What’s the worst thing you’ve ever read or watched?
By worst I don’t mean something of bad quality or poor execution. I mean forms of entertainment with questionable content. The topic of what counts as questionable (i.e. “we should avoid this because it’s sinful”) is something no one can agree on perfectly, and has been debated in circles, so I’m not getting into where we draw the lines.
That conversation, however, provides an excellent backdrop for what I am going to talk about: the way in which we engage, with thought and attentiveness, the entertainment we consume.
Perhaps, amid this endless debate of what’s good vs. what’s bad, what’s “safe” vs. what’s off-limits, we’ve missed an important aspect. Intentionality.
Last week, I talked about the gray areas of fiction—the blurred morals and a shift in trends away from stories tied up in a neat package of good or evil. This goes hand-in-hand with the act of engaging entertainment. It’s not completely about the content (though everyone has the line they won’t cross, and that’s as it should be).
We need to enter the arena with the proper mindset.
I was talking with some friends a few months back, and this topic came up. Where do we draw lines? When has a book or movie crossed the boundaries of art into glorification of violence, swearing, sex, or anything else? One of my friends made a great point: the only requirement you can have across the board is that you’re engaging entertainment with intention.
Because when the mind is active, paying attention to the content streaming in, it’s like having the shields of the Enterprise up. Nothing gets past unnoticed. When you lower the shields of your mind, you open yourself up for attack.
Maybe some people can tolerate Jessica Jones while others find it excessive. Again, not getting into the debate of who’s right and wrong. The deeper issue is whether or not you’re tuned into what’s going on.
Is your brain on autopilot, not paying attention to where the story is going?
Are you constantly filtering the entertainment you consume through the lens of your worldview?
Have you engaged with the story to the point of identifying what you agree with and why, and what you disagree with and why?
This is something we should constantly be doing. Not in a legalistic, guilt-trip sense, where the shame for something you may have seen or read crushes you. Rather, engage your mind so you can pick out the good from the bad, the echoes of truth from the whispers of falsehood. Discernment is key, and how can you exercise it without an engaged mind?
Every story skews toward a certain worldview, whether with intention or by accident, whether in a subtle or blatant way. Whenever you watch a movie or read a book, you’ll be faced with a particular set of values, a tilted look at the world with which you may disagree.
That’s fine, as long as you’re engaged and can separate the truth from the falsehood, the pure and noble from the profane and distorted.
I haven’t read a wide range of stories stemming from radically varied worldviews and tolerance levels, but I can confidently say that I have yet to come across a story in which there was nothing to be gained. No takeaway or thought worth pondering further.
Hunger Games may paint the world in a depressing hue, void of the hope and comfort enjoyed by Christians, yet that doesn’t discount its powerful messages. The effects of violence, the horror of tyranny, the pain of loss.
So far, I’ve been dealing with the shadowed side of Entertainment Boulevard, where the low-life lives and the corruption stains. But engaging entertainment is equally important on the bright, sunny side.
Why? Because it can too easily present false, overly-simplistic versions of reality, which is unhealthy in its own way. This is where typical Christian fiction runs into problems. Living vicariously through the life of a character, we can easily become disillusioned when reality doesn’t line up with the idealized existence we expect for ourselves because that’s how it turned out for the characters.
Not saying any positive outcome is worth a skeptical analysis and summary dismissal, but that we need to approach every aspect, every thread of a story, with a level head and open eyes.
Suffice it to say, we need to engage entertainment with intention across the board. Examine, taking the good for what it offers and acknowledging the bad for the ugly face it is.
So in the famous words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard…
Have you seen any personal value or advantage in engaging entertainment?