In my last article on violent media, I finished with two points. Firstly, that we must understand death, and teach our children about it. They will encounter violence and sin, and they may even face a martyr’s death themselves. And secondly, that there is a distinct difference between describing the heroic deaths of martyrs, and being a patron of the Coliseum.
In this article, I want to also encourage extreme caution. If we bring our children to the Coliseum to teach them about martyrs, we must be careful that they don’t enjoy it too much. We must be certain that they understand and love the lessons that we want them to learn, and be sure that they don’t love the wrong thing.
If we remember Philippians 4:8, we will always try to avoid bad images and bad ideas. A bad idea is far more destructive than a bad image, but a bad idea is easier to talk about – easier to explain and break down without it being immediately defiling. A bad or ugly image may not always be a defiling image… but if we are tricked into appreciating and enjoying the ugliness, then we have been defiled.
The film Gladiator is one example of good and bad ideas, and good and bad images. The film is critical of the bloody entertainments of a cruel tyrant, but is full of gratuitous violence itself. Moviegoers were told to despise Commodus for bringing poor slaves into the arena for slaughter AND to enjoy watching the hero slaughter other poor slaves. Maximus even criticizes the Roman audiences for being entertained by slaughter, but what is the modern audience meant to be entertained by?
The Hunger Games series also gets to have its cake and eat it too – the audience is told to be critical of a Romish state’s horrific bloodsports, but children killing one another is the entire plot and appeal of the first book and movie; so popular that it was repeated in the second book and movie. Both Gladiator and Hunger Games are popular with Christians, but both are dangerous. Do we know what our children appreciate about these movies?
As Christians, we tend to be much more forgiving of violent content in our television and movies than blasphemy or sexual content, and there is actually a pretty good reason for that. Scenes in films that portray the breaking of the third commandment or seventh commandment will require actors to actually take God’s name in vain, or actually expose themselves as they attempt to arouse the audience.
On the other hand, scenes that show the breaking of the sixth commandment only require that actors get some fake blood on them. There is no real death, injury, or even anger on set, and we know this. It’s not necessarily defiling to the actors to kill or be killed, which makes it less uncomfortable to watch, and possibly less defiling to us.
However, we should not let our guard down. Genesis 9:6 says that “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.” The shedding of blood in both cases is a deadly serious thing. Unlawful murder is punished by lawful execution, and we can’t take either lightly. The reason is simple; we are made in the image of God.
In today’s world, there is a clear fascination with not just the shedding of blood, but with whole splashes of gore. Movie murders have gone from a trickle of fake blood to an explosive torrent, and horror movies have spawned a new genre of “torture porn” revolving around super-graphic human ruin. Zombies have infested almost every type of entertainment, and audiences wallow in the corruption and decay of death before these rotting corpses – corpses of men made in the image of God – are hacked and smashed to pieces.
Fallen men will always be tempted to enjoy the destruction of God’s image-bearers as long as they desire to rebel against God. I believe that this is why there is always a tendency in pagan cultures towards more graphic depictions of obliteration – not just death, but disintegration and defilement of that image.
So let’s ask ourselves: Just what are we enjoying? The dramatic conflict or the destruction of the Imago Dei? At the end of the action movie do we cheer because justice is done, or because some extreme physical consequences just splattered the villain like a bug? Do we like Maximus as a character because he’s an honorable man, or because he is really good at lopping off arms and heads?
And as we seek to use stories that contain death and violence to instruct and encourage our children, we need to have their hearts. We need to know where their affections lie, and how we can teach them hard lessons without putting stumbling blocks in their way.