Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Should We Label Hollywood as “Evil”?

Every year, thousands of children swarm Hollywood in search of fame, but what they often find under the surface is a deep and disturbing underbelly of manipulation and abuse.” So reads part of the description of An Open Secret, a new documentary set to premiere at DOC NY this year. The film is helmed by Amy Berg, the Oscar-nominated director of another documentary that deals with the theme of sexual abuse.

An Open Secret is “a sobering look at the lives of children who were exploited and assaulted by some of Hollywood’s most powerful players.” The film’s title suggests that these secret crimes weren’t so much secret as they were ignored or glossed over. If the content of the movie is true, it’s a scathing indictment of the culture in which much of moviemaking takes place.

It reminds me of my blog post Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture, in which I talk about the many ways actors—especially women—are abused and mistreated in the process of filming scenes that require nudity and/or sex acts. This rape culture is simultaneously well known (by those in the industry) and relatively unknown (by audiences).

On top of all that, consider the Sex Scenes = Porn blog series we’re currently going through. We can label such scenes “professional” all we want, but just because a movie isn’t slapped with an NC-17 rating, it doesn’t mean all is calm on the Western front of Mr. Rogers’ friendly little neighborhood. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

With all of these considerations, should we write off Hollywood as a lost cause? Is it a subculture so steeped in depravity that it’s beyond salvaging? Should we just slap Tinseltown with a label marked “Evil” and be done with it?

I could be wrong, but I believe the answer is no. Why? Well, such a label is, I think, overly simplistic. In all my critiques of the industry, I don’t want to paint Hollywood with such a broad brush as to condemn everything that plays in a local theater.

It’s way too easy to condemn Hollywood as a whole, ignoring the fact that the institution itself is made up of different studios, producers, directors, actors, and screenwriters who are varied in their approach to controversial subjects, and some of those approaches are not just permissible but laudable. Jeffrey Overstreet recently listed several such laudable examples:

Look at the films of Scott Derrickson, which have earned high praise in the horror genre, but which affirm Christian beliefs and focus on the reality of spiritual warfare and the overwhelming power of Christ. I’m a big fan of Sinister and I admired both The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil

Look at the favorable reviews for films based on the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other great Christian artists. . . .

Look at the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. Classics like Babette’s Feast and, going back farther, Ordet. Look at how many of these films reflect Christianity and are legendary in film history.

Look at the not-so-blatantly religious films coming from Pixar, films that celebrate Christian values. Some of Pixar’s most prominent directors and writers have publicly professed Christian faith.

And that’s only a sampling of what Overstreet’s article addresses.

Another problem with labeling Hollywood as evil is that it can lead to (or spring from) a misguided notion about the source of true evil. Even when the Bible condemns worldliness, it points us back to the source of that worldliness: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). In other words, worldliness is just a term for what happens when the evils of men spring out and into culture.

This evil is, at root, a heart problem. We can spend most of our efforts keeping evil at bay by retreating from a secular culture. Our problem, though, is not primarily outward, but inward. Labeling Hollywood as unredeemable and ignoring movies altogether can indicate a dangerous misunderstanding of the nature (and treatment) of evil.

Speaking of the true source of corruption, I guess you could say there is a sense in which we can—and should—say that Hollywood is evil. If we’re trying to make a theological point about the universal sinfulness of man, than such a label would be appropriate. Even Jesus called His disciples evil—not scathingly or in rebuke, but in a simple, matter-of-fact way (see Luke 11:13). Hollywood is filled with sinful people, but that would be true even if Hollywood generated only G-rated fare that didn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities.

So if we can’t categorically condemn everything Hollywood produces, how are we as a church supposed to respond? I’m glad you asked. (Well, I’m glad I asked for you, at least.) In his book Worldly Amusements, Wayne A. Wilson lists four possible responses:

1.     Avoidance (don’t watch movies at all)
2.     Silence (don’t talk about movies; just let everyone do what they feel is right)
3.     Engagement (immerse yourself in culture in order to be relevant)
4.     High Standards (use wisdom and discernment; abhor what is evil and cling to what is good)

It’s obvious he is a proponent of the fourth view. As he explains, there are at least four benefits to this response:

1.     It avoids legalism by seeking to apply Scripture without adding to or detracting from it
2.     It gives art its due, acknowledging its power for good and evil
3.     It honors the performers by enabling us to obey Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (as we’ve talked about, among other places, here and here and here and here)
4.     It honors the Word of God by acknowledging that there are applicable principles we should adhere to

True, the High Standards position is much harder to maintain than mere avoidance, or absolute silence, or full immersion. But it is the most Christ-like response. By the Spirit of Christ, let us exercise true discernment by engaging Hollywood with both the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves (Matt. 10:16).

photo credit (cropped and inverted): shdowchsr via photopin cc

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When Did Voyeurism Stop Being a Vice?

Did you know that the term “peeping Tom” was inspired by an 18th-century story? As legend goes, Lady Godiva persistently begged her husband, the Earl of Coventry, to ease the tax burden of the people under him. Finally, in exasperation, he promised to acquiesce only if she rode through the town on horseback—in the nude. She agreed.

During her ride, the townsfolk remained indoors out of respect—all of them, that is, except one man. This person’slustful curiosity compelled him to gaze at her and [he] was then, according to various versions of the legend, struck either blind or dead in punishment.” What was the pervert’s name? I’ll give you a three-lettered guess.

No Christian would want to be labeled a peeping Tom. After all, it is indecent and immoral to receive sexual pleasure by watching someone other than your spouse undress or engage in sexual activity. We fully acknowledge that.

Or do we? Douglas Wilson says we do not. In his book Reforming Marriage, he lays before our eyes the naked truth (so to speak):

Many Christians are willing to watch, by means of a movie camera, what they wouldn’t dream of watching in person. You couldn’t get them into a topless bar, and yet they cheerfully go to films where they see far more. Would most Christian men be willing to be peeping Toms, roving the neighborhood? Certainly not. But what if they discovered a woman who knew of their presence and was willing to undress in front of the window? That would be worse. What if she were paid to do all this? Worse, worse, and still worse. And if she is paid lots of money, has a producer and director, does all this for the movie cameras, and has millions of men drooling at her window sill? This is suddenly different and becomes quite a “complicated” issue. (p. 111)

Pastor Wilson is exactly right. In light of what Scripture has to say about public nudity and public sex, and in light of what we’ve already studied in this blog series, it isn’t the issue that is complicated, but rather the tangled web that is own hearts.

Have you noticed that one of the main ways we as a society seek sexual enjoyment is through watching? We justify gazing on people sexually acting out by labeling it as entertainment. We peruse articles telling us what it was like for Actor X to kiss (or share a sex scene with) Actress Y in Movie Z. We pore over Victoria’s Secret and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit magazines with relish. We play videogames that invite us to ogle their characters’ bodies. It could be argued, I suppose, that we’re not actually participating in any sex act ourselves. After all, we’re just watching. But that’s just a denial of how the sex act works. The authors of Every Man’s Battle make a helpful clarification:

For males, impurity of the eyes is sexual foreplay. . . . Because foreplay is any sexual action that naturally takes us down the road to intercourse. Foreplay ignites passions, rocketing us by stages until we go all the way. . . . No doubt about it: Visual sexual gratification is a form of sex for men. As males, we draw sexual gratification and chemical highs through our eyes. (pp. 66, 68)

In light of the sexual nature of even simulated sex scenes, the sexual stimulation that occurs in such acts (for both actors and viewers), and the obscenity involved in these scenes, it’s no wonder that they promote voyeurism.

Cinematic sex scenes and porn films invite us to do something we were never designed to do: watch people sexually act out. Through the medium of film, we have grown accustomed to gazing on moments of intimacy. Something about putting a camera lens between the participants and us provides enough distance for us to squelch our conscience and soak in the sights and sounds of sex.

All in the name of entertainment.

I’m not up in arms about this because I’m an opponent of pleasure, though. Just the opposite! Voyeurism is a poor substitute for true sexual enjoyment. In our voyeuristic culture, we find ourselves needing the sexuality of those outside our relationships in order to enjoy even our own relationships. We treat blatant porn or “acceptable” cinematic sex as the standard to which we (secretly, at least) hope to attain. Only when we can make our sex lives mirror the lives of those we see on screen do we feel like we’ll be happy. We’ve made an unnatural connection between voyeurism and sexual release, between the sex we see on the screen and the sex we hope to enjoy in our own lives.

That is not how sex was designed. God created sexual intercourse to be enjoyed personally, not vicariously. Through His provision of marriage, He wants us to experience the ecstasy of sex firsthand, not secondhand. He has provided us a way to enjoy true intimacy, not just to be on the outside looking in, snagging meager scraps that fall off the table of stars and supermodels.

Remember also that God created our sexuality to know Him more fully. His provision of marital union is an image of the personal and harmonious relationship between Christ and His church. Through marriage, God calls us to see His love and devotion for His cherished, blood-bought bride.

Just as God did not design us to be sexual voyeurs, He also didn’t design us to be spiritual voyeurs. Through the gospel (which is illustrated in the marriage relationship), He calls us to know Him personally, not vicariously. He invites us to experience His grace firsthand, not secondhand. He offers us the privilege of knowing Him intimately, not to watch from the outside.

When all is said and done, voyeurism isn’t so horrible because it seeks pleasure, but because it involves trading in covenantal enjoyment for cheap thrills. It leaves us with much less than God has promised. With that in mind, do we really want to defend entertainment choices that offer such a bastardized version of the beauty and glory of sex?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Turning Sex Into a Spectator Sport

In the wonderfully entertaining film Captain America: Winter Soldier, there’s a scene where two fugitives, a man and a woman, are trying to avoid being caught. A corrupt official who knows them is about to walk by, so the lady turns to the guy with a plan: he needs to kiss her. Confused, he asks why. She answers, “Public displays of affection make people very uncomfortable.” And so they kiss. It’s not a racy kiss, but it still causes the corrupt official to turn his head slightly away, effectively causing him to miss the fact that he just passed by his targets.

We all instinctively respond the same way, don’t we? As a culture, we may be more comfortable with PDA than we were, say, a couple decades ago, but we still don’t automatically gawk when two lovebirds share airtime. Rather, if we see a couple making out in public, our inclination is to turn away. This response hints at something we all instinctually know: intimate moments are not for public observation.

Sexual intimacy isn’t something God positioned on center stage. It is not a spectator sport. And regardless of your stance on PDA, the Christian position regarding the sex act itself is that it is supposed to be off stage, so to speak. A violation of this principle in our entertainment turns art into porn. It is a failure both artistically and morally. Let’s look at the artistic problems first.

An artistic failure

How is a public display of sex (real or simulated) an artistic failure? In his book Reading Between the Lines, Gene Edward Veith says it “violates aesthetic decorum” (p. 36). Pointing to the Greeks, who admittedly “were hardly prudish or moralistic,” Veith notes how ancient dramas avoided certain words and deeds on stage. They dealt with violence and sex, for sure, but they did so through “exalted poetry,” not explicit acts that took viewers out of the experience of the story.

Fast forward to modern-day filmmaking:

When an actor and an actress take off their clothes in a movie, viewers begin reacting sexually instead of aesthetically. The dramatic effect is interrupted and displaced by the sexual effect. Stimulating an audience artistically takes skill and craft; stimulating them sexually is far easier. (p. 36)

Anyone with a pulse knows this to be true. We label such scenes as “hot” and “steamy” because of how they affect us. (Heck, my dictionary’s definition for the word “steamy” uses the phrase “steamy sex scenes” as the example.)

When filmmakers present us with an up-close view of an intensely personal and sexual act, they become (unlike Gandalf the Grey) conjurers of cheap tricks. We stop responding to the characters in the movie as characters. Or, as Donald Sutherland once put it, “When I take my clothes off people are no longer looking at me as a character, they’re looking at me with no clothes on.” [1]

When we’re faced with a sex scene on screen, we’re left with feeling either uncomfortable (like those who come across couples making out in public) or aroused (like peeping Toms anxious for titillation)—or possibly a mixture of both. Whatever the case, sex scenes are an aesthetic canker that pushes audiences out of the story.

A moral failure

For the Christian, the problem is not only artistic, but also moral. Veith continues:

The moral problem with obscenity is even more significant than the aesthetic problem. We might think of the “obscene,” in the Greek sense, as portrayals of what should be kept private. Sexuality is for the private intimacy of marriage, not for public eyes. Striptease shows are obscene, not because nudity is wrong but because nudity is private. To pay a woman to take her clothes off in front of crowds of ogling men is to violate her in a very brutal way. Public sex is obscene, not because sex is evil but because sex is sacred. (p. 37)

As I mentioned earlier, the sex act is, by God’s design, inherently private. To publicize the act is to pervert the act. Sex gone public is sex gone wrong.

In the book of Proverbs, the author of our sexuality speaks about His design for its enjoyment:

Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love. (Pr. 5:15-19)

Sexual enjoyment that is pure and satisfying and fulfilling involves this component: keeping your experiences private—away from outside intrusion. Public sexuality is no more refreshing than a broken well whose water leaks out and runs through the dirt.

In contrast with our Creator’s beautiful provision of covenant faithfulness, exclusivity, and holy pleasure, sex on the silver screen offers an obscene, pornographic substitute. This cheap replica defiles true pleasure, as well as our experience of the One who created us to delight in that pleasure. For the glory of God and the enjoyment of our own souls, let us not be content with inferior copycats of God’s abundant provisions.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/my-mums-going-to-see-this-actors-and-actresses-reveal-secrets-of-the-sex-scenes-7658255.html (I’m not providing a direct link to the article because of its explicit nature.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“But Professional Actors Aren’t Sexually Affected”

* CONTENT ADVISORY: The specificity this topic requires may be inappropriate for some readers. I will quote from (and cite) a couple articles that, due to their explicit nature, I would not recommend visiting.*

While on the set of an independent film, I overheard one of the actresses talk about a sex scene she had done in a theatrical production. Based on her limited understanding of male anatomy, it was obvious she wasn’t a girl given to immorality in her everyday life. In fact, she might have even considered herself a Christian (I saw her reading a copy of Left Behind during a lunch break). Whatever the case, the way she described the sex scene made it obvious that her male co-star was sexually aroused by the experience—something he apologized to her for.

Now, I’ve heard it argued that simulated sex scenes in works of art (as opposed to real sex scenes in porn) are devoid of any sense of eros. They’re all business and no pleasure, so to speak. So was the story I heard just an isolated incident?

Hardly. The article ‘My mum’s going to see this’: Actors and actresses reveal secrets of the sex scenes attempts to explore what goes on during the filming of a sex scene “when titillation is not the primary ambition.” [1]

Although all the actors interviewed [for this article] claimed sex scenes were unerotic to film, apocryphal tales of male actors who can’t hide their arousal are as old as cinema. . . . Adds [actress Chloë] Sevigny: “There’s the famous cliché where the boys say, ‘Excuse me if I get hard... [and] excuse me if I don’t.’”

The article continues a little later:

[T]hespian lore is full of tales of actors getting carried away while simulating sex, and also of actors suddenly wishing that the love-making was for real. “Sidney Lumet says in his book on directing that when actors fall for each other it will either be in the rehearsal or the shooting of the love scene,” says [actress Natalie] Dormer.

A perusal through the article reveals that emotions and/or hormones can run high during these scenes, often in negative ways—especially for the women (an issue we’ve dealt with before and will revisit sometime in the future). Sexual arousal can be a very present hindrance in times of filming (so to speak). Not only that, but the filming of a sex scene can lead actors to generate emotional attachments to the point of actually falling in love.

As noted above, men are more susceptible to sexual arousal during sex scenes. Actress Maria Di Angelis concurs:

You have to have a sense of humor about filming these scenes. But the men, especially, have to keep themselves in check. [2]

What do men in particular need to keep in check? The answer is obvious: their libido. This makes sense, seeing as how men are generally more visually oriented then women. And since they also generally tend to treat sex more impersonally, they can more easily get hormonally involved without there being any real relationship between them and their female counterparts.

Maria Di Angelis was involved in the orgy scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. Considering that Martin Scorsese was at the helm, she figured this was as good a time as any to do a nude scene. After the shoot, she overheard two male actors talking about her part in the scene:

“I couldn’t help but get an erection,” one of them said. “It was so hot.”

(When the men realized she had heard them talking about her, they quickly apologized.)

Of course, it’s not always just men who struggle on set. One lady who pretended to have sex with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (in the same scene as above) kept acting like it was real. Angelis, who was present for the incident, said, “She was very—how can I say?—enthusiastic. It wasn’t acting.”

So we see that men (primarily) and women (occasionally) can’t just turn off their sexuality when participating in sexually explicit scenarios. It would seem the human psyche short circuits when attempting to separate sexual actions from sexual feelings.

Notice also how the men in the above scenarios acted when they were “caught” responding to their co-stars sexually: they apologized. They were aware that a line of indecency had been crossed, and the instinctual response was to say, “I’m sorry.”

But there’s another problem with saying sex scenes aren’t arousing for actors. It’s found in a short snippet from the article we first looked at:

…films where the actors have real, as opposed to simulated sex, are becoming more common.

You can’t say actors are uninvolved sexually/hormonally if they are actually having intercourse for the camera. In fact, there’s a word for that: pornography.

Sexual arousal = lust?

In their book Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker define sexual purity this way: it is “receiving no sexual gratification from anything or anyone outside of your husband or wife.” The book itself is problematic (I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it), but I think this definition is helpful in its specificity.

In light of such a definition, it is problematic for you as an actor—especially if you’re a man—to agree to star in a film that will require simulated sex. Your subsequent sexual arousal cannot be labeled as a merely innocent biological reaction.

Having said that, let me reiterate something I said last week: sexual arousal is not synonymous with lust. If you’re shopping for groceries, a scantily clad woman struts by, and you find yourself sexually aroused, that in and of itself is not a sin. It is an opportunity to sin, but it is, at that moment, a temptation only. (I know it’s easy in our minds to equate temptation with sin, but the two are far from equal.)

What Scripture forbids is actively giving ourselves an opportunity to sin: “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14); “do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). If you purposefully put yourself in harm’s way, you are being foolish at best and downright sinful at worst. Praying “lead me not into temptation” while willingly putting yourself on the path of temptation is an exercise in futility.

My main point is simply that sex scenes in movies can be, and often are, sexually arousing to actors. We must not pretend otherwise—especially when considering how to best show Christian love to the actors whom we pay to entertain us.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/my-mums-going-to-see-this-actors-and-actresses-reveal-secrets-of-the-sex-scenes-7658255.html

[2] http://nypost.com/2013/12/23/my-orgy-with-leonardo-dicaprio

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?

We’ve gotten it into our heads that the sexuality on display in sex scenes isn’t “real.” Since intercourse (usually) doesn’t take place1; and since the costars are (sometimes) not in an off-screen relationship, and therefore wouldn’t participate in such actions otherwise; and because film sets are (occasionally) sparsely populated during intimate scenes in an attempt to maintain professionalism, such actions shouldn’t be labeled as sexual.

Let me share a simple illustration that helps us clear away the fog. In a recent Facebook discussion, I saw one lady make an astute observation (which I have only slightly edited):

If you come upon your wife and she’s covered in “blood” and writhing on the ground while someone stands over her with a bloody sword, and then she sees you and says, “Oh, we’re just cosplaying and this is raspberry syrup,” you’d laugh and say, “Wow, that was realistic.” Whereas if she were naked with some guy and they were swapping spit and rubbing up on each other, and she sees you and says, “Oh, we were just cosplaying a scene from Game of Thrones”—it’s an entirely different matter. Yes?

Yes it is. And the parallel she draws between violence and sexuality is helpful. Pretending to have sex with someone in front of the camera is quite different from pretending to shoot someone in front of the camera. An on-screen shooting is not real—not the bullet, not the wound, not the blood (if any is shown). The actor isn’t harmed in any way. There’s even an off-screen mat to catch the gun “victim” when he falls down.

On the other hand, a naked actor is still a real human being who is naked. Her (or his) nakedness and her sexual interaction with her costar are not special effects. When sexual organs are either on display or actively engaged—even if the act of intercourse itself is simulated—the proceedings are very real, and very sexual.

It could be argued that not all activities involving sexual organs are inherently sexual. That is true. Doctor examinations, emergency medical attention (CPR, etc.), autopsies—these experiences could be perverted into sexual situations, but they are not inherently so.

But we’re not talking about giving medical attention or solving a crime, are we? We’re talking about “swapping spit” and “rubbing up on each other”—stuff strangers, friends, and married people don’t just walk around doing to others (for good reasons).

The argument might be made that sex scenes aren’t sexual because the actors aren’t sexually aroused during the process. While it is often true that some actors—especially women—don’t find the filming of sex scenes arousing or enjoyable, what does that prove? Is sexual arousal, or lack therefore, the determining factor for whether an act is sexual or not? In acts such as prostitution, rape, and pedophilia, sexual arousal is most decidedly not a universally experienced component, but that doesn’t eliminate their sexual nature.

Later on in this blog series, I will attempt to show that actors—especially men—often do experience sexual arousal during the filming of intimate scenes. Their natural biological response is sexual because the situation is sexual. I don’t mean to imply that tantalization and sexual arousal are synonymous with lust. I only mean to show what I’ve heard many people deny: that mainstream sex scenes are devoid of eros and are therefore asexual.

What about the level of professionalism involved in sex scenes? A film set is more professional than a porn set, I’ll grant you that. But that’s damning with faint praise. It’s an argument I’ve heard too many times: “It’s not as bad as…” The person using this argument is using a standard with which to compare the sex scene, and the standard has nothing to do with Scripture. It has to do with the lowest common denominator. Of course it’s going to look better than that!

As far as I can tell, Scripture makes no prohibition against playing pretend. Acting the part of an antagonist doesn’t necessitate violating God’s law to love your neighbor. Pretending to shoot or kill someone doesn’t necessitate violating God’s laws prohibiting revenge or murder. Pretending to be married to someone doesn’t necessitate violating God’s laws against adultery. Heck, playing a character who has or does or will carry out devious sexual acts doesn’t necessitate violating God’s requirements for purity.

What God’s law does prohibit is sexually acting out with someone other than your spouse. Or, to be more specific, it prohibits sexual intercourse outside marriage. And lest we think that we’re safe so long as we avoid blatant adultery or fornication, the Bible prohibits sexual lust that involves only internal actions (Pr. 6:25; Matt. 5:28), equating them with the act of adultery itself.

With that in mind, do we really want to draw the line of sexual purity right at copulation? Do we really want to say that foreplay, which naturally and intrinsically precedes sexual intercourse, can be employed without even a hint of sexuality? That the only really sacred ground is intercourse, and that everything up to that point is (potentially) fair game for display? Are we content with such a blasé view of one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind? Of treating something so special and sacred as common fodder for public consumption?

Where is the pure and holy and satisfying fun in that?

1 I say “usually” because of the rare occasion (like with the film Lust, Caution) where it’s rumored that actors might have had intercourse during the filming of a sex scene.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When Art Imitates Pornography

I wish a blog series like this wasn’t necessary. I wish the sexualization and objectification of human beings hadn’t become so pervasive that they often go unnoticed and unchallenged—even in the church. Unfortunately, many of us have become inoculated to it. Where we once might have blushed we now fail to even bat an eye. In the words of author Shellie R. Warren,

With music videos like “Anaconda” and television shows like Dating Naked around for our perusing “pleasure”, a lot of us don’t even have to download porn. It’s all over pop culture. And so, since we’re used to seeing a lot of what used to be only reserved for HBO’s Real Sex, we don’t even catch that a lot of what’s on television is pornographic.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe this is an area where our hearts have grown numb. We’ve become callous to various forms of porn in our entertainment. As I have argued in the past, one “acceptable” version of porn is sex scenes (and many forms of nudity) in major motion pictures.

Is it really fair to label such cinematic choices as pornography? E. Stephen Burnett says yes:

This is a point beyond contention: naked people who act out sexual scenarios in public media in order to get money is porn. So the argument is not truly about whether it is porn; the only real argument is how we respond to it.

Some might say pornography should be more narrowly defined: that it is an explicit display of sexuality with the purposeful intent of stimulating sexual arousal. Because the intention of most films is to stimulate aesthetic or emotional feelings, there is a legitimate difference between what the porn industry produces and what Hollywood produces. So the argument goes.

In all fairness, there is a lot of truth in that argument. However, I’ve already shown how the differences between Hollywood sex scenes and porn are actually cause for greater concern, not less. The differences only serve to damn mainstream sex scenes, not excuse them.

To build on what I’ve already said, this blog series will attempt to expose just how much the two are actually alike (with equally damning results). As I see it, there are six similarities. I plan on detailing these similarities over the course of six separate blog posts, although they will not likely be consecutive. (I know it may not feel like it sometimes, but I don’t only talk about sex and nudity on this blog.)

Let me give a quick and broad overview of where I plan on going in this series. Here are the similarities between porn (which I am assuming Christians can agree is inherently unacceptable) and sex scenes in movies (which Christians are, at the very least, willing to tolerate, if not outright defend).

1. They involve sexual acts.

Sexual acts are sexual acts, whether your hormones are involved or not. Trying to separate “sexual acts for the camera” into a class all by itself is no better than trying to say what you do with your eyes isn’t adultery because you haven’t actually touched anything. You might as well try arguing that everything up until the point of actual intercourse is not inherently sexual.

2. They are obscene and voyeuristic.

Biblically speaking, sex was designed to be private. It is not a spectator sport. In contrast, Hollywood sex scenes and porn films invite us to do something we were never designed to do: watch people sexually act out. For entertainment, no less.

3. They are often tantalizing—for the participants and the spectators.

Note the clarifying word often. We can’t pretend that all responsible adults can always just magically turn off their sex drives when they either 1) get naked with a costar and do everything sexual with them except have actual intercourse, or 2) watch other human beings perform vivid sexual acts.

4. They are wildly unrealistic.

The scenarios conveyed in porn are often outlandish and entirely outside the realm of reality. So are many mainstream sex scenes. The picture of sex often painted for us in movies is fantastic—not in the “man, that’s great” sense, but in the “man, what alternate universe are they living in?” sense.

5. They revel in lust and cultivate within their audience a taste for sex as it shouldn’t be.

Sex scenes in movies are not a practice in celebrating marital fidelity and covenant love. Rather, what is celebrated is, first and foremost, fornication. Adultery and infidelity aren’t off limits, either. Cinematic portrayals of the sex act present us with a myriad of divinely prohibited ways in which people receive fleeting sexual satisfaction. In the process, it largely ignores the one and only place in which we can receive truly soul-enriching, thirst-quenching satisfaction: the marriage bed.

6. They objectify, dehumanize, and damage women and men.

I’ve argued this already in countless other places (the most popular being here), but it bears repeating. With sex scenes, actors are too often treated like characters in a book: figments of imagination without souls or wills; something completely at the mercy of a demanding audience (i.e., us).

So, those are my arguments. Those are the six similarities between porn’s use of sex and the film industry’s use of sex scenes. If you see any glaring (or not so glaring) holes in my propositions at the outset, please let me know. This is a conversation that needs to take place in the church—not so one side can come out victorious, but so we in the body of Christ can be united in our pursuit of holiness as we fight this fight of faith side by side.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Real Problem with Nude Celebrity Photos

It was bad enough when privately stored nude photos of several celebrities were recently stolen and released online. Now, to add insult to injury, a so-called artist is planning on including some of these nude photos—in particular, those of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton—in an upcoming art show. He doesn’t consider it stealing, and he doesn’t consider it exploitative. In his mind, it is art.

Now, I think most of us agree that his defense is laughable. It is a perpetuation of the invasion of privacy. It is indecent and tawdry, as was the original theft and publication of the photos. But I’d like to ask a simple question: why?

Imagine a slightly different scenario: several celebrities decide to release nude photos of themselves because they want to communicate that they are not ashamed of their bodies. What would be the response from the media and the culture at large? My guess is that it would be largely positive. The actors would be praised for their bravery and transparency. Some would likely even categorize the photos as…art.

Or consider another scenario that often does take place: actors agree to be shot nude in sex scenes for films in which they star. In these cases, it’s not just a still image being presented to the public. It’s much more personal: a naked pair of actors simulating the most intimate of acts, usually with graphic sounds and gestures. In cases like these, there is no outcry from the press, no weeping from the church, no laments at the loss of innocence. Why? Because the nudity is consensual.

Consent is one of the idols of our age. Our contemporaries bow down and worship at the feet of consent all the time—especially in the arena of sexual ethics. Anything sexual is permissive, so long as genuine consent is involved. In fact, it is not only allowable but also laudable.

Now, is the idea of consent evil in and of itself? Of course not. But when we use a good thing as an excuse to violate the prohibitions of God, we’ve suddenly turned that good thing into a substitute god—something we have chosen to obey in place of the Divine Lawgiver.

When we contemplate the theft and publication of nude celebrity photos, are we as Christians most concerned about the lack of consent? To be sure, that is a legitimate concern. But heaven help us if that is our only concern. God has clothed the human body with beauty, dignity, and honor. To treat it as fodder for objectification in the guise of entertainment is to deface a work of God’s art.

The problem isn’t even with nudity, per se. In its proper contexts, nudity is good and right. In marriage, it’s even commanded (and fun). No, the problem is with public nudity. It is an indiscriminate celebration of shame.

As Christians, how should we view this public scandal? With grief, yes. But let’s make sure our grief is aimed at all the right places. Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton need to be treated like human beings. They are real people worthy of respect and honor. They are not pieces of meat to be paraded before the masses for voyeuristic pleasure—regardless of whether the parade is consensual or not.