The Faithful Are Still Easy Pickings in Media

My kids love blonde jokes. And for the most part, I put up with it. But I don’t know that I’m making the best decision. No matter how innocent it may seem, teaching children it’s permissible to make fun of any identifiable group of people, is potentially dangerous.

On the open range of the school playground, the temptation to target those who are vulnerable is extremely high. Since the rash of school violence a few years ago, most districts have spent huge sums of money in an attempt to “bully proof” their hallways and playgrounds.

Despite this, I’m amazed that certain segments of the population are still viewed as ‘‘fair game" for ridicule in society and popular entertainment. Two examples that come to mind are obese children (usually portrayed as poor in intelligence and rich in flatulence) and fathers (shown as inept). However, these derogatory depictions don’t compare with the latest ammunition I’ve seen aimed at people of faith in general, and Christians in specific.

In Michael Medved’s book Hollywood vs. America, the moral movie critic devotes an entire chapter (titled Comic Book Clergy) observing how certain religions are easy pickings for movies.

“In the ongoing war on traditional values, the assault on organized faith represents the front to which the entertainment industry has most clearly committed itself,” says Medved in his opening paragraphs.

Medved, who is Jewish, clearly observes how Catholics and “born again” Christians are the most likely to be chosen within media’s general negative attitudes toward Judeo-Christian believers.

Although his book was written over a decade ago, a few plot points in recent movies leads me to believe not much has changed.

At the subtlest level, organized religions and churchgoers are often portrayed as being unable to care for themselves. Rather than relying on faith or divine intervention, the script usually requires the Hollywood hero to save the day.

At the other end of the scale are satirical depictions of things some people hold sacred.

The R-rated Eurotrip for instance, follows a group of high school grads touring Europe in the hopes of locating one guy’s Internet lover. Exposed breasts and full male nudity throughout make this road trip offensive enough, yet the movie also includes a scene that supposedly takes place in the Vatican. Here the young man and his on-line German girlfriend have passionate sex in a confessional booth. When a parishioner comes to declare her sins, she’s met with a set of naked, thrusting buttocks.

While this is irreverent, other films take a more personal stab at religious values.

Topping the list for 2004 is Saved! Perhaps a sheep in wolves clothing, this PG-13 movie stars Mandy Moore who appeared only two years ago as a rather sweet Christian girl in A Walk to Remember. Any parents who were left impressed by this relatively unknown teen star won’t recognizes her in this new role as an exaggerated Evangelical with a nasty sense of righteous retribution.

Many have argued Saved! simply spoofs those who don’t practice what they preach, but I doubt any Christian will find humor in a film that goes as far as making sexual innuendo jokes regarding Jesus while he’s nailed to the cross.

The story also had me questioning society’s proud declaration of political correctness. In the script, a physically challenged young man, a Jewish girl, and a gay male come together as the heroes, and take an unwed, pregnant girl into their fold after she has been mocked by Moore’s character and the rest of a Christian school’s populace. Would this scenario receive the same open-minded embrace if the characters were changed around? What if the homosexuals or the physically challenged people were at the end of all the jokes, and the one lone heterosexual student saved the day?

It’s hard to imagine these reverse angles—and with good reason. All people, no matter what their sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnic or religious background, deserve to be treated in a respectful and decent manner.

Unfortunately, this “do unto others” lesson is difficult to teach to the next generation when media continues to focus on popular negative portrayals. While we can all use a little humor to lighten our load, it’s time to help our children recognize the difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at.”

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…