Good Entertainment vs. Evil Entertainment

While reading in our church's guidelines for youth on the subject of Entertainment and the Media, I was inspired to broaden my study. In Moroni 7:12 it says, "Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil." That seems pretty straightforward and obvious in how it applies to media, but what about movies that aren't evil, but also can't be considered to be from God?  Is there a spectrum of Good movies and Evil movies or just a simple dividing line?  Could it be displayed in the fashion of RottenTomatoes - FooBar movie is 78% Good (or 22% Evil)?  (That's what we try to do here, more or less, with our less-than-perfect rating system.)  I think that there is value to this system, but would it also be necessary to categorize all movies into two separate categories of either Good or Evil?  Let's look at how we could define Good and Evil first.

Elder M. Russel Ballard, Quorum of the Twelve in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stated, with regards to Good media, that we can
"find movies and TV comedies and dramas that entertain and uplift and accurately depict the consequences of right and wrong."  
He then continues by defining one aspect of evil media,
"Often media's most devastating attacks on family are not direct or frontal or openly immoral. Intelligent evil is too cunning for that, knowing that most people still profess belief in family and in traditional values. Rather the attacks are subtle and amoral—issues of right and wrong don't even come up" (emphasis added).
According to Elder Ballard, then, if a movie doesn't "accurately depict the consequences of right and wrong" it is evil. In Orson Scott Card's A Storyteller in Zion, he says divides evil into three categories: Evil depicted, advocated, and enacted by fiction.  Regarding the depiction of evil,
"Freedom of speech ... includes the right to speak about evil.  Our own General Authorities [of the Church] devote a considerable amount of time to speaking about evil, from the evil of Communism to the evil of child abuse, from the evil of non-attendance at sacrament meeting to the evil of forgetting to pray."  
The advocation of evil is also a right we're guaranteed under the Constitution.
"Any speaker may advocate any evil act.  In America, a speaker may advocate revolution, crime, cowardice, dishonesty...  In any society, what seems evil to one person may seem right and just to another -- and i na free society, the government is forbidden to silence one and promote the other.  Instead, each individual is expected to listen to all and make up his own mind."  
Lastly, enacting evil,
"The traditional example is the person who shouts "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  He can call it a joke; he can claim that his freedom of speech allows him to lie; but in fact his lie, his joke, may cost people life or limb in the panic that ensues...  There are times when some rights conflict, and a free society, to preserve itself, must place limits on its own freedom." 
Card then helps us better understand how these evils are different and why enacting.
"All fiction depicts evil, but the mere depiction of evil is not wrong.  And, because all fiction unavoidably expresses the moral convictions of the writer and because every writer will have different moral convicitions, some fiction is bound to advocate things that at least some readers think is evil.  But even that advocacy is protected.
"It is only when the fiction actually enacts evil in itself that it becomes dangerous, and the government of a free society can begin to consider limiting it.
"Pornography is the obvious case of fiction enacting evil.  It is designed to give direct or indirect sexual gratification...
"The problem arises when the untrained reader finds a passage [or scene] describing a sexual event or a violent one in a work of fiction [or on screen] that is not aimed at the pornography-consuming market.  Unaccustomed to reading at all, this would-be censor can only understand that he sees a sex act and cannot see what purpose that depiciton of evil might serve in the rest of the book [movie]."
Very few movies are moral or Good from beginning to end.  If any "subtle" or "amoral" issues exist in the film and seem to overshadow any Good, it probably isn't worth seeing again or recommending to others (no matter how funny or well-written it may be). Reading further in Moroni we find that,
12 ...the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
Verses 14 and 15 are a bit disconcerting.  Judging the good from the bad isn't always as plain as night and day, dusk and dawn can be easily mistaken if we don't know the direction the light is coming from.  This brings us to verse 16, which tells us exactly how to make this a "plain" process,
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
When we are clean and pure and able to house the Spirit of Christ, being able to judge good from evil will be "as plain ... as the daylight is from the dark night."

Now, to bring you back to the main point of this article, what is a good way to analyze the evil in film?  It may serve useful to use Card's categorization, though I'll definitely need to read through it some more and think about how I would apply it.  The one difficult category for me is "enacting evil."  I understand what pornography is and realize that there is some pornography that is obviously pornography, but there are other images/text that aren't quite as definite (as well as similar discrepancies in classification of violence, profanity, etc.).  I'll save this topic for a separate post.  In the mean time, what do you think about what's been written here?  Is it ok to rate the morality of a movie on a scale?  Should it be divided into good or evil?  Perhaps a mixture of the two would be good - maybe a show has somewhat of a moral message, but a stand should be taken to either recommend or not recommend it for others to watch.

1 comment:

  1. What a great article! We will have to visit about this! Love you!