For those of us who enjoy TV and movies, late spring and early summer can be an exciting time of year. Most of our favourite network TV shows are winding up their current seasons with a final flurry of “must-see” episodes, often culminating in a cliffhanger designed to draw us back next fall. At the cinemas, the summer blockbuster season is just around the corner, with the first trickle of big-budget event movies starting to hit the screens.

So much anticipation, so many options. So easy to get overly absorbed in media consumption, at the expense of other more important priorities.

And yet for all that, there’s a potential hidden benefit to this heightened viewing season. Such a wide array of alternatives, concentrated within a relatively short time span, can serve as a mirror to help us recognize the biases in our discernment as we make our entertainment choices throughout the year.

Cultural bias

Jon Acuff used to write a blog called Stuff Christians Like, poking gentle and sometimes not-so-gentle fun at strange and perplexing aspects of church culture, mostly in North America. One entry was called “Watching R-rated movies . . . but only if they're violent.” And Acuff made a valid point. Many Christians appear to have a far greater tolerance for violence in their movies – even brutal violence – than they do for sexuality or profanity.

Acuff argued that this is due to Christians assuming a certain licence toward violence because it’s frequently depicted in the Old Testament. But that reasoning fails when we consider that the OT also records incidents involving illicit sexuality, colourful language, occult practices and other negative activities.

In reality, the desensitization toward violence extends beyond the church to North American culture at large. Every summer, Hollywood releases more movies with bigger budgets that keep upping the ante on violent spectacle – what some critics have dubbed “disaster porn.” The film industry wouldn’t keep doing this if it wasn’t a successful formula.

Gender bias

We’re all familiar with the good-natured quid pro quo that sometimes goes on between couples when choosing the evening’s entertainment. If the woman agrees to sit through the newest action-adventure extravaganza with her man, he’ll have to watch at least one (and likely more than one) romantic “chick flick” with her.

On TV, particularly during peak season when the PVR gets a workout, the guy will record his latest violent cable shows and crime procedurals, complete with gory and graphic forensic content. The gal will record her favourite reality shows and nighttime soaps, programs that essentially revolve around attractive people jumping in and out of intimate relationships with each other.

Naturally these are very rough generalizations, but there is truth to them. That’s why networks and studios have target demographics, based on whether they’re trying to attract male or female viewers. And as with all biases, this one can cause relational tension in that we all find it easier to ignore or justify our own preferences than those of others.

Philosophical bias

Each summer brings with it at least a couple of animated kid-friendly features. More often than not, these wind up among the year’s top-grossing films because families flock to them en masse. Sure, there’s a bit of cartoon violence here, some gentle innuendo there (mostly for the amusement of the parents), but overall they’re considered clean, wholesome entertainment, suitable for all ages.

What often gets overlooked is the philosophical viewpoint underlying the film. Secular humanism, moral relativism, pantheism and other ideas inimical to Christianity are often just below the surface of these feel-good stories.

Unfortunately Christians have often followed the general culture in assuming that as long as there’s no sexuality, violence or bad language, the movie must be safe for their children. But the worldview promoted by the film can potentially be as harmful to kids in the long term – perhaps even more so – than any overtly negative content. Parents never go wrong by discussing a movie’s themes and theology with their children, even if it’s just a cartoon.

Personal bias

Beyond the influences of our culture, our gender and our worldview, among other factors, each of us have our own individual biases, things we prefer and things we prefer to avoid. We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss these as unfounded subjectivity. It’s an area in which our God-given consciences are engaged, and while these are not infallible guides, neither is it safe to ignore them.

Different people have different sensitivities, and for Christians, these are quite often linked to specific areas in which we struggle with temptation. The Apostle Paul reminds us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). It’s a principle that should be kept in mind regarding entertainment choices, as with everything else.

Finding the elusive line

When it comes to discernment with respect to the arts, including movies and TV, all of us have a line between what we find acceptable and what we don’t. For a very few, that line is simple – either anything goes or nothing does. Either embrace culture uncritically or reject it wholesale.

For most of us, however, it’s far more complex than that. We’re informed by the Scriptures about clear areas of sin. But beyond that, we’re called to pray and struggle with the grey regions of our preferences and biases, conditioned as they are by a whole network of factors.

God has set things up that way because He wants us to develop our critical thinking and sharpen our powers of discernment for His glory. The expanded TV and movie schedules during the spring and summer months offer an excellent opportunity to do just that.

© 2018 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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