A Candid Conversation about Objectifying Actors

In recent online discussions related to Hollywood’s secret rape culture, I’ve come into contact with some delightfully likeminded individuals like E. Stephen Burnett, Editor at Speculative Faith. While we may not see eye to eye on all the related issues, we are still, as Stephen has said, “allied on what really matters.”

Because the pornification of mainstream entertainment involves principles and practices that really do matter, I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with Stephen. Or, more honestly, this is a conversation in which Stephen said a lot of great things, and I wanted to share them with my audience.

I’m still mulling over some of what he said, and my approach to questionable entertainment may still likely differ from his own. Nevertheless, I genuinely appreciate the integrity of his beliefs: how he desires to apply Biblical wisdom to controversial topics like this, and how his convictions have encouraged and challenged me. Below is a segment of our online conversation.

E. Stephen Burnett: My question was about your critique of Into Darkness for (among other things) its gratuitous stupid objectifying woman-in-underwear visual. (Hey, but I’m sure it’s okay because: Art, and also because other Christians have been very very very very bad.) Would you apply the critique equally to specific episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, such as the exceptionally ghastly one in series 1 in which the crew beams down to 1980s Soft Porn Planet when male and female supermodels are strutting around a California park in high-hipped white-bedsheet bikinis and also lounging around rubbing oil? And if you would, would that also mean we’re not supposed to see that show? Of course, long before immodesty or objectification critiques kick in begin the It’s Just Ridiculously Asinine critiques...

Cap Stewart: Honestly, I haven’t watched TNG since I was a kid, so I have little memory of anything about the show (other than that I loved watching it). Anyway, it sounds like I would apply the same critique to that TNG episode from season 1. As far as practice goes, my wife and I currently follow these basic set of guidelines:

  • If sexual objectification exists in a film or show (even if it’s only for a few seconds), we will not financially support it.
  • If a film or show we’re interested in DOES have a questionable scene or two, but isn’t pervasively raunchy, we may pick up a used copy of it (or borrow it from the library) and skip those scenes.
  • With any potentially questionable TV show episodes (the occasional Monk or Star Trek episode, etc.), my wife previews them first.

In the case of recent(ish) films like Oblivion and Into Darkness, we waited until the DVD was released and borrowed it from the library.

E. Stephen Burnett: Hmm. I asked because methinks this can ultimately end up an impossible standard both in cultural context and a personal context.

Cultural context: Ultimately this will make no market impact because such a motive for “financial support” is impossible to discern. I “support” films like The Avengers not because I especially want to see Scarlett Johansson in arguably tight leather but because they’re awesome. If I withdrew support or added more, no one will know exactly why and therefore the “dent” or pushback in popular culture ends up negligible. (With something like Game of Thrones it’s a bit different because one could argue the majority of the series intends to endorse plain porn.)

But the best reason to suggest that this kind of boycott is not required of the Christian is this: the Bible never endorses it, and in fact when the subject comes up about meat sacrificed to idols Paul is blatantly uninterested about who gets the money for the meat and what they do with the money; his only goal is to put “freedom” in perspective and ensure that everyone is using his freedom wisely to love spiritual siblings.

Personal context: If the payment of money toward folks who are clearly using it to objectify other folks nonetheless bothers you, then of course, don’t do it. You might even go to extreme lengths (such as library loans, etc.) to avoid this stigma. And this is even more required if you believe viewing such things is personally sinful for you: BOYCOTT THEM.

But I only seek to prove 1) boycotts to affect/change culture are rarely successful when they’re about stories of mixed worldviews and meanings and even genres (such as Star Trek: TNG versus the nasty Game of Thrones); 2) it’s nearly impossible to avoid financially supporting the Thing even through buying used copies or borrowing from the library; the cultural Thing is still profiting from your endorsement; 3) Scripture doesn’t require this standard, so if you practice the standard it falls directly under the “meat sacrificed to idols”/“if you believe it’s sin, it’s sin for you” Scriptures.

Cap Stewart: Good thoughts. My convictions in this area made a drastic change about 1.5 years ago, due in large part to my reading of Wayne A. Wilson’s superb book Worldly Amusements. As a result, my standards have been evolving as I’ve sought the best ways to love God and love my neighbors (including actors) through my engagement with entertainment. What you say about various types of “support” is valid, and it’s something I would do well to wrestle with.

E. Stephen Burnett: As I wrestled with yours — thus my question.

...Even if you pay full price for a movie and then end up hating it, you can say so — and that might be a deadlier influence on culture than withdrawing altogether.

But of course the prime motive remains not to Change Culture but to glorify God both personally and as part of His Church, the only lasting influencer of culture. So if you’re okay with seeing even a good film…and going to heat your pizza like I do when [hanky panky happens], then that’s still ultimately a good way to exert personal discernment and to influence culture positively.

Cap Stewart: “But of course the prime motive remains not to Change Culture but to glorify God both personally and as part of His Church, the only lasting influencer of culture.”

Absolutely! Even if my meager efforts don’t radically affect the Hollywood system, they will be more than worth the effort if I love God and love my neighbor more as a result.