Is It Propaganda to Promote Goodness?

A few weeks ago, Michael Foust of the Christian Examiner/Post asked me what I thought about the news that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will be available as an R-rated film (in addition to PG-13) when it releases on DVD. I answered Mr. Foust this way:

Personally, I believe all films should serve the purpose of making us better people. Of course, I realize not all films do that. But really, why shouldn’t they? I believe a motion picture should encourage, inspire and uplift us, not degrade us, not be a stumbling block.  Because of this belief, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Batman v Superman—already a film too dark and joy-zapping, could become better by adding additional problematic content.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that this blog isn’t about whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea for Batman v Superman to come out as an R-rated movie. But Foust’s question made me consider a much bigger question: Should movie studio execs be asked to regularly brainstorm film ideas that would make us better people?

Does that smack of coercion? Put another way, is it better for Warner Bros. or Universal, for instance, to continue making movies using their current model (which we’ve all experienced the results from) or switch to one that self-regulates a “mandate” to produce films to make us better people, which in turn would make us a better nation?

This is, of course, not a question that studio executives are currently pondering. It’s just a dream of mine. Or more accurately stated, It’s just a dream of mine based on the way Hollywood used to make films.

USA Today writer Jim Michaels described it this way in a February op-ed:

When the military needed more recruits to man bombers during World War II, it turned to Hollywood. The movies had already glamorized pilots, and recruiting offices were flooded with young men eager to earn their wings. But the military also needed navigators …

Gen. Hap Arnold, chief of the Army Air Forces, met with Jack Warner, the legendary studio head of that era, and described the problem. … Warner responded with The Rear Gunner, a 1943 film [pictured above] that showcased the heroics of a B-24 gunner who saved the day when he blasted a Japanese Zero.

Personally, I believe we would be wise to go back to this Arnold/Warner model from the 1940s. It seemed to work well then. And I can’t help but think it could work well again. For instance, I can only imagine what could happen if a studio intentionally set about tackling the egregious practice of sex slavery. (Yes, I know there have been a few films made on this subject, but I’m talking about one with major Hollywood actors and a powerful, true story brought to cinematic life with a huge budget). Or how about championing the plight of impoverished orphans? Or a film that highlights what can happen when Christians and Muslims actually care about one another, and seek one another’s well-being? Certainly, there’s a story out there along this line that would inspire some copycat acts of unity.

Some would argue, “Do we really need more message movies?” I’d counter with my belief that all movies are message movies. Some are just more positive than others. I’d just like to see an end to films that degrade us and nudge us toward being more “me” focused at the expense of making us “better” focused.

So, let me ask you, would you like to see Hollywood become more intentional about inspiring us and uplifting us? Or does that sound like too much propaganda? And if you think Hollywood should return to its 1940s concern for society, how in the world do we get there?

Of course, Hollywood execs would no doubt disagree with me completely. They’d argue that they’re already putting out a number of encouraging and inspiring films, movies designed to move the cultural needle to a more positive place. (Inspirational movies like Race or 42, for instance. They’d probably also argue that films like The Big Short, as profane as it is, would be important message movies, too, intended to inspire people to work toward change.) But are they really? And what about a film like Mother’s Day that admittedly has a lot of pro-motherhood sentiment? Doesn’t that help reinforce the idea that moms matter? Does it really matter that the film also contains a number of problematic messages? Doesn’t the positivity overrule any significant concerns?  My colleague, Paul Asay, will tackle these and other questions as he expands on my premise in an upcoming blog. Stay tuned.

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

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