Ethics and Religion Discussion: Sex, Violence and Hollywood, Part 2

Over the years, Hollywood has become increasingly explicit in displaying nudity, sexual situations, and violence. I’m curious how the clergy on this panel choose what content they will watch, especially on the various streaming platforms available. Would any of you avoid a program that might otherwise be good, but includes sex/nudity? Is such content so much a part of society that we have become numb to it? Or, maybe we should just accept all of this as an honest portrayal of life?

Read part 1 of our panel’s responses here.

Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, responds:

For the most part, don’t limit my viewing based on nudity, but I do enjoy violence as a form of entertainment. I don’t appreciate gratuitous nudity, sex, or violence because it weakens the stories or demeans them to me. I wouldn’t be interested in movies like Fifty Shades of Grey. On the other hand, I am a big fan of Call the Midwife. While each episode will show a mother in labor, the plot often engages major ethical and moral dilemmas of the time. I believe Hollywood has gone further than necessary, always pushing the boundaries of taste and acceptability. Fortunately, we can all decide whether or not to support this form of entertainment.

Finally, Unitary Universalism has very little to say on this subject, but I would add in our sex education curriculum that there is a given opinion on pornography. The program warns that pornography is a distortion of reality and can create unrealistic expectations.

Linda Knieriemen, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

Several years ago, I stopped watching most crime/detective shows because I was becoming immune to violence. I will not watch TV or movies with sexual violence or free sex. A good story requires neither. There are times when carefully portrayed sexual expression artfully augments a narrative, but more often than not sexualized scenes serve as titillating inset additions to enhance the ratings.

The human body is a thing of beauty. Sexuality is a gift from the Creator. Both are honest portrayals of life. However, there is a time and a place for everything.

Certainly, the growing vulgarity of today’s media is a challenge for religious people. It is a clear sign of the current cultural trajectory that avoiding such media will expose them to ridicule. Think of the treatment of Mike Pence on late night television. It’s not just about being a prude. The imagery is very powerful and what enters the eyes and ears impacts our spiritual hearts and unfortunately it’s hard to find anything out of the entertainment industry that doesn’t have such a effect at some level. I’ve found that watching any type of streaming requires vigilant preparation to hit the skip forward button. For people who are willing to use smaller screens like tablets and phones, it’s useful because it’s easier to self-censor than a giant TV mounted across the room. One can simply get hold of any objectionable imagery. In the end, these are only partial solutions. The best solution is to find alternative sources of entertainment. I suggest reading. A good book will save you streaming problems in addition to the benefits of reading that are not found in watching.

My answer:

There is a difference between realism and sex or violence for its own sake. If the violence is portrayed honestly because it’s part of the story, or the nudity is needed to fully portray the character or context of a scene, I don’t mind. I happen to think that writing today is better than it was 60 or 70 years ago because it portrays real human beings in relation to each other, not a ridiculously limited, idealized and censored version of society.

I’m also not bothered by the action genre of movies in which the number of bullets fired is absurdly excessive, or the hero and villain trade enough punches to put them both in the hospital for six months, but get up and keep fighting. There was a time, however, in the horror genre in particular, where filmmakers began to show graphic violence for its own sake. I practically stopped watching such films.

This column answers questions of ethics and religion by putting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders from the Grand Rapids area. We would love to hear about common ethical questions that arise in your day as well as religious questions that you have. Tell us how you solved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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