Faith, Media & Culture

Here are today’s dispatches from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Is Dark Knight tragedy a cultural turning point? The Aurora massacre has focused the spotlight on Hollywood’s role in fostering real-life violence.  Even industry icons like Peter Bogdanovich and Harvey Weinstein are now seriously addressing the issue .

More on them below, but first…

I recently spoke with long-time independent movie and TV producer Christian Peschken whose embrace of Christianity in 2000, followed by his  reception into the Catholic Church in 2011, has simultaneously led him to a conversion regarding the kind of work he desires to create. These days, he uses his talents to focus on developing films he believes offer a positive message to the world — including documentaries on subjects like homelessness  and many programs for EWTN.

Peschken sees the tragedy as an unfortunate sign of the times — times that are being influenced by a culture of darkness advanced by the movies and other media.

He says that as an artist he loves the positive power of film to encourage morality but maintains that these days Hollywood, unfortunately, operates without a clear set of moral principles. In fact,  in an act of what might be considered modern Hollywood heresy, he argues in favor of a production code that would be similar (though not completely identical to) the Hays Code which was in effect between 1930 and 1968.

The Hays Code was enforced by what was then known the Motion Pictures and Distributors Association and held these general principles (found at

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Peschken maintains that the so-called “dark ages” of Hollywood were actually its golden years that produced classics like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. There were films of every genre — from romantic comedies, to westerns, to gangster films and monster movies. He says that nobody would refer to most of the countless classic films produced during the Hays era as “Catholic” or “religious” movies.  Rather, he argues, they were just great stories told in a way that never violated timeless moral principles laid down to us in The Bible.

He says moral values haven’t changed but Hollywood’s values have.

“I’m not saying, the producer explains,  “that today you should use the Hays Code (as it was originally written). There are certain things (i.e. regarding inter-racial relationships) that I certainly do not agree with. But those (side issues) have nothing to do with the three general principles. (Those) are what I hang my case on. I’m not talking about going into depth — with things like…I Love Lucy. You know, they’re married for a thousand years and they still sleep in separate beds. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the overall concept, the overall idea, to acknowledge that there’s a Creator, there’s a God and there are laws that are beyond man’s creation and beyond man’s control.”

He goes on, “I want to make clear, I am absolutely against government censorship of movies or television or whatever (though, he notes, he favors the current FCC regulation of over-the-air TV). (But) television and movies have a huge power over people….Producers in the old days, in my opinion, had a higher regard for God and for faith. And, because of that, that somehow translated into the movies that they made. And also their willingness to comply with the Hays Code which was self censorship. It was not from the government.  The code was self-imposed guidelines…for the creation and production of movies. At the end of the day, it made sense.”

Peschken concludes that evil does, in fact, exist and that nothing comes from evil but greater evil. He argues that it is Hollywood’s greatest responsibility not to confuse audiences regarding what is evil and what is good.

A Film by Christian Peschken:

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Click here for more information on Hope Gospel Mission.

From The Hollywood Reporter: Legendary Director Peter Bogdanovich: What If Movies Are Part of the Problem?

Obviously, there is violence in the world, and you have to deal with it. But there are other ways to do it without showing people getting blown up. One of the most horrible movies ever made was Fritz Lang’s M, about a child murderer. But he didn’t show the murder of the child. The child is playing with a rubber ball and a balloon. When the killer takes her behind the bushes, we see the ball roll out from the bushes. And then he cuts to the balloon flying up into the sky. Everybody who sees it feels a different kind of chill up their back, a horrible feeling. So this argument that you have to have violence shown in gory details is not true. It’s much more artistic to show it in a different way.

Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, “We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.” The respect for human life seems to be eroding.

Even producer Harvey Weinstein (that’s right, the maker of Kill Bill) is now giving at least lip service to the possibility that violent movies can yield violent results.
From The Huffington Post: Weinstein said he hoped that members of the Hollywood community would take this opportunity to have an honest conversation about how on-screen violence influences real-world events. “I think, as filmmakers, we should sit down – the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos, and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies – and discuss our role in that.”

IMHO: For now, I’m unconvinced that Weinstein, Scorsese and Tarantino are seriously going to grapple with the impact of violent movies on society. But I don’t  point fingers at them as the cause of society’s problems. Our culture in general has gotten coarser — with films, TV shows, books and music that celebrate not just physical violence but a general darkness of tone (i.e. “edginess”) and a lack of respect for human life and dignity.

Producers, writers, directors and actors who want to create positive movies and TV shows actually exist in abundance. And the audience is certainly there to receive them.  But, for whatever reason, they lack control of distribution  (i.e. networks, cable systems, theater chains).  That’s what needs to change.

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

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