Sorry, fellow Trekkies, I mean Kirk Cameron, not James T.
What if Kirk Cameron ran Hollywood?
What? Hold up, there! Kirk Cameron running HOLLYWOOD!?! That’s like a fate worse than death or something.
I know, right? But let’s play a little game where Kirk Cameron is somehow made Dictator of Hollywood.
For those who are not fully up to speed on the illustrious career of Kirk Cameron, he’s the kid actor from Growing Pains that grew up and became super religious, or maybe he was all along, not really sure about the timeline there. Anyway, he left mainstream acting and now focuses on evangelism and making Christian-themed movies. And more power to him. This is not a Kirk Cameron bash. I like living in a world where people of varying philosophies and mindsets can provide diverse choices in entertainment.
So let’s imagine a world where Kirk and his Christian compatriots were put in charge of the movies you watch, the tv shows, the music, the books and magazines…pretty much everything comin’ at ya from the squeaky clean mind of Mr. Kirk Cameron. Call it a thought experiment.
Most people, even many Christians, would agree that would an unpleasant state of affairs. You’d probably feel supremely bored by the product that Kirk Cameron’s Hollywood churned out, if not actively repressed by it. Entertainment would likely become mind-numbingly homogenous, representing only the evangelical Christian worldview, promoting only evangelical-approved values. Kirk’s Hollywood would not feature a wide array of viewpoints and life experiences in their final product. Filmmakers and authors could tell their vanilla-flavored tales a thousand slightly different ways using ever-more-advanced CGI techniques but the audience would be left unentertained, unfulfilled.
Everything would be mundane and predictable since the same theme was simply echoing over and over again. And if you were from any culture other than fundamental Christianity, you wouldn’t be able to relate to what was on screen. You’d know in your heart and gut that there were millions of perspectives that were being ignored, billions of stories left untold. Even if you were from the dominant culture, maybe you’d still want more variety. Maybe you’d thirst for something thought-provoking, something that challenged your preconceptions and taught you something you didn’t know before. Maybe you’d long for a story that came at you from a slightly different angle, showed you a viewpoint you hadn’t considered, made you think hard about what it means to be a human being.
But you wouldn’t get it. The products of Kirk Cameron’s Hollywood would not shed new light on the human condition. They wouldn’t be art, they would be propaganda.
Over time, you might even come to resent mainstream entertainment. So preachy. So dogmatic. So smug and self-congratulatory. Even when you agreed with the moral of the story, you would resent the heavyhandedness with which it was told. Art would no longer be used to criticize, to illustrate absurdities of politics and culture. It would only be used to lecture and chastise and preach to the converted. You’d come to crave realness, authenticity, anything other than more of the same. But it would never stop because Kirk and the friends of Kirk run Hollywood. Every show, every movie, every book – all Kirk, all the time. There’d be no getting away from it. Eventually you wouldn’t even be able to read a cooking magazine or watch the sports scores on ESPN without encountering gross proselytizing. Not even a lowly taco salad recipe would be free of the testifyin’. Kirk would not approve of anything that did not strictly push his evangelical agenda.
Having even the most positive of messages shoved in your face repeatedly would be irritating for all but rabid zealots. You’d start finding yourself rolling your eyes at “thou shalt not kill” not because you disagree with the principle but because you’re so. fricking. sick. of it.
A while back I decided I was gonna watch Downton Abbey. I turned it on and it seemed interesting, I generally like that kind of thing, but I could just tell that somebody was gonna turn out to be gay. Now, please understand, I’m PRO gay rights. I support gay marriage. I think there should absolutely be more stories told about the specific experience of gay people and more stories where characters are gay and it’s not a plot point or an issue or a big deal, but just because people are gay and art reflects life. I would watch those movies. I do not and never would favor Kirk Cameron’s sanitized Hollywood where homosexuality is excised from the human experience. But – and I’m not particularly proud of having done this, but I share in the interest of being forthright – I decided to stop watching the show because it was just so damn distracting. “Is it going to be those two? Or those two? Or maybe even those two?” It was like watching someone operate off a PC-approved checklist instead of telling a story. I wasn’t offended by the concept, I was BORED by the execution. It was boring waiting for the reveal and even more boring that I could immediately foresee every single plot development that would grow out of the revelation. So predictable that even I, pro gay rights person, roll my eyes at the plot twist. My politics haven’t changed, but I’m. so. fricking. sick. of it.
It’s gone well beyond being beaten over the head by the point. The point is chasing me around the house as if I’m Jamie Lee Curtis and it’s Michael Myers and the point now wants to stab me to death with itself just to be sure I really, REALLY, get it.
I get it, I promise. I got it like 35 years ago, dudes. As soon as I heard about the concept, I got it. I’m with u. I’m just fricking sick of the same handful of moral points being shouted at me again and again and again. I’m sick of entertainment feeling less like joy, less like relaxation and more like dodging a flock of Hare Krishnas at an airport. I don’t want any of your damn pamphlets, please just let me worry about my own soul.
I’m sick of boring greedy amoral businessmen. I’m sick of boring heroic environmental activists trying to uncover boring pollution. I’m sick of boring blue collar dads who like sports ignoring their boring nerdy sons until their boring nerdy sons somehow save the day using their nerd abilities. I’m sick of boring noble women who are held back by the nonsensical sexist machinations of boring inferior male coworkers. I’m sick of boring crooked government agents being brought down by someone getting a super important envelope to a boring crusading reporter. I’m sick of boring corrupt police officers taking boring bribes and boring corrupt soldiers covering up boring war crimes. I’m sick of boring housewives who feel repressed till they have magic boring sex with some boring dude. I’m sick of boring dudes who feel depressed till they have magic boring sex with some boring manicpixiedreamgirl. I’m sick of scary boring scientists screwing something up and creating some boring monster or disease that then other boring scientists have to defeat using unscary boring science. I’m sick of boring country people who have boring abusive parents but rise above it by moving to the boring city and embracing boring careers in entertainment or the arts. And I’m so, so, SO superduperly sick of boring cartoon animals and boring spandexed superheroes as generic stand-ins for some oppressed group, going through the motions of a thinly veiled, boring morality play.
It’s all so preachy and dull and predictable. Even though I AGREE with the overall philosophy, the execution is so heavyhanded and cookiecutterish I can’t even stand to watch it any more. It’s always the same few stories told from the same perspective, the same good guys and the same bad guys, making the same handful of ethical points again and again, never asking a single new question or sharing even a slightly different perspective. I always know how the hero’s journey will end and I know every single beat we’ll hit along the way, and I don’t think about the story at all once it’s over. Hell, I don’t even think about the story when I’m watching. No new questions are raised in my mind. The tales I hear and read and see don’t stick with me. They’re like cotton candy, melting away as soon as they hit my brain, leaving nothing behind but a slight, vague sensation of stickiness and a bad taste in my mouth.
I long for programming that does or says something unexpected and unique, for works of art that inspire me to think about something I haven’t thought about before or that I have thought about before but maybe just not in that particular way. I need some complexity, complexity of plot, complexity of story, complexity of character, moral complexity; I’m dying for some shades of gray here.
For me, the entertainment industry in 2018 is little different than if Kirk Cameron was put in charge of Hollywood. Even if you agreed with Kirk in theory…stealing, bad…killing, bad…dishonoring mom and pop, bad…loving thy neighbor, good…there’s just something in human nature that resents being preached to. There’s something in human nature that resents being preached to constantly still more. Enough already. We get it. We got it. What else d’you got?
Most already know about the “the Code” (aka the Production Code, the Hays Code, a few other incarnations along the way) – a set of moral guidelines that Hollywood studios had to follow in one form or the other, from the 1920’s till well into the 60s, when the last vestiges fell away. Great movies like Casablanca and Some Like It Hot notoriously ran afoul of the Code. While we look back on the Code today mostly as a Puritanical approach to keeping movies squeaky clean in the sex department, it also encompassed political and moral censorship. Movies couldn’t show criticism towards members of the clergy, police officers, other countries, public figures, and could not depict anyone disrespecting the flag. They couldn’t show prostitution, homosexuality, interracial relationships, and were never supposed to portray criminals in a sympathetic light. Negative portrayals of race, color, or creed were also forbidden.
Kirk Cameron would probably like the Code. Honestly, the Code wasn’t entirely wrong; there are elements of the ethics underlying the Code I tend to agree with. But most of us look back on the entire notion and snort derisively because we can so easily see how a blanket dictum led to movies being overly tame, unrepresentative of our nation’s diversity, and lacking insight into the human condition. It’s undeniable that the existence of the Code prevented some hard questions from being asked via art. It had a huge chilling effect on what movies could have been, what stories might have been told, what truths may have been revealed. You can see it in the movies produced in the late 50’s to early 60’s, as the Code fell apart – the quality of the storytelling grew exponentially.
If a movie can’t show a guy doing drugs, you can’t portray the harm drug use caused or the ripple effect that it had on his entire life as Preminger did in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955). If you can’t show extramarital sex, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) wouldn’t have had much of a plot. Even though there are many wonderful movies from the 30’s, 40’s, and early 50’s (many of which challenged the dictums of the Code) it’s clear that the death of the Code improved movies as an art form. I can’t help but wonder how many secret truths we will never know about the way people of that era really lived and thought and felt because the Code didn’t allow their stories to be told.
And yet we’ve now fallen into our own version of the Code; it may not be formally codified but it exists all the same. It is simply not allowed to make movies, television shows, or yes, sadly, even books anymore, in which certain moral viewpoints are expressed. Even briefly, even if you are not advocating them, even if you have a higher purpose for doing so. Even if you are showing those moral viewpoints only to damn them. Even if their inclusion was germane to the plot and was (or at least attempting to be) thought provoking, challenging, and artistic, the risks of censure are so high that most writers, directors, and actors don’t even take the chance. Too much is at stake.
Many people believe that the heyday of movie making was the late 60’s to early 70’s. The Code was no more, but political correctness had not yet taken hold. Some of the greatest movies ever made were produced during that time period – movies that asked hard questions about real issues, movies that portrayed human beings as flawed beings rather than angels or demons. I’d like to return to that time again, because I value art and I value storytelling.
But mostly because I’m bored. I don’t want Kirk Cameron in charge of Hollywood. I don’t want the liberal equivalent of Kirk Cameron in charge of Hollywood either. I want artists in charge of Hollywood. And art is messy and imperfect and sometimes makes people uncomfortable. Art is not made by consensus, committee, or focus group; it’s made by individuals that sometimes will get things wrong – ethically wrong. But art may reveal more in its wrongness than a perfect and pure religious allegory ever could. Art asks questions polite people may not want to even consider and pushes envelopes right off the edge of the desk sometimes. Art should not tell people what they want to hear a thousand slightly different ways using ever-more-advanced CGI techniques to avoid ruffling anyone’s feathers. Art is SUPPOSED to ruffle feathers.
Telling people that what they believe is unequivocally right again and again (even when what they believe is true and just and good) is not art, it’s propaganda.