons. One reason is that “movie, TV, andmusic moguls are motivated by the pursuit of profit” (87) and they believe thereis money to be made by slandering religion.
But the main reason is that theyare in constant pursuit of “the respect of their peers” (87). And religion “isthe one subject in the world that everyone acknowledges as fundamentallyserious” (88). So when writers and directors attack religion, “no matter howclumsy or contrived that attack may be, they can feel as if they’ve made somesort of important and courageous statement” (88). Thus, “a filmmaker can winthe respect of his colleagues, even if his work is rejected by the largerpublic” (88).It is obvious that Hollywood’s attacks on religion have been fruitless;Hollywood loses money and established religions have been degraded publicly.Medved is thorough in evaluating Hollywood’s stance on religion, and even morethorough in knocking it down.
His arguments against Hollywood for its attackson religion are supported by facts that Hollywood has refused to realize. It isabsurd that Hollywood continues to attack religion, especially when figures showthat a vast majority of the population claim some sort of affiliation with anestablished religion. It would only make sense for Hollywood to change its waysand adopt “a greater sense of neutrality and balance . . . when it comes toportrayals of organized faith” (90).