Faith, Media & Culture

Yesterday this space reported (#2 on the FM&C Hot List) on the really not-so-shocking revelations found in Ben Shapiro’s new book Primetime Progaganda.  What was kinda shocking was the pride some in the industry openly took in their anti-conservative bias, a bias that sometimes apparently involves job discrimination based on political leanings. And, of course, conservative politics is often (though not always) a byproduct of traditional beliefs based on faith.

It’s all pretty disheartening for traditional Christians, Jews and others of like sensibilities — especially those who might be seeking a career in the entertainment industry.  But there some very practical things that can be done to counter the barrage of sucker punches that are routinely thrown at traditional believers via TV and movies.

But Shapiro’s book should not discourage us. Instead, it should serve as a rallying point to unite conservatives who are tired of being portrayed by the media as mean or stupid or, probably, both.

There are, of course, mean and stupid conservatives just as there are mean and stupid liberals. There are also compassionate and brilliant people on both sides of the equation. The problem is that, as portrayed on prime time TV, conservatives are almost bad and liberals are almost always good (or, at least, hip and edgy).

In Catholics, Media & Culture (my previous Beliefnet blog) I compiled a list of 10 things I believe conservatives (including religious conservatives) to effectively counter those media sucker punches.  First published last April 27th, I offer those suggestions again here:

It’s time to go on offense (without being offensive). This week I’ve been focusing on the losing game Christians have found themselves playing of biting every time somebody attempts to bring attention upon themselves by intentionally insulting our faith and values in an accelerating and relentless bit to manufacture conflict and controversy.

The problem is we’ve been playing the game by Big Media rules on Big Media turf. It’s time we change that.  Here are ten suggestions:

1.      Don’t complain create.
To some extent that is being done — as the success of several faith-friendly films attest.  From The Blind Side to Soul Surfer to all those Pixar movies, box office results have proven that traditional values maintain strong audience appeal. If we make good movies, produce great TV shows, create great music and videos and write compelling books the audience will come — if they know

about it.              

2.      Distribution and marketing are key.
The primary problem in getting faith-friendly material out into the culture is that the current media power structure, while it likes to make money, also likes to be considered cool in their social circles.  Edgy is good. Dark (i.e. cynical and pessimistic) comedies and dramas are cool.  Hopeful storytelling focusing on kindness and faith are deemed by the critical elite as “treacly” and “manipulative.”  Certain groups are in, certain groups are out (almost like some kind of high school clique played out on a large
stage). A like mindset pretty much overhangs the entire media distribution and marketing system.

Rather than always depending on cultural gatekeepers who don’t necessarily share our cultural concerns, believers and supporters of traditional values need to invest in the distribution and marketing mechanism. Imagine if a consortium led by a  Philip Anschutz (just to suggest a name) had bought NBC Universal. That would have been a true game changer.

Or, imagine if Rupert Murdoch was to take his conservatism out of the realm of news and politics (i.e. Fox News Channel) and transform News Corporation’s struggling MyNetwork into a non-political entertainment venue for traditional values television.

There’s a lot of money to be made going after a very large under-served portion of the audience.

3.      Stand for consumer empowerment not censorship.
I generally get annoyed at the same things Media Research President Brent Bozell does. I think the media, particularly in recent years, has taken a nasty turn that is too often hostile to religious faith and traditional values.  Where I tend to disagree with him is on the matter of the FCC and government censorship. 

Besides actually supporting free speech, I think pushing for additional government control of media is the wrong battle. I’d much rather see a push for things like mandated ala carte cable deals. You’ll notice that you don’t have to purchase 200 apps to get the ones you actually want for your mobile device. You don’t have to buy 500 books from Amazon to get the one you want.

Why is television so different? Why are our cable and satellite fees going to support channels we don’t want and may even offend us?  Why aren’t consumers allowed to choose packs of 10 or 20 channels and have our fees divided between the cable operator and the channels we actually want to see?

Sure, a lot of cable channels would disappear due to lack of demand (that’s the way it is in the real world).  But others would grow financially stronger (in part due to a greater share of consumer fees) and be able to offer higher quality programming (i.e. less degrading reality crap).

That simple change would result in more programming that is in tune with traditional America.  It wouldn’t wipe out objectionable programming. There’s an audience for it. But there’d be less of it. And it would have be actively be requested and invited into the home.

Fight for consumer empowerment, not censorship. 

4.       Expose the demographics scam.
Why in the world has seemingly the entire world has bought into the notion that one sliver of the audience is worth more than another sliver? Such overt discrimination is not something we’d accept in other areas of life.

Demographic-based ratings have created a system in which you can slice and dice the audience in a thousand different ways to declare shows with relatively small audiences to be major hits and shows with much larger audience to be disappointments.  What it really is is a way to elevate one group’s cultural values over another in a way that sidesteps actual societal support.             

5.      Use new media.
Short of buying a major film studio or TV network, new media (i.e. E-books, web videos) offer a great opportunity to put positive ideas into the culture. Technology has become a major chink in the armor of the cultural gatekeepers.

6.      Don’t be thin skinned.
Everyone doesn’t have to like us or what we stand for.  If some in the media insist on making vicious, nasty attacks it’s usually better to let it go.  They love the publicity generated by angry Christians (it makes them feel so cool) and, besides, life is too short to worry about such things.

On the same point, it’s important to make distinctions between legitimate criticism and healthy humor and actual bile. Legitimate criticism of the Catholic Church’s handling of its sex-abuse scandals, for instance, is not the same as a pointlessly-nasty work of supposed art (of which we’ve seen many examples) that does nothing but insult a person’s beliefs. Likewise, humor aimed at
Christian hypocrisy can be funny (particularly when it hits on something that’s true) and should be taken not only in stride but as a lesson on behavior to avoid.   

7.      Play nice.
Christian and/or traditional values media should not be used as a means to get back at others who we think unfairly insulted us.

Likewise, we are not called to judge or condemn other people.  Doing so is wrong and only gets in the way of the positive messages of  hope, faith, love, personal responsibility, gratitude and forgiveness we should be focusing on.

8.      Avoid heavy-handed sectarianism.
When it comes to actual storytelling, tell great ones with great characters and an underlying attitude of faith.  Bring in religion and/or Bible quotes only when it actually fits the story. Subtlety is good. Heavy-handedness never plays well.

9.      Have fun.
Society, particularly these days, could really use more entertainment that is just plain joyful and optimistic about life. There’s a thirst for comedies that find humor in our common humanity and not in snarky putdowns or each other.  Christians should be able to provide that.

10.  Have faith.
In the end, darkness always gives way to light.

And, as always…

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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