The Moral of the Story: The Hidden Message You Are Missing in Media

*this article is part of a series and includes portions from the book EKKLESIA RISING: THE ORGANIZATION FORMERLY KNOWN AS CHURCH. Here is Part 1: DEAR YOUTH LEADERS, PLEASE DROP THE POP CULTURE REFERENCES 

It’s no secret that Christians are late to the game on the production end of the entertainment industry. It’s only been recently that we really began engaging this sphere of influence. This leaves us with an interesting situation. Christians are being entertained primarily by those who do not acknowledge, let alone submit to God. Even if an individual is not intentionally subverting kingdom principles with their product, the fact that they don’t acknowledge God’s existence, let alone His sovereignty, will eventually come through in their message. With this in mind, we find ourselves negotiating: “Is this okay to watch? Is that okay to listen to? Should my children or my congregation be entertained by these things?”

In answering these questions, Christians tend to focus on nudity, language, and violence? Unfortunately, the standards that we have set miss out on a key element. I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about these things. However, I am more concerned about the spirit and the message behind that content. This often goes entirely unaddressed. We care more about the world’s rating for a movie than what message that movie is carrying into our hearts and minds. The”moral of the story” is often far more impactful (and subversively so) than something like profanity. We need to begin asking ourselves, what message or messages are being delivered through the narrative of the film or the lyrics in the song.  

For example, when I was in middle school, Will Smith was the good, clean musical artist. He didn’t use profanity in his music. Eminem even made fun of him for it. But here is the thing that I was totally unaware of at the time. His music had the same message that was being presented by other artists. For instance, look at this portion of his lyrics for the song Miami:

“Yo I heard the rainstorms ain’t nothin to mess with
But I can’t feel a drip on the strip, it’s a trip
Ladies half-dressed, fully equipped
And they be screamin out, (Will we loved your last hit)
So I’m thinkin I’ma scoop me somethin hot
In this south-sea merengue melting pot
Hottest club in the city, and it’s right on the beach
Temperature get to ya, it’s about to reach
Five-hundred degrees
In the carribean seas, with the hot mommies
Screamin (Aii poppy)
Everytime I come to town, they be spottin me
In the drop Bentley, ain’t no stoppin me
So, cash in your door
We flow to this fashion show
Pound for pound anywhere you go
Yo, ain’t no city in the world like this
And if you ask how I know I gots ta plead the fifth”

It’s the same message pop music has been delivering for decades now (money, materials, experientialism, objectification of women, casual sex, the male “pimp” persona, etc.). There may be no profanity, nudity, or violence, but its still telling the same story, selling the same lifestyle, and influencing the same group of people. In fact, it may reach a wider audience because it is “clean(er).”

But it isn’t just the music. Consider the hidden messages in children’s movies – the way women have been sexualized in Disney movies (look at the social hierarchy painted in Beauty and the Beast through Gaston, Lefou, and the three bimbettes[whose breasts happen to get caught on a well handle and shoved into their faces btw]), the moral of the story in cartoons, the witchcraft, the horror, and even torture in movies that young children watch. There are many hidden messages that take many forms and use many different delivery techniques.

This may not be the most glaring example, but its subtlety speaks volumes: The Croods. It seems like a harmless movie. There is no profanity. It is about a family. Plugged In even gave it a rare 4.5 plugs! However, what is the movie really about? What is the moral of the story? Watch the relationship between the daughter and the father. The underlying message is that parents are stuck in their ways and they need their children to move them forward in life. It’s about rebellion. The moral of the story: The conservative father wanted to stay in the dark cave, but the progressive daughter wanted to live a life of exploration. What’s the result? The final line as spoken by the daughter: “So from now on, we’ll stay out here… where we can follow the light.” What do children hear? “Sometimes your parents are wrong and illogically conservative, but it’s okay, because you can teach them a better way – and once they finally come around, then you’ll all live happily ever after.”

Movies and television are especially powerful normalizers, because they create a context for certain standards. They give an audio-visual representation of events. Visual media doesn’t just tell people how to live, it shows them how to live, often in an unrealistic, idealized form. Artistic license allows filmmakers to create a subconscious message around the content. Note, it may even be subconscious for the artist themselves. If, for example, the artist portrays a group of people accepting something as normal, then that event looks normal to the viewer. While a single instance may not be powerful enough to change an individual’s perspective on a subject, each viewing creates a sense of normality around those events.

The 2014 film, Obvious Child, is a comedy about abortion. It received 92% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. One of these critics appears to be aware of the underlying intent of the movie: “By placing the abortion in the context of a much broader series of events, Robespierre [the writer and director] normalizes it.” This was not a religious response. It came from a secular critic who gave the movie a positive review.

The point I am trying to make is simple: Pay attention to the moral of the story, the underlying messages, and even the subliminal messages if you can catch them. 

Tomorrow’s article will focus on the question: “How Should Parents and Pastors Prepare Youth for a Secular World?”

The following article will give you “5 Steps to Become a Master of Recognizing Hidden Messages in Media.”

The final article in the series will show you “5 Anti-Christian Philosophies that You Have Already Bought Into & How to Recognize Them When They Show Up”

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