Let me begin with this tweet I came across yesterday from Sean McDowell:
A for Ant-Man and the Wasp: fun, creative, and clean. pic.twitter.com/QAyW5EaWoG
— Sean McDowell (@Sean_McDowell) July 14, 2018
Fun? Check! Creative? Check! Clean? Check!
I know what “fun” and “creative” are. But what does McDowell mean when he says “clean”? Presumably, he means something like this: no sex, nudity or profanity and only minimal (i.e. cartoonish, without blood) violence.
I wouldn’t have a problem with that if McDowell had added something like “Great movie for the kids!” After all, I too am a parent who seeks to be sensitive about what my child is exposed to. (Though now that she is 16, that isn’t the concern it once was.) And thus, over the years I have benefited greatly from the clear summaries of film content at Kids in Mind and Commonsense Media (and also the user-driven reviews at IMDB.com). For example, did you know that Kids in Mind ranks the new Mr. Rogers documentary (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) as having more sex/nudity than Dwayne Johnson’s new blockbuster Skycraper? Thus, if you’re especially sensitive to sex/nudity, don’t take the tots to Mr. Rogers! (That said, the doc still only scores a lowly 3/10.)
But McDowell didn’t add that disclaimer. In other words, he didn’t specify that it was a review with kids in mind. This leads me to believe that he considers “cleanliness” (i.e. low levels of sex, nudity, violence, and profanity) as an intrinsic value irrespective of the audience.
And if that doesn’t describe McDowell himself, it certainly does describe many Christians who do retain this kind of puritanical sensibility.
Ironically, this Leave it to Beaver puritanical mindset has nothing to do with the Bible which is packed with sex, violence, and a surprising range of profane language (language which is often softened by translators).
It also is a ridiculous means of selecting moral films. For example, by this crude metric, Schindler’s List is not clean since it depicts full frontal male and female nudity, a couple brief sex scenes, sickening levels of violence and human degradation, and a moderate level of profane language.
I’m currently mid-way through Ken Burns excellent new documentary series The Vietnam War. At one point in the series, a journalist recollects that by 1965 the US military had taken to counting dead bodies as a means of judging the success of the war effort. It was an altogether crude and deeply misleading means to measure success in South Vietnam. Nonetheless, the journalist observed drily, when you can’t measure what counts, you count what you can measure.
That sober observation might equally be applied to puritanical Christians who think simply counting up how many f-bombs are dropped and whether blood is split or genitals are shown is an effective way of judging the moral fiber of a film. For individuals like this, it is easier to have a checklist of puritanical offense than to engage the sophisticated themes of a morally complex and nuanced cinematic universe. Again, when you can’t measure what counts, you count what you can measure.
I have discussed these themes on several occasions in the past. See, for example, my articles “How many ‘F’ words in a film is TOO many?” and “Finding Jesus at the movies, but not in the Jesus movies“.