How to Tell if You’re Treating Actors Like Whores

The conversation I overheard took place between three Christian men. Maybe that’s why I found it so disturbing. Their words revealed a flippant attitude toward sexual manipulation—in this case, of underage girls. What’s worse, it was excused on the grounds of entertainment. The shocking callousness has stayed with me to this day.

The topic? A popular television series they had all been watching. Here’s what I heard them say. (The names I’ve used are not real.)

LEO: I’ve watched the first 5 seasons. I attempted to start season 6 the other day, but I just couldn’t take it. I made it only twenty minutes into the first episode before the hyper-sexualization of everything, including 15-year-old girls, did me in. So Nate, give me your best judgment: is there enough of a payoff in terms of storyline development to make another go at it worthwhile?

NATE: Orson would be the best judge of that. I stopped during season three.

ORSON: The finale of the latest season is, for me, quite a pleasant surprise in terms of the positive direction we may be heading for the seventh, and final, season.

At first glance, the conversation doesn’t seem that scandalous, does it? The moral callousness isn’t blatant, but it slinks through the discussion like Harry Potter under his invisibility cloak.

The main question brought up was this: When is it okay to hyper-sexualize actors—in this case, several minors—for the sake of entertainment? When are such actions worthy of our patronage? The answer, it seems, is when we’re fairly certain that the story is heading in a positive direction. That makes the sexual objectification okay. In other words, the end justifies the means.

To help make things even clearer, let me paraphrase Leo’s thoughts in this way: “I’m disgusted that the filmmakers hyper-sexualized everything about the show. The shameless objectification of actors was appalling to my senses. However, I’m willing to put my moral revulsion aside as long as the emotional payoff is rewarding enough to me as a viewer.”

Let me be the first to say that I don’t think Leo, Nate, and Orson are perverts looking for new ways to feed the lust monster. On the contrary, they seem to take seriously the matter of personal purity. The problem is, that’s all they seem to be concerned with. And too often, I think it’s all we’re concerned with as well.

As patrons of Hollywood, we’ve gotten into a consumer mindset that disregards most every other factor in favor of us having a positive, cathartic experience. If the story is interesting enough, and if it “demands” the objectification and dehumanization of actors, then the needs of the story win out.

In contrast, Paul calls Christians to give up their rights if it means hurting the conscience of others (see 1 Corinthians 9 and Romans 14). We’ve got it backwards: we financially support the violation of others’ dignity—even in the case of “willing” actors—so we can benefit from their moral and emotional compromises.

Granted, the context of Paul’s teaching on this matter is the relationship between members of the church, but I don’t think that gives us an excuse to disregard the well being of unbelievers. In the end, the conversation between Leo, Nate, and Orson shows how “love your neighbor as yourself” does not affect our entertainment choices like it should.

Let’s examine a current movie in light of the “law of love” principle and see how it applies. Transformers: Age of Extinction recently came out in theaters. It’s no secret that the past Transformers movies have blatantly objectified their female leads, and this entry into the franchise follows suit.

Speaking of underage girls, Steven D. Greydanus mentions how Nicola Peltz is “Bay’s youngest sex object yet.” Peltz herself is 19, but in Age of Extinction she plays a 17-year-old girl who is the willing victim of statutory rape—a fact which she and her 20-year-old boyfriend rub in her father’s face throughout the film.

The movie makes sure to rub Peltz’s body in the audience’s face as well. Andrew Parker writes, “[Micahel] Bay gets his pervert on thanks to shooting Peltz like a sex object and then chastising his audience for viewing her as such, before finally giving his audience the most ludicrously reassuring pat on the back to tell you it’s cool to ogle teens.” And Peltz isn’t the film’s only victim, according to Diego Crespo: “In true Bay fashion, every woman in the movie is treated like a sex object. . . . The camera fetishes [sic] their every motion. It makes Victoria Secret commercials look subtle.”

Now, can I say that it is universally and categorically sinful for anyone to go see Transformers 4? No, I cannot. Such a sweeping statement would be unwise and uncharitable.

What I can do, and what I encourage you to do, is ask the following questions (about Transformers or any other movie):

  • If an actor (or group of actors) is being objectified (which often indicates he or she experienced some form of manipulation on set), do you financially support it anyway because the story looks interesting or thought-provoking or entertaining enough?
  • When it all is said and done, is your patronage of a film unaffected by whether or not actors are shamefully dehumanized and/or abused?

If your answer to the above questions is “Yes,” then no matter how well your own personal purity is protected, you are treating actors like whores for your own personal gain.

That may not be your intention. Your desires in and of themselves may be far from perverse. But you’re still being a party to the objectification of actors made in God’s image. Metaphorically speaking, you’re fine with touring a pimp house—just so long as the sounds of abuse are quickly replaced by relaxing music on the drive home.