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Would would Jesus watch?

2012/03/27

So I’m done with my immediate needs in Spanish, but I still have a lot to do. I can write a full post today, though.

When I was young, I was restricted in what I could watch and read. This is normal, but the standards were not. I had to deal with theological concerns in addition to the usual stuff about sex, violence and comprehension level. Primarily, this meant no magic, no ghosts and nothing supernatural that wasn’t religiously approved. Actually, I should back up a bit. We didn’t even have a TV until i was seven, so before that, I was restricted as to what I could read. I really internalized these rules at first. I remember an incident when I was about six. My parents checked out a bunch of children’s books from the Wichita library and were reading them to me. One book was about puppies. Halfway through the book, one puppy announced his intentions to solve his problems through magic. I put my hands over my ears and refused to listen further. My dad thought this was hilarious.

This attitude didn’t last though. As I related before, I was too much trouble to homeschool, so I ended up going to the local Calvary Chapel’s school. I had friends there who kept talking about all the cool stuff they saw on TV and I wanted in. Shortly after I turned seven, my dad’s dad took pity on us and mailed us his tiny old TV when he upgraded. I should point out that my dad was a computer programmer and televisions were hardly beyond the buying power of the common man in 1987. My dad could have purchased a better TV with what he made before lunch each day. The reason we didn’t have a television is my parents feared it was a bad influence. Ironically, my dad used to complain that his mom didn’t let him watch The Three Stooges because it was too violent. He saw no problem with it.

My parents had softened a bit on the TV issue by this point. Star Trek: The Next Generation had premiered a few months earlier. My dad had watched the premiere at the laundromat, but this wasn’t practical as a regular solution. He wanted a TV, too. He couldn’t very well reject a gift from his dad anyway, so it stayed. In fact, he bought a VCR (those were expensive in 1987) and borrowed tapes of the episodes he missed. We lived in a creaky old house, but I soon learned to crawl across the floor silently and get up and 6 am so I could watch shows like A Pup Named Scooby Doo and The Real Ghostbusters. I wasn’t supposed to, but I did anyway. In fact, it was really only my dad that cared about magic. After a couple of years, I was openly watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The New Adventures of He-Man, The Simpsons and any number of other shows he would have objected to in the afternoon because my mom didn’t care and he wasn’t home. It helped that my mom also liked The Simpsons. These days, my dad counts Ghostbusters among his favorite movies. He also really liked the Harry Potter series. He’s gone from the somewhat fringe Christian view that magic is evil to the more mainstream view that magic doesn’t exist.

The anti-magic people are still a sizable contingent, though. The Childcare Action Project caters to this crowd. Look at the opposition to Harry Potter. Look at the opposition to Pokémon. In fact, that Pokémon article sounds terribly familiar. It talks about kids being encouraged to relinquish their Pokémon cards to the church, who then burns them. Even if they aren’t evil, they’re a distraction from God. My church had an event like this when I was about fifteen to get rid of our secular entertainment, especially music.  In that case, we threw them on the fire ourselves. I think you can get a lot more participation when kids get to burn things themselves rather than giving to adults to burn later. It’s taking something they aren’t allowed to do, play with fire, and giving them an outlet to do it for Jesus. This is how religion normally ropes people in by their base desires. Someone didn’t think the event through.

This was part of a push by my pastor to get us kids to reject anything that wasn’t godly. If you are watching a TV show or movie and you think Jesus might be offended if he were there, turn it off or leave, because he is there. (This was the beginning of the WWJD fad.) I pushed back. I argued that it is possible for a work to promote values in line with the Bible without ever specifically invoking God. In fact, the book of Esther doesn’t mention God at all. For instance, who’s to say Boyz II Men’s hit, “I’ll Make Love to You,” is about premarital sex? It was written by a married man. The Bible has a whole book about how great sex is. Also, depicting something is not endorsing it. My sister went full-force with this initiative, though. For instance, I was trying to watch Batman: The Animated Series, and somebody shot Commissioner Gordon. Detective Bullock said, “Oh, God!” She turned off the TV and wouldn’t let me turn it back on. I complained to my mom, who took my side by this point.

When I was in high school, Focus on the Family put out a press release about the dangers of Pokémon. They didn’t like the ghosts, of course, but also claimed that it promoted gambling, evolution and the occult. Plus, they said that Pokémon fight to the death. I tried to find the actual article to link, but no dice. TV Tropes mentions this, but doesn’t have a link and the Google is getting confused by related issues. Our pastor’s wife gave it to my Mom because she was concerned about my younger siblings playing the games. By this point, they had been playing for several years and my mom knew enough about the games to know all their criticisms were way off base. She didn’t seem to ask why this would be, though. When I was about seventeen, the pastor told my dad that he thought it was unwise to let me watch Xena. I didn’t hear the conversation, so I don’t know his specific objections, but I can guess. My dad blew it off because he also liked the show. His only problem was that I stayed up to one thirty am to watch it. Thankfully, I had a tiny black & white TV in my room by this point. I don’t think my parents even knew about it. I didn’t need permission. All just made it seem like moral guardian groups will say anything to stop you from having unapproved fun. As I’ve grown older, I’ve just become convinced this is the truth.

There’s actually not any consistency across conservative Christians on these issues. For instance, my friend Peter wasn’t allowed to watch Dick Tracy when we were nine, because it has Warren Beatty and Madonna in it and his mom objected to other things they had been in and didn’t want to support them. No one else had rules like this. Some kids weren’t allowed to have anything secular.  Other friends got to see Terminator 2 in the theater. It turns into something you have to check with your kids’ friends’ parents about so you don’t cause problems, kind of like allergies.

My own rebellion wasn’t total. I wasn’t supposed to watch R-rated movies. When I was about twelve, my parents rented Medicine Man, which was rated R for a lot of National-Geographic-style nudity. They said they wanted me to watch it because it was a good movie. I refused. Of course, three years later or so, when we got the Internet, I had no qualms about sitting around piecing together newsgroup binaries files so I could look at pictures of lesbians having sex. Actually, if my parents had told me I was allowed to look at porn, I may have refused on principle. I was fairly defiant when I was young.

The area where I butted heads the most with my parents was violent video games. We were a Macintosh family, so I was interested in the Marathon series primarily. I was quite involved with the online community. I ran a website dedicated to modding the game and got a free copy of the Marathon Trilogy box set for helping to promote the release. My parents found it and made me take it to Best Buy for store credit. However, I actually had helped with the promotion in other ways and had a second copy I hid better. I still have it. For those of you unfamiliar with the games, you play a security officer on a colony ship who has to fight off an alien invasion, though the plot gets far more complicated later on. It’s a first-person shooter and probably on par with Doom for gore, though nothing bleeds red and none of the enemies are even vaguely human beyond being bipeds of roughly the right size. Follow the link to judge for yourself. My objection was that I was a teenager. I knew the difference between video games and real life. I opposed real-life violence. I also argued that violence isn’t necessarily meant to be taken literally. Playing a multiplayer video game is no more violent than any sport. It’s just competition, which isn’t the same thing. Of course, my dad didn’t like quite a few sports, including football, because they were also too violent.

I remember when I was little, my dad watched Robocop on TV. He thought it was the most offensive thing he had ever seen and that it was a nihilistic piece of violence-glorification. Keep in mind he saw the version that was edited for broadcast TV. Once I turned eighteen and got my own VCR, I headed right to the library and borrowed it. I thought it was one of the most brilliant criticisms of the amorality of popular media I had ever seen. Now that I’m an adult, I’m way more pacifistic than either of my parents. They both want to bomb Iran and my dad has repeatedly argued that we should nuke the entire Middle East. I doubt him watching Three Stooges when he was a kid or Robocop when he was thirty had anything to do with it. I oppose violence except as a last resort and think people are way too quick to move to their last resort in general. When I was about twenty-three, I had been away from my parents for a few years and started being able to separate criticisms of media violence from their views and their church’s views. I started to see the point of some media critics thanks to people supposedly on my side who made really bad arguments and a certain show called 24. I will elaborate on that tomorrow.

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