/ / Articles

Actually, Fantastic Films Don’t Require Sex and Nudity

Might we end up justifying idolatry or sexual sins by believing “the story made me do it”?
| Sep 5, 2014 | 8 comments |
300_ticket_stub

Photo credit: astrangegirl via photopin cc

As a mid-level Christian film fan and videographer nerd1, I find myself in a dilemma.

You see, I’m troubled by some Christians’ acceptance of sex scenes and nudity in otherwise good movies.

I’m also troubled by excuses I’ve often heard that go like this: “That sex scene was pivotal to the needs of the story.” Or, “The story had to use such blatant sexuality in order to make its point.” Or, “That kind of in-your-face nudity is what the story called for.”

Sometimes the argument is used by the filmmakers themselves. On other occasions, Christian critics and audiences use it to defend stories with problematic content. In both cases, I see two potential problems with their line of reasoning: 1) it can be an excuse, and 2) it can be idolatry.

1. It can be an excuse

Photo credit: Joe in DC via photopin cc

Photo credit: Joe in DC via photopin cc

Do you really need to see two nude actors simulating copulation in order to understand that their characters are committing immorality? Do you really need to see a rape in order to know and/or feel that rape is evil? Do you really need to view the objectification of a human being made in God’s image so that you can rightly abhor the objectification of human beings made in God’s image? There’s a difference between showing sin and showing the consequences of sin. When filmmakers emphasize depictions of sin rather than its consequences, viewers can get conflicting messages.

What about the stories that pornographers tell? Their narratives (which, admittedly, are overtly simplistic) require graphic sexuality. If anything, that only proves that some stories don’t need to be told.

When we use the excuse that explicit sexuality is needed in order to tell a story, methinks it says more about the state of our culture than it does the story—that we “need” such content in order to be appropriately affected. I submit that the inundation of sexual imagery in our society has served, not to hone our discernment regarding sexual vice, but to weaken and deaden our conscience to the sin around us (and in our own hearts).

In many if not most cases, the “necessary” skin parade isn’t necessary at all. You can tell practically any story without having to resort to pornification. Just look at the films from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Heck, look at the Bible itself.

“Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip.”2. It can be idolatry

It’s at least a possible sign of danger when we approach a controversial topic with appeals to a Higher Power that is not God. In this case, the needs of the story are trotted out in an effort to eliminate any objections, as if the discussion is over once the story has spoken.

Look, I love stories. My wife and I are both freelance writers. I’ve participated in films and documentaries, both behind and in front of the camera. I’m amazed by the human capacity to move audiences so powerfully through storytelling.

But since when did stories become the gods we worship? Seriously, what Biblical principle requires us to bow to the demands of a story? If a story told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it? (Sorry, I know I’m not your parent.)

For those of us who profess Christ, only one Story has a right to demand absolute allegiance: the Story of the Redeemer dying to save that which was lost. And this glorious story does, of necessity, place upon us a binding imperative: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

‘The story made me do it’?

Cap Stewart

Cap Stewart

Through we’ve been talking about movies, the above dangers exist in our approach to books as well. The mediums of film and literature are different (for one, books require no actual human beings to undress), but both can be used for titillation. Perhaps a good place to begin evaluating what is appropriate in written fiction is to see how the Bible itself handles sexual material.

Whatever the case, it’s never wise to take a gift from God and elevate it to a position equal to God.

As lovers of speculative fiction, when did we decide that stories were above reproach and beyond the reach of scrutiny or critique? What gives a story the right to demand whatever it wishes with impunity? In our fallen world, how does “the story” rise above all else and declare itself incorruptible? Nothing save God’s own testimony can make that claim.

May we imitate God’s nature more effectively by rejecting what is false so that we may more fully enjoy that which is true and lovely and admirable.

  1. I’m not a serial Comic-Con attendee with more cosplay in his closet than regular clothes, but I do have my Jedi outfit from acting in a Star Wars fan film, and my wife and I purchased Star Trek shirts for Halloween (although we’re still trying to figure out who should wear blue and who should wear red.
Cap Stewart is an independent business owner and freelance writer. He's been a fan of speculative fiction ever since picking up This Present Darkness in fifth grade, and his beloved gamer bride makes up for whatever nerdom he lacks. Cap blogs at Happier Far.

8
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Tiribulus
Guest

Friend you and I just may get along.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I’m not sure this is an issue in film. Most spec stuff usually is PG-13 if just to appeal to all audiences. Usually the hard R stuff that would use explicit sexuality doesn’t have much draw for Christians for sexuality’s sake. It’s more you have to put up with it if you like serious film of any type. The PG-13 is too young adult and shallow.

As for stories, well, I don’ t think anyone is saying they should get a free pass. I think the problem is that very few people seem to be able to make a mature, complex story while keeping objectionable content down. They avoid sin, but wind up making spec fic books that read like middle grade novels.

Julie D
Guest

Ditto Dutcher. We’ve had several conversations here about how to handle such content, but I think the majority of readers would agree that sex and violence can be gratuitus. That doesn’t mean they are all off-limits.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Yeah, and even then it’s a low threshold of content permissible. It’s not that we want to have full frontal nudity in a Christian art film, but more we’d like to be able to not have to tiptoe around the fact that people often do sleep with each other in and out of marriage. Or that yes, people do swear at times.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

I would like to know where these theoretical porn-ish Christian media-makers-critiquers exist. Do they live next to the forest of magical rainbow unicorns? Granted, quite a bit depends on one’s threshold for sexy content, but isn’t a requirement for membership in the Noncontroversial Christian Tribe a low threshold for sexy content?

Cap Stewart
Guest

Notleia, I guess I’m not quite sure what your point/qustion is?

Julie D
Guest

I also suggest that readers of this post go and read the related post “sex scenes in movies don’t bother me” on the author’s blog. It clears up some of the questions I had from this post.

Cap Stewart
Guest

Thanks, Julie! Yeah, the problem with blogging about this issue (which I have done quite a bit) is that each article by itself could be misunderstood half a dozen ways. That’s why I often try to include a lot of links to past articles; that allows me to be at least marginally more comprehensive.