Hollywood’s Attack On Religion Essay, Research Paper

Hollywood’s Attack on Religion

The section that I have chosen to analyze from the book Hollywood vs.

America is “The Attack on Religion.” In this part of the book, Michael Medved

discusses the shift in attitude Hollywood has made toward religion, from

acceptable to contemptible. He takes a look at the messages being sent in films,

music and television in the last 15 to 20 years and analyzes their effects. In

general, Hollywood depicts religion in an unfavorable manner, according to

Medved. Moreover, Medved also argues that, not only has Hollywood taken a

hostile stance toward religion, but it has paid the price, literally, for doing

so. All of Medved’s arguments are well supported and documented, making them

seemingly futile to argue against. Yet, Hollywood, which includes films, music

and television, continues to disregard the obvious facts that Medved has


In the first chapter of this section, “A Declaration of War,” Medved

discusses the facts surrounding the protest which took place on August 11, 1988,

in opposition to the release of the motion picture The Last Temptation of Christ.

MCA/Universal, which funded the Martin Scorsese film, called the protesters a

“know-nothing wacky pack” (38). However, as Medved points out, the protest was

“the largest protest ever mounted against the release of a motion picture” (37)

and included such groups as the National Council of Catholic Bishops, the

Southern Baptist Convention, twenty members of the U.S. House of Representatives

and prominent figures such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Ken Wales, former

vice president at Disney studios. Even with such strong opposition from these

respected groups and people, the studio refused to listen and stood behind its

First Amendment rights.

MCA/Universal was even supported by the Motion Picture Association of

America, which stated that “The . . . MPAA support MCA/Universal in its absolute

right to offer to the people whatever movie it chooses” (41). However, Medved

rebukes this statement, arguing that “absolute right” wasn’t the issue; the

issue “concerned the movie company’s choices, not its rights” (41). He supports

this argument further by indicating that the MPAA would never support a film

portraying Malcolm X as a paid agent of Hoover’s FBI or portraying Anne Frank

“as an out-of-control nymphomaniac” (41). By releasing The Last Temptation of

Christ, the studio positions Jesus, God and Christianity below these prominent

figures in history because it is portraying Jesus and other religious figures in

uncharacteristic situations that would never be associated with these historical

figures. This is supported by past experiences when movies were edited so as to

not offend animal rights activists, gay advocacy groups, and ethnic


Leaders of the motion picture business showed more concern

with possible sacrilege against the religious traditions of

a single Hopi village than with certain offense to the faith

of tens of millions of believing Christians; the prospect of

being labeled “antiwolf” produced greater worry than the

prospect of being labeled “anti-Christ” (42).

Of course, the response to this is that the changes were made during the

production of the other films, not afterward. Again, Medved argues back,

pointing out that “Martin Scorsese and his associates kept their plans for The

Last Temptation a closely guarded secret from all church leaders” (43).

The press also distorted the movement against the release of the film by

“focusing on one utterly unrepresentative individual as the preeminent symbol of

that movement: the Reverend R. L. Hymers” (43). His predictions of impending

apocalypse, his violent outbursts, and his history of legal problems “lived up

to anyone’s worst nightmare of deranged religious fanatic. Naturally, the press

couldn’t get enough of him” (43). The press also misrepresented the movement’s

main objections, according to Medved, by focusing on the “dream sequence” in

which Jesus makes love to Mary Magdalene, “and asserting that this image alone

had provoked the furor in the religious community” (44). However, Christian

leaders objected to more than that; they identified “more than twenty elements”

(44) that were offending to them. In other words, “the press helped to make the

protesters look like narrow-minded prudes” (44). As a result, Hollywood misled

itself and the public into believing that the protesters’ main objective was to

censor the film. As Medved says, “What they [protester] wanted from the

industry wasn’t censorship; it was sensitivity” (45).

Besides the fact that The Last Temptation of Christ was so heavily

protested against, it was a bad movie, according to Medved, who is also a movie

critic. He even went on the record saying,

It is the height of irony that all this controversy should

be generated by a film that turns out to be so breathtakingly

bad, so unbearably boring. In my opinion, the controversy

about this picture is a lot more interesting than the film

itself (47).

However, the movie industry defended the film by nominating Scorsese for an

Academy Award as Best Director. This response by the movie industry “provides a

good example of the film establishment rallying around a bad film to protect its

own selfish interest . . . that film, . . . was a slap in the face to

Christians everywhere,” (48) according to Mickey Rooney, one of only a few

established Hollywood figures who spoke out against the film. And in the end,

MCA/Universal got what it deserved, according to Medved, losing at least $10

million because people, Christian or not, realized how bad the movie was.

The confrontation between Christians and Hollywood over The Last

Temptation of Christ was just one of the incidents in the last 15 years in which

Hollywood has attacked religion. In the past, leaders of the film industry

“understood the importance of honoring the faith of their patrons. For them, it

was not only a matter of good business, but an element of ?good citizenship’”

(51). Films such as Going My Way, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Boys Town,

portrayed religious characters “in a sympathetic light” (51). But in the last

15 years or so, “Hollywood has swung in the opposite extreme” (52). When a

religious figure is portrayed now, it is likely that “he will turn out to be

corrupt or crazy ? or probably both” (52). Medved goes on to discuss several

movies which attacked Catholics, Born-Again Christians, and Jews. He gives a

brief synopsis of these movies, highlighting the portions which portray religion

in a negative way. For the most part, the movie titles are unfamiliar. This

can be accounted for by the fact that “the overwhelming majority of these

pictures performed abysmally at the box office” (64).

The main reason these films did so poorly is probably due to the fact

that there is “a significant ? and growing ? percentage of the American

population” (70) that is committed to a traditional faith. On the other hand,

most of the people who play a large part in producing movies claim no religious

affiliation whatsoever: “93 percent . . . say they seldom or never attend

religious services” (71). This fact is one of the main reasons why Hollywood

has lost touch when it comes to religion in movies, according to Medved: “. . .

unrepresentative personal perspective has helped to blind Hollywood’s leaders to

the intense involvement of most Americans with organized faith” (71). And when

movies “have portrayed organized faith in a favorable and affectionable light,”

(75) they have been successful:

. . . the extraordinary films mentioned above shared another

common element: an impressive level of both commercial and

critical success. These seven pictures won two Oscars for Best

Picture . . . three for Best Actress, and one for Best Actor (76).

Of course, the film industry isn’t solely responsible for Hollywood’s

attack on religion. The music industry and television are also guilty of

slandering religion. Lyrics by groups such as R.E.M., Black Sabbath and Judas

Priest indicate the music industry’s contempt for religion. For television,

“God’s influence . . . is all but invisible” (79). Statistics show that “only

5.4 percent of the characters had an identifiable religious affiliation ?

although 89 percent of Americans claim affiliation with an organized faith” (80).

Religion’s only outlet for television is “relegated mostly to Sunday mornings

and televangelists” (80).

Medved analyzes the reasons for Hollywood’s attack on religion and

narrows it down to two specific reasons. One reason is that “movie, TV, and

music moguls are motivated by the pursuit of profit” (87) and they believe there

is money to be made by slandering religion. But the main reason is that they

are in constant pursuit of “the respect of their peers” (87). And religion “is

the one subject in the world that everyone acknowledges as fundamentally

serious” (88). So when writers and directors attack religion, “no matter how

clumsy or contrived that attack may be, they can feel as if they’ve made some

sort of important and courageous statement” (88). Thus, “a filmmaker can win

the respect of his colleagues, even if his work is rejected by the larger

public” (88).

It is obvious that Hollywood’s attacks on religion have been fruitless;

Hollywood loses money and established religions have been degraded publicly.

Medved is thorough in evaluating Hollywood’s stance on religion, and even more

thorough in knocking it down. His arguments against Hollywood for its attacks

on religion are supported by facts that Hollywood has refused to realize. It is

absurd that Hollywood continues to attack religion, especially when figures show

that a vast majority of the population claim some sort of affiliation with an

established religion. It would only make sense for Hollywood to change its ways

and adopt “a greater sense of neutrality and balance . . . when it comes to

portrayals of organized faith” (90).

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