When Evil Becomes Not So Evil


I’ve seen a number of TV ads for movies that will release this month, and I have to admit, I’m concerned. One called Jigsaw has this storyline:

Bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome demise. As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one man: John Kramer. But how can this be? The man known as Jigsaw has been dead for over a decade.

There’s another one about a serial killer. Another that released on Friday is called American Satan and is about a pact with the devil. Then there is Happy Death Day and the one about a baby-sitter who is part of a satanic cult, looking to kill the kid she is supposed to watch.

Yet we have no idea why someone would shoot an automatic gun at a crowd of strangers.

I think there’s a disconnect in our society.

Mind you, I’m a writer, and I believe in the pretend. I don’t think imagination is bad. I don’t think we should whitewash stories so that all the bad parts are as good as bleeped out. On the other hand, I don’t think we should make the Wicked Witch of the West the hero in the story. I don’t think we should look at brutal killings as entertainment.

So am I condemning murder mysteries? Maybe I am. I have been a consumer all too often and maybe I shouldn’t be. Because I think the more we see the evil that man inflicts on man, the more we become callous to it.

For example, I’ve seen wild fire video year after year here in SoCal. Honestly, I don’t have the same compassion any more when someone standing in front of the burned ruins of a house says that they lost everything. I sort of shrug and think, You’ll rebuild your life in a few years.

It might be true, but it’s not compassionate to view people in that way.

That’s what I think this excess of evil as a form of entertainment might be doing to us. Serial killers, demon activity, evil babysitters—who cares? It’s all just for fun.

For fun?

When did people dying become fun? When did people making pacts with Satan become entertainment?

Well, as far as the latter is concerned, Faust comes to mind, the German legend retold by such writers as Christopher Marlow and by Goethe. In fact there have been plays and operas and symphonies based on this legend.

But what seems apparent is that the stories were once told as cautionary tales. Making a deal with the devil brought ruin.

Maybe the modern day movies depicting evil still have the same purpose. On TV the crime solvers still track down the perp. Shows aren’t generally about criminals getting away with crimes.

But I have to wonder, what about compassion? Are we becoming hard of heart because of our propensity to find entertainment in stories that deal with evil? Or are we reinforcing the “good guy wins” narrative?

Sadly, in the TV ads for this month’s movies, the emphasis is all about the death and/or mayhem, I assume, because that’s what sells. If we were watching horror because good wins out, shouldn’t that be the selling point?

Instead, I think movies and TV programs alike have become “darker” because what we watched fifty years ago no longer gives the adrenaline rush of fear that it once did. So now we need something more sensational, more graphic, more bizarre.

We are like the crowd going to the traveling circus to see what outrageous display they might have behind the curtain. Does it make people feel “normal” to see someone else who is so strange? Or did it harden their souls so that they had no compassion for those who dealt with disabilities they couldn’t imagine?

Same idea, I think, for us today. I suspect the more we watch evil, the less evil it seems, and the less compassion we have toward those who suffer—brutality or the compromise with evil or the loss of loved ones. Now we want something new. Something more dangerous. Something that will make us feel “normal.”

What do you think? Can we see so much evil that it no longer seems evil to us?

Published in: on October 16, 2017 at 6:06 pm  Comments (11)  
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The Value Of Monsters


MonsterI’m not a horror person. I don’t go to horror movies, and I try not to read horror literature (once in a while I’ve acquiesced and read a novel by a friend or for a blog tour). I’m not big on supernatural stories either, which usually have some type of confrontation with demons. I’ve chalked this up to the fact that I don’t like to be scared.

I figured no one liked to be scared, so I couldn’t understand why a great many people “enjoyed” horror stories. Lo and behold, when I actually took time to ask around, I discovered that a lot of people actually DO like to be scared. They get a rush of adrenaline that jolts them, and they find the experience exhilarating.

Except . . . then I discovered some people who like monster stories but not demon stories. The monsters are pretend, the explanation goes, but the demons are real. The monster stories inevitably show victory over the monsters. They help process through make-believe what we must contend with in real life. And good wins out in the end.

In the long run, I think that’s precisely the function monsters serve. We are faced with humans who act like monsters because of the corruption of sin. Sometimes we see our own monstrous tendencies. And of course there are the rulers, powers, world forces of this darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness–spiritual monsters–Paul says are our true enemies (see Eph. 6:12).

Fictitious monsters put limits on evil. They become more manageable when they have a defined scope and a finite appearance. Oh the other hand, I suspect one reason vampires (until Twilight) were such feared monsters was their immortality. If you can’t kill a monster, it becomes infinitely more frightening.

Some of the most famous horror stories were, in fact, centered on efforts to kill what seemed to be indestructible.

Perhaps the best and most truthful horror story would be the one that shows a monster that cannot be overcome, at least not by ordinary humans. We are, after all, without means to defeat sin and Satan. God alone can put an end to those we war against.

But I suppose most monster stories aren’t about ultimate victory as much as they are temporal overcoming. After all, stab a stake into the heart of one vampire, and another one creeps around the corner into town.

So we battle one monster at a time, and perhaps the make-believe stories help some to go forward into the fight, equipped and prepared and less afraid.

Me? I’ll just confess it up front: I’m a coward. I would much rather hide from the prowling lion, the wolf in sheep’s clothes, the dragon breathing fire. I have a Rock, a Fortress, a Deliverer, and I prefer taking refuge in Him. 😉

Published in: on October 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm  Comments (6)  
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Seeing Worldviews behind the Art


I’m reading a wonderful book by screenwriter Brian Godawa entitled Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment (IVP Books). The thing I appreciate most, at least in the first half of the book, is the balanced position Godawa takes.

He identifies those he calls cultural anorexics—individuals who “withdraw from culture because of its imperfection.” He postulates that these folks no longer understand the way others think or speak; in essence they have raised a barrier that makes it impossible for them to “interact redemptively” with the guy living across the street or the mom sitting beside them at the youth soccer game.

In his posts or comments, Mike Duran over at Decompose raises the issue of the “Christian ghetto” from time to time in regard to the world of fiction, and I think he may be speaking of “cultural anorexics” who want to withdraw into the safety of sanitized stories.

But there’s another extreme that Godawa identifies—the cultural glutton. These are the people who say things like this:

“I just want to be entertained.”
“You shouldn’t take it so seriously.”
“It’s only a movie.”
“The sex and violence don’t bother me.”

Hollywood Worldviews, p. 20

Individuals with this view, Godawa says, agree with Samuel Goldwin’s famous saying: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” (I realize that soon this statement will need some explanation to those coming after the demise of the telegraph. 🙄 ) Goldwin’s point is that movies are about story, nothing else, especially not an idea!

Well, even expressing that view in the way I did in that last sentence exposes the fallacy. Interestingly, when I wrote about the movie Avatar back in January, some of the articles I quoted (written by Christians professionally reviewing the movie) and some of the comments to my various posts espoused this same opinion.

Godawa takes a radically different—and balanced—view of movies. They are stories, but not devoid of meaning. That is, they actually are about something—chiefly, redemption.

One of the simplest ways of understanding worldview is as a belief system or web of beliefs, that contains a creation-fall-redemption motif … Every worldview has some understanding of the original state of reality (creation), what went wrong with that original state (fall) and how to recover or return to that original state (redemption).

Hollywood Worldviews, p. 22

In addition, Godawa believes that thinking about a movie’s worldview doesn’t have to consume a viewer so that he can no longer enjoy the cinematography, acting, plot line, humor, or special effects. The fact that movies communicate worldviews and values

need not spoil the joy in entertainment or justify total withdrawal from culture. Rather, it can deepen one’s appreciation and sharpen one’s discernment, helping the reader strike a balance between two extremes: cultural anorexia and cultural gluttony.

Hollywood Worldviews, p. 27

I’m in favor of balance striking! 😀

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm  Comments (7)  
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Contentment and the Book Promoter; CSFF Run-off Poll


You may have assumed I was off earlier this week on unrelated tangents when I wrote about contentment and our bent to believe we deserve all that the world tells us we deserve. I actually saw these ideas related to writing in two ways.

First, I was reminded about the power of the media, and whether we realize it or not, fiction is “media.” So are blogs. Here’s what I’m thinking. The movie and TV industries, and the commercials that go with them, often say they don’t influence society; they reflect it. And there is truth in this line. Pop culture is popular. So the media flock around octo-mom for weeks and weeks, way past the point that most of us care to see another picture of her, because their ratings are up.

Same with Michael Jackson. More and more pop-star-weariness articles surface all the time, but the books that publishers churned out about the deceased star hit the best-seller lists right off. So the media does seem to give the public something a good portion of the public wants.

At the same time, the media is shaping those interests. Would any of us cared about Nadia Sulemon if the media hadn’t first told us about a woman who gave birth to eight babies who lived? Then teased and tantalized with the unreleased-identity tidbit? Followed by this rumor and that suggestion and finally a picture.

Media, after all, is about piquing curiosity. Even fiction. We have opening hooks and book trailers and back cover copy designed to intrigue. We want to pull readers in.

Which in turn allows us to say what we want to say.

So in part we give readers what they want so we can influence what they want. It’s a curious cycle.

But the next thought I had in connection to this realization was this: How ethical is it for us to create an artificial thirst? I mean, if the Bible is right, and Godliness with contentment is great gain, shouldn’t we be helping others realize contentment rather than stirring up disquiet?

I have a hard time telling people with limited resources they need to buy such and such a book (maybe someday mine) or telling overly busy people they need to spend time reading my blog.

Do I want people to read my blog? Well, frankly, yes. And someday, should God open doors for my fiction to be published, I will want people to buy my books.

But how am I to promote in light of contentment? I think it would be wrong to say the two have nothing to do with each other. I also think it is off base to say promotion is wrong.

However, I don’t see trying to convince people who are unaware of an interest or a need, that they really should have an interest or need. I suppose there are exceptions. Someone about to step out in front of a bus needs to be told not to keep going.

But is that what most promotion is doing? What do you think?

– – –

Here is the run-off poll for this month’s award. Check out these posts, and give us your opinion who deserves to be honored this month for their creative, thought-provoking posts:

Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 11:35 am  Comments (6)  
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