The Critical Perspective is Not Enough

One of the most persistent liberal myths is that art has no moral content, that reading or watching or listening to something can never be in itself evil. This is something that can only be true if, conversely, art does not have the power to affect or change us for the good. It is only possible to believe this if you think all art is essentially meaningless and people are insensate vehicles for random information consumption…

Game of Thrones reminds us that boredom and despair are, theologically speaking, synonyms.

That’s Walther at The Week. He makes a good point about how a worldview devoid of meaning degrades music to noise. The point at the end there about boredom and despair being interchangeable speaks to an approach to media that lacks the constructive sense, the sorting of critical thought. Too often this kind of boredom is the popular approach.

I’ve written before about Fight Club Bros and how being shaken by the taboo often also shakes loose the first actual thoughts in that particular subspecies. Fight Club is confronting them with SOMETHING and they can pick up on that because the movie isn’t subtle. But being neanderthals so untrained, they mistake that spark for fire and are left staring in the dark with an elevated view of themselves. Their boredom and despair become myopia and haughtiness, Fight Club just happened to be the popular mechanism for this at a certain place and time.

Do undergraduate guys watch this movie anymore? I’ve seen the Steve Jobs mythos and Walter Isaacson’s book take its place for a certain kind.

What “turn your brain off” despair and self inflected reaching both have in common is they rob the particular artifact of its truth… and you of its good.

In the other ditch, on the far end of over meaning-making, over spiritualization and blind unmeasured exuberance for a pet hobby is the Gospel in All Media crowd.

Here’s Loftus at Mere Orthodoxy pushing back against that:

Thus, we must look to see if there are Biblical themes that we can apply and use to relevantly communicate the Good News to our neighbors who are fascinated by the show. Is one of the many characters who gets eviscerated a Christ figure? Does the darkness and despair of the series point us to our longing for a True King? Are the sorcery and swords meant to help us more deeply imagine a world in which monsters can be slain? Is there a Gospel message in Game of Thrones?

No. There isn’t.

Then there are the general wisdom considerations, the ultimate questions, the first things, the moral opportunity costs to consider. John Piper:

Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies…

It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ.

It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me…

I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television. So we have never had a TV in 40 years of marriage (except in Germany, to help learn the language). I don’t regret it.

We are not at the movies for trivia. We are at the movies for truth, visceral truth. Critical thought is the mechanism for wringing that truth out. I don’t know if I’d call them “prayers” (still need to read Larsen’s book) but truth here is an externality which his framing is getting at.

My point may sound too ecumenical for a Piper type and certainly his point about time and the criticism of the popular mode is shared by myself (read the top paragraphs again if you don’t think so).

At the end of his quote Piper stumbles upon one of the greatest things about small “t” truth in art, the very stuff of it, that it is shared. He learned German! Is there a better example of squelching alienation like learning the very language of others.

This truth is social, it’s between us and in us. It binds us in a unique and yes, ecumenical way.

As to the value in the production of the pictures, I think of Hail, Caesar! not Game of Thrones. Not everything is sex and death. These unique trades can be good in their own way. Cables and stands, lights and rigging, apple-boxes and car crashes.

Critical thought is discussion itself. Sorting and confronting. “Prick him and he bleeds movies” cuts me but could I counter that you might as well be saying “Prick him and he bleeds milkshakes, lawn chairs, washing machines and refrigerators” all four of those things as a time commitment are real competition. But it’s not that those are the only things, as certainly movies are not the only thing (treating them that way can be bad for movies). I could tell you a lot of good things about movies because ours is a world of abundant good. As my long-suffering friends could tell you, I match that enthusiasm bloviating on the virtues of the modern utilities and a good chocolate dairy product.

I want to roll back and agree with Piper, Walther and Loftus. You need to take the time to know what the truth is (to Piper) so that you can make a moral determination (to Walther) that is measured, not naive or counterproductive (to Loftus).

So, the critical perspective is not enough.

BUT, it is a grace upon grace, a truth upon truth. An icing of excess, the stuff of society and civilization.

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