Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Happy New Year! Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Unbroken smashes industry projections — earning an astounding $47.3 million over Christmas weekend. As Big Hollywood’s John Nolte notes, producer/director Angelina Jolie’s telling of the Christian-themed true-life saga of American war hero Louis Zamperini, provides further evidence that a huge audience is out there for movies that respect, uphold and honor the values of faith.

Unbroken, of course, tells the inspiring and powerful story of Zamperini who overcame a wayward youth to find stardom as an Olympic runner. But that amazing accomplishment was merely a prologue to the courage he displayed during World War II  when, after he was shot down over the pacific and survived 47 days adrift in a life raft, he endured being captured by the Japanese military which subjected him to two years of unspeakable torture. But the most remarkable part of Louie’s story is that, after all he endured at the hands of his captors, he was later able to forgive them!

Universal Pictures, the studio behind the film, has just released a moving video feature documenting Zamperini’s journey to forgiveness. The video chronicles how his life spiraled out of control when he came back to the U.S. – and how all that changed for the better after he attended a Billy Graham revival meeting in 1949 and surrendered himself to God. The story is told by Louie’s two children, Luke (who I had the privilege to interview) and Cynthia, as well as by author Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote the bestselling book on which Unbroken is based. Check it out below.

The Bates bunch.  Twenty-seven years ago Gil and Kelly Jo Bates tied the knot with no plans to have children,  19 kids (ages 2 t0 25) and several pregnant pauses later, the Bates family is starring in their own reality show. Bringing Up Bates premieres on New Year’s Day at 9:00 PM (ET) on UP TV.

Synopsis: The  hour-long Tennessee-set series follows the supersized everyday life of the close-knit, hard-working, ever-expanding family of Gil and Kelly Bates  and their 19 young ‘uns. As the show begins, Gil and Kelly celebrate the birth of their 1st grandchild.

Review: I’m going to try and be fair here since, in all honesty, I’m not a big fan of the entire person and/or family-following reality genre. The reason being is that such shows tend to either end up seeming superficial or voyeuristic. While a single documentary or profile  segment can be illuminating, the strains of a weekly series requires a variety of situations that can seem forced and/or exploitive and manipulative.

For instance, in the pilot episode we see Gil having a rather touching heart-to-heart talk with his father-to-be son Zach. In their conversation, Zach sees his own father with newfound understanding. Very nice — except, it seemed to me, a conversation better had in private (i.e. without TV cameras present). Likewise, Erin and her husband’s Chad’s reflections on their own recent miscarriage may indeed be helpful to another couple going through a similar emotional ordeal and that’s certainly good. I admire their honesty and courage and don’t mean this as personal criticism. I just can’t help thinking that another format might have been more appropriate.

Later, 17-year-old Trace is involved in a rollover auto accident that, thank God, he walked away from uninjured. No one else was hurt either. While the incident provided some drama to the episode, I wonder what would have happened if the teen was actually seriously hurt or worse. Would the cameras have kept rolling?

Without speculating on possibilities, there are all sorts of personal and serious issues real families deal with all the time without the added element of it all becoming fodder for a TV series. Perhaps I’m overthinking it all but I do think about such things.

Besides that, of course, the mere existence of the Duggar family (the subject of TLC’s 19 Kids & Counting which begins its 10th season in February), kind of gives the whole show a been there/done that quality.

On the plus side, the Bates family seem like a genuinely nice brood and it’s always good to see people of faith treated with respect rather than as the butt of some Hollywood scriptwriter’s snark. I also like the Tennessee setting and the fact that Gil is in the tree-trimming business. That’s the sort of quirky real-life occupation you don’t see portrayed on television too often.

Actually, it would be much more interesting for me to see the Bates (or a family based on them) portrayed in a scripted family drama, a sort of updated Eight is Enough (times two and plus three). The scripted format, IMHO, ironically provides greater latitude in forthrightly and honestly dealing with real-life issues that families face. TV is currently deficient family drama department and could use some new ones. UP, in fact, will fill that void this summer with Ties that Bind, about the home life of a married Atlanta-based female police detective with teen kids. I’ll be looking forward to that one.

In the meantime, if you like the reality format, you could do worse than the gentle-hearted Bringing Up Bates. It’s just not for me. 

Bringing Up Bates is an UP Entertainment production in association with Figure 8 Films. 

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

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