MOVIES: Cinematic culture critically ill

Baptist Press
Posted: Jun 03, 2014 4:22 PM
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Arrogance, misuse of power, and an acceptance of all things hedonistic have caused one world-changing nation after another to sink from glory to mediocrity.

Is it America's turn? Study America's cinematic history and you'll discover that moviemakers have mapped a secular destiny for America that doesn't bode well for its citizens.

Studios were once regulated by a motion picture code established in the 1930s to protect the values and moral concepts society considered the standard for living. Violent acts had to be filmed in a way that would not jolt the viewer. Actors could not utter "God" or "Jesus" in a profane manner. (Imagine that!) And nudity and perversity could not be shown.

A lot has changed since the demise of the code in the late 1960s. Unfortunately, not all change is progress.

Throughout the decades since the demise of the code, films have abandoned a respect for biblical principles and begun embracing concepts that too often debase the culture. Here are examples featuring films on several subjects.


Then: "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950). This heist caper gone wrong is as much a character study as a suspense adventure. Intense with realistic situations and dialogue, it contains absolutely no obscenity, and the criminals pay a price.

Now: "American Hustle." The acting is so good in this tale of a con artist drafted into a sting operation by the FBI, many tend to overlook its crude and deleterious abuses. Seventy uses of the f-word alone pepper the players' speech patterns, along with 10 profane uses of God's name. Viewing it, I could find no moral compass worth the cacophony of verbal and visual abuses I witnessed. Can you name a crime film from the current decade that doesn't contain the same abusive content?

Family life

Then: "Father of the Bride" (1950). Spencer Tracy starred in this sensitive and often hilarious look at a father dealing with his daughter's upcoming nuptials. The comedy stemmed from human behavior, not the more common bathroom humor of today.

Now: Oscar contenders "August Osage County" and "Nebraska" both concern the kind of dysfunctional families one might find inhabiting a Tennessee Williams play, only amped with enough invective exclamation to cause a sailor's ears to bleed.

Both 2014 films revolved around Midwestern families, but featured them as completely devoid of any spiritual awareness. Sure, we can learn from the mistakes and foibles of those in movies who don't seek to develop the spiritual side of their nature; but whatever the positive message found in these dramatic comedies, it's eclipsed by noxious excesses. If a filmmaker wants to catch the true flavor of the Midwest, it seems a bit myopic to exclude any example of a committed churchgoer.


Like sexuality, violence has always been a cinematic component. "Bonnie & Clyde" (1967), though stylish, was a trend-setting gangster melodrama containing two things that are now synonymous with hoodlum biopics. First, it portrayed a sympathetic side to outlaws who in reality were cruel and deviant. Second, it was grisly in its depictions of slow-motion killings.

When it was released, the graphic orchestrations of its bloody violence were considered controversial and received a great deal of negative response from critics and audiences. The volume and gore were unprecedented.

Now, deafening sound effects and carnage are commonplace in action films.

Am I saying movies were better before the loss of the code? Many were. But my analysis is not meant as a critical evaluation of today's films, so much as an examination of what our society now accepts as, well, acceptable.

Hollywood will always gear its products toward our baser instincts. But there is a price to pay for a constant satisfying of hedonistic desires.

Each decade newcomers to the entertainment community push the envelope when it comes to decency, responsibility and a redefining of moral standards. Moviemakers keep dumbing down and crudding up the culture, taking baby steps with each production that distance us farther from class or social decorum. True, moviemakers are attempting to influence the culture; but they are also reflecting what culture already freely embraces.

Cinematic class is as dead as Cary Grant, and morality in movies is critically ill.

In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for and is a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In It," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service, reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (

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