Hollywoods Attack On Religion
Length: 1585 words (4.5 double-spaced pages)
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The section that I have chosen to analyze from the book Hollywood vs.
America is "The Attack on Religion." In this part of the book, Michael Medved
discusses the shift in attitude Hollywood has made toward religion, from
acceptable to contemptible. He takes a look at the messages being sent in films,
music and television in the last 15 to 20 years and analyzes their effects. In
general, Hollywood depicts religion in an unfavorable manner, according to
Medved. Moreover, Medved also argues that, not only has Hollywood taken a
hostile stance toward religion, but it has paid the price, literally, for doing
so. All of Medved's arguments are well supported and documented, making them
seemingly futile to argue against. Yet, Hollywood, which includes films, music
and television, continues to disregard the obvious facts that Medved has
In the first chapter of this section, "A Declaration of War," Medved
discusses the facts surrounding the protest which took place on August 11, 1988,
in opposition to the release of the motion picture The Last Temptation of Christ.
MCA/Universal, which funded the Martin Scorsese film, called the protesters a
"know-nothing wacky pack" (38). However, as Medved points out, the protest was
"the largest protest ever mounted against the release of a motion picture" (37)
and included such groups as the National Council of Catholic Bishops, the
Southern Baptist Convention, twenty members of the U.S. House of Representatives
and prominent figures such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Ken Wales, former
vice president at Disney studios. Even with such strong opposition from these
respected groups and people, the studio refused to listen and stood behind its
First Amendment rights.
MCA/Universal was even supported by the Motion Picture Association of
America, which stated that "The . . . MPAA support MCA/Universal in its absolute
right to offer to the people whatever movie it chooses" (41). However, Medved
rebukes this statement, arguing that "absolute right" wasn't the issue; the
issue "concerned the movie company's choices, not its rights" (41). He supports
this argument further by indicating that the MPAA would never support a film
portraying Malcolm X as a paid agent of Hoover's FBI or portraying Anne Frank
"as an out-of-control nymphomaniac" (41). By releasing The Last Temptation of
Christ, the studio positions Jesus, God and Christianity below these prominent
figures in history because it is portraying Jesus and other religious figures in
uncharacteristic situations that would never be associated with these historical
figures. This is supported by past experiences when movies were edited so as to
not offend animal rights activists, gay advocacy groups, and ethnic
Leaders of the motion picture business showed more concern
with possible sacrilege against the religious traditions of
a single Hopi village than with certain offense to the faith
of tens of millions of believing Christians; the prospect of
being labeled "antiwolf" produced greater worry than the
prospect of being labeled "anti-Christ" (42).
Of course, the response to this is that the changes were made during the
production of the other films, not afterward. Again, Medved argues back,
pointing out that "Martin Scorsese and his associates kept their plans for The
Last Temptation a closely guarded secret from all church leaders" (43).
The press also distorted the movement against the release of the film by
"focusing on one utterly unrepresentative individual as the preeminent symbol of
that movement: the Reverend R. L. Hymers" (43). His predictions of impending
apocalypse, his violent outbursts, and his history of legal problems "lived up
to anyone's worst nightmare of deranged religious fanatic. Naturally, the press
couldn't get enough of him" (43). The press also misrepresented the movement's
main objections, according to Medved, by focusing on the "dream sequence" in
which Jesus makes love to Mary Magdalene, "and asserting that this image alone
had provoked the furor in the religious community" (44). However, Christian
leaders objected to more than that; they identified "more than twenty elements"
(44) that were offending to them. In other words, "the press helped to make the
protesters look like narrow-minded prudes" (44). As a result, Hollywood misled
itself and the public into believing that the protesters' main objective was to
censor the film. As Medved says, "What they [protester] wanted from the
industry wasn't censorship; it was sensitivity" (45).
Besides the fact that The Last Temptation of Christ was so heavily
protested against, it was a bad movie, according to Medved, who is also a movie
critic. He even went on the record saying,
It is the height of irony that all this controversy should
be generated by a film that turns out to be so breathtakingly
bad, so unbearably boring. In my opinion, the controversy
about this picture is a lot more interesting than the film
However, the movie industry defended the film by nominating Scorsese for an
Academy Award as Best Director. This response by the movie industry "provides a
good example of the film establishment rallying around a bad film to protect its
own selfish interest . . . that film, . . . was a slap in the face to
Christians everywhere," (48) according to Mickey Rooney, one of only a few
established Hollywood figures who spoke out against the film. And in the end,
MCA/Universal got what it deserved, according to Medved, losing at least $10
million because people, Christian or not, realized how bad the movie was.
The confrontation between Christians and Hollywood over The Last
Temptation of Christ was just one of the incidents in the last 15 years in which
Hollywood has attacked religion. In the past, leaders of the film industry
"understood the importance of honoring the faith of their patrons. For them, it
was not only a matter of good business, but an element of Œgood citizenship'"
(51). Films such as Going My Way, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Boys Town,
portrayed religious characters "in a sympathetic light" (51). But in the last
15 years or so, "Hollywood has swung in the opposite extreme" (52). When a
religious figure is portrayed now, it is likely that "he will turn out to be
corrupt or crazy or probably both" (52). Medved goes on to discuss several
movies which attacked Catholics, Born-Again Christians, and Jews. He gives a
brief synopsis of these movies, highlighting the portions which portray religion
in a negative way. For the most part, the movie titles are unfamiliar. This
can be accounted for by the fact that "the overwhelming majority of these
pictures performed abysmally at the box office" (64).
The main reason these films did so poorly is probably due to the fact
that there is "a significant and growing percentage of the American
population" (70) that is committed to a traditional faith. On the other hand,
most of the people who play a large part in producing movies claim no religious
affiliation whatsoever: "93 percent . . . say they seldom or never attend
religious services" (71). This fact is one of the main reasons why Hollywood
has lost touch when it comes to religion in movies, according to Medved: ". . .
unrepresentative personal perspective has helped to blind Hollywood's leaders to
the intense involvement of most Americans with organized faith" (71). And when
movies "have portrayed organized faith in a favorable and affectionable light,"
(75) they have been successful:
. . . the extraordinary films mentioned above shared another
common element: an impressive level of both commercial and
critical success. These seven pictures won two Oscars for Best
Picture . . . three for Best Actress, and one for Best Actor (76).
Of course, the film industry isn't solely responsible for Hollywood's
attack on religion. The music industry and television are also guilty of
slandering religion. Lyrics by groups such as R.E.M., Black Sabbath and Judas
Priest indicate the music industry's contempt for religion. For television,
"God's influence . . . is all but invisible" (79). Statistics show that "only
5.4 percent of the characters had an identifiable religious affiliation
although 89 percent of Americans claim affiliation with an organized faith" (80).
Religion's only outlet for television is "relegated mostly to Sunday mornings
and televangelists" (80).
Medved analyzes the reasons for Hollywood's attack on religion and
narrows it down to two specific reasons. One reason is that "movie, TV, and
music moguls are motivated by the pursuit of profit" (87) and they believe there
is money to be made by slandering religion. But the main reason is that they
are in constant pursuit of "the respect of their peers" (87). And religion "is
the one subject in the world that everyone acknowledges as fundamentally
serious" (88). So when writers and directors attack religion, "no matter how
clumsy or contrived that attack may be, they can feel as if they've made some
sort of important and courageous statement" (88). Thus, "a filmmaker can win
the respect of his colleagues, even if his work is rejected by the larger
It is obvious that Hollywood's attacks on religion have been fruitless;
Hollywood loses money and established religions have been degraded publicly.
Medved is thorough in evaluating Hollywood's stance on religion, and even more
thorough in knocking it down. His arguments against Hollywood for its attacks
on religion are supported by facts that Hollywood has refused to realize. It is
absurd that Hollywood continues to attack religion, especially when figures show
that a vast majority of the population claim some sort of affiliation with an
established religion. It would only make sense for Hollywood to change its ways
and adopt "a greater sense of neutrality and balance . . . when it comes to
portrayals of organized faith" (90).