Friday, August 15, 2008

Hollywood Still Trying to Get Religion

It's hard to forget the wild Christian rage of 2004.

We had a double-dose of Jesus in pop-culture that year: The Passion of the Christ released by famous sometimes-glorious-sometimes-fallen star Mel Gibson, and the hip-gnostic fiction book Da Vinci Code. Suddenly, Christianity was on the news, on magazine covers.

Also in November of that year, evangelicals turned out in record numbers to re-elect President George W. Bush. They voted for him in such a dramatic percentage that it literally turned the tide of the election.

I picture the executives in Hollywood scratching their head after the success folks had marketing to what I'll call the God Crowd--perhaps final realizing that more than half of America actually believes that stuff. Since then, there have been marked attempts to tap the God Crowd. Not always just to make more money, but at times, perhaps  to be fair-and-balanced.

As a student of this sort of this, I try to keep up with it. Here are some notable recent attempts:

- The Television Show "Greek" on ABC Family--The key is the depiction of the character Dale, who has no problem evangelizing Greek fraternities and then telling his Greek roommate, "I'm saving your peeps from eternal damnation." There are times when Dale is made to fit a very unfair stereotype (besides being an evangelical, he has a confederate flag, plays in a Christian band, and is depicted as a pretty big nerd). But there is an episode in particular where the main character has no one else to go to and Dale opens his arms to him.

ABC Family appears to be trying to make attempts to reach the God Crowd with this show. Since ABC Family is a subsidiary of Disney, you can guess which of Dale's personal beliefs they make fun of: his beliefs about homosexuality, pre-marital sex, drinking, etc. Disney of course is well known for a more "Christianity as Americana" belief system (read Mark Pinsky's wonderful book "The Gospel According to Disney", if you want to get a sense of Disney's God Talk).

- The Television Show "Bones" on FOX
-- I've become used to the crime drama formula: religious = crazy. If a priest shows up on a crime drama, 10 to 1 it's because he killed, raped, or abetted one of the above. But the stone cold FBI agent Seeley Booth in "Bones" is a devout Roman Catholic. Several episodes have ended with him sitting in a Church, processing the episode's new crazy occurrence. Not only that, but his faith is depicted in a positive way. His partner, the all-science, all the time Temperance Brennan, actually is the one who comes across as narrow-minded when she attempts to attack him for his faith.

Oh and by the way, the gratuitous episode with the priest as a suspect? For once, the priest didn't do it.

-"Henry Poole is Here" --
Released this  weekend, this Luke Wilson redemptive movie tells the story of a man who has a miraculous Jesus stain appear in his house. It begins to shake up the neighborhood and perhaps his own faith. This is definitely an attempt at the God Crowd but has a distinct chance of coming across as too preachy. Check out a review here.

-"Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"-- Another blockbuster Walden Media Narnia movie. This one seems like a given after the success of the "Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." In this case, all the writers really had to do in order to please the God Crowd was be true to the book. They mostly succeeded, although they felt the need to add some steamy moments between Susan and Caspian as well as some extra battles that weren't really in the book. In all fairness, this was probably the hardest in the series to make into a movie because it deals less action, and deals more narrative on the big questions of faith.

-The Television Show "Secret Life of an American Teenager" on ABC Family-- Centered around the story of a 15-year-old who gets pregnant, the story is loaded with God talk. One of the two main families is evangelical. Two of the main characters attend Church together and at times try to invite other characters to events. Grace is the key character to watch in this show and she's depicted far more fairly than Dale in "Greek." She makes decisions we don't all agree with but comes across as generally caring and loving as well. This has been at the top of the iTunes "most downloaded" list ever since released as well. It will be interesting to see how this show progresses.

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