A teenager speaks on new movie standards

This is a guest post by Camila B, a teenager who is an avid movie watcher.  Please keep all comments civil and polite.

By Camila B.

 I have been thinking about something all day that has gnawed at me quite persistently.   The subject is movies, movies throughout the decades and the negative changes that I have noticed.   Now the difference of me writing about this compared to, let’s say, a middle-aged woman, is that a ‘teenager’ is supposed to be quite biased towards the cool new things that movies explore.  I understand the charm of the unknown, but when I search deeper I’ve realized that the corruption viewed daily by millions of people is disgusting.

 Now I don’t mean to imply that all modern movies are bad and are corrupting our youth. I have seen plenty of movies throughout the years with their share of explicit content and I don’t see myself as necessarily corrupt. I understand that all people should have the choice to see anything they want, in fact, I lean towards freedom of choice in every sense of the word.  It doesn’t cause me any anger to have these movies out there because I have the choice of not seeing them and everyone else should be able to choose otherwise.  What does bother me, and what i feel should be taken in to serious consideration, is the glorification these movies receive. Our society has changed in many ways, things have become much less taboo to the extent where sex is something we see on national television. Most swear words are now used without any form of censorship.  I understand that we must ‘evolve’ and be ‘broad minded’. I have no problem being exposed to the world in a correct and mindful way because living in a fantasy isn’t going to help teenagers realize the dangers out there with sex, drugs, and alcohol, but the moment we start glorifying such actions at such a young age is when things become a problem.  Teenagers lean towards rebellion and look up to idols that portray that message; but at the same time media is not the only factor that affects a teenager, and definitely not enough to make them drug addicts and sex fiends. There are too many factors to name. My rant has to do more with the glorification of terrible movies.

I feel an example is in order. I was speaking to my younger sister (she is 12) who was watching “Gone With the Wind” (needless to say we have amazing parents who taught us well when it comes to movie choices.) and she asked me if it had won an Oscar.    As most people know “Gone With the Wind,” along with “Casablanca” and other great early movies, received a lot of recognition.   That brought my train of thought to this years Oscars, and past year’s and the movies that had won “Best Picture”. Now this years choice was a shock to me, considering the buzz about the horrible movie The Black Swan, but I was pleased when Colin Firth took the stand. The “Kings Speech” was refreshing, along with last years winner “The Blind Side,” but I have nothing positive to say beyond that. I would like to center my hatred, and I do mean hatred, towards the controversial “Black Swan” movie. Now please understand that I’m not a very conservative thinker. My college applications are being shipped to Amherst and CU Boulder soon enough. I am a libertarian when it comes to political issues and I feel no need to look down upon people who think differently than me, I even consider myself Semi-bohemian. But that movie brings bile to my stomach.

A little background information on the movie. Natalie Portman plays this mentally insane ballerina. She becomes obsessed with perfection as she struggles to be both the white swan and the black swan in the performance of Swan Lake she’s in. She has a growing paranoia about Lily, (Mila Kunis) her understudy, as she feels her trying to take the role away from her. To cut the story short there is a scene where Natalie Portmans character touches herself inappropriately in front of her mother for reasons unknown to me. (Here critics would say “I just don’t understand art”). Then she takes drugs, goes out with Lily only to hallucinate she has sex with her. (The scene is quite explicit). There are also self mutilating scenes that are disturbing enough to make you turn away. In the end she realizes that the person she was fighting all along was herself and she stabs herself in a frenzy of hallucinations while the production of Swan Lake is going on. She performs perfectly to the awe of her rigid dance instructor even though she is bleeding from the wound she made in her stomach, and once the performance is done and she receives her standing ovation, you see her surrounded by people as she lays on the floor saying: I was perfect… in a state of weakness. You can only assume she is about to die.

 I understand the message of the movie, I am not daft, we can never be perfect and it’s wrong to try to get there because it leads to our destruction. I don’t feel that the explicit content behind this movie is the way to portray this message most effectively. It’s also extremely disturbing as a girl to see sex scenes with two girls and the media salivating behind the controversy. I have no problem with homosexuality, but I don’t feel comfortable seeing sex scenes like that, or any sex scene in general, I feel that is something very private. Needless to say there are many people that don’t admit that these things are uncomfortable, afraid of being called homophobes. This isn’t my case because I am not attacking this topic at all. I just don’t feel it should be glorified and made in to something normal.

Now that the basic synopsis has been proposed I’ll explain my real point. When I think that 50-60 years ago movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Casablanca,” which where the ones up for Oscar nods and compare that to movies of today, I get sick to my stomach. These movies portrayed beautiful messages, filled with great acting and baroque orchestral pieces that penetrated deep in to your core. These movies brought laughter with wit and romance with subtlety; they brought morality. It saddens me that we have lost that throughout the years. Not to the extent movies with wonderful messages are not made; they are just easily tossed aside as garbage because they aren’t risque enough. We glorify sin, we bathe in it. We are expected to only enjoy corruption.   How different would it be to see a musical similar to “Singin’ in the Rain” nowadays? How out of the ordinary would it be to go in to a movie theater and hear a tear jerking romance with romance not being centered around sex? Morality is something that doesn’t have to go hand in hand with films, but it seems like it should. It brings a depth and appreciation to cinema and brings out the real art behind it. It is much more difficult to be a director in a movie like “Pride and Prejudice” with all of its subtle word play and distanced romance than something like “Kill Bill” which to me, seems like lazy work. Challenging oneself is harder once you have to put restraints, it shows real talent.

My only request is to come out of a movie theater without feeling awkward, confused, and dirty. I would love to feel refreshed and glad to have watched something that has inspired me for once. For now, I’ll just stick to the movies of previous decades until something new comes along.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

17 thoughts on “A teenager speaks on new movie standards

  1. Here is what President Monson said about this subject during Conference just a week or so ago:

    “Many movies and television shows portray behavior which is in direct opposition to the laws of God. Do not subject yourself to the innuendo and outright filth which are so often found there. The lyrics in much of today’s music fall in the same category. The profanity so prevalent around us today would never have been tolerated in the not-too-distant past. Sadly, the Lord’s name is taken in vain over and over again. Recall with me the commandment—one of the ten—which the Lord revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” 2 I am sorry that any of us is subjected to profane language, and I plead with you not to use it. I implore you not to say or to do anything of which you cannot be proud.”

  2. “Challenging oneself is harder once you have to put restraints, it shows real talent.”

    LOVE this.

    We were just having a conversation with some friends about this tonite, about how the media is becoming more and more saturated with both the unnecessary and the plain awful. As you point out, this is not art.

    If you think about it, it’s also rather insulting to us as people. Life is rich and wonderful and complex and people and relationships have so many layers to them. Movies that glorify the profane and sinful reduce us to little more than brainless, base creatures.

    It always leaves me wondering — why? Why is it that this stuff is glorified so much?

    I’m grateful for people who will take a stand and raise a voice in defense of better media. Thank you for this post.

  3. Thanks for the post, Camila. I join you in lamenting the descent of many recent films not simply into vulgarity, but senseless depravity. I’m not opposed to the portrayal of sin in a narrative, but it doesn’t have to be graphically and gratuitously displayed to make the point. As I said many times in college (as I suspect you will), “I don’t dislike this film’s content because I’m Mormon. I dislike it because it’s heavy-handed and stupid.”

    Hope you college applications worked out well for you. It was a rough year. :(

  4. Way to go Camila! My sons are 17, 15, and 12 and all have embraced your ideas wholeheartedly. Thanks for being such a great “cyber-example”!

    n

  5. I am also sometimes surprised at the awful movies that get the publicity and the awards recognition, when there are much better movies out there. It definitely seems that edgy and darker films often win out over films that have more traditional or wholesome themes _and_ that are often actually better movies in the first place.

  6. Camila, great thoughts.

    I would advise you, however, to consider also that not every negative emotion is a manifestation of evil. A movie that as part of the plot development evokes feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety, etc. is not therefore unacceptable because it does not paint a rosy picture for the whole time. A plot arc that conveys real meaning often includes real and sobering crisis and difficulty, and sometimes the “resolution” is not the crowning of a returned king. The resolution itself might be deeply unsatisfying, even troubling, but that does not have to inhibit its aesthetic, cultural or didactic value.

    I worry that if we as a people reject such productions because our Mormon sensitivities are troubled by a departure from the cheerful norm, we are going to have to make do with insipid works — creations that skip the crisis and difficulty and go from a happy beginning to a happy ending. Unfortunately, mortal life frequently does not have a happy ending for most of the world’s inhabitants so it is unclear why rejecting an element of realism in our art would add anything to our faith. Our faith raises us above the despair of the temporal world because we hope for a better world. We can count ourselves blessed for that but it does not follow that movies or other artistic portrayals of life’s journey should be artificially uplifting by ignoring the realities of human life.

  7. By the way, my comment # 6 is not meant to be a defense of movies like “Kill Bill”, which you used in an example. I’m not sure there’s much redeeming artistic merit in that one. But I think there is a risk encoded in your essay of throwing the baby out with the bath water — and just wanted to point this out to you in case it was not something you have considered before.

  8. “I worry that if we as a people reject such productions because our Mormon sensitivities are troubled by a departure from the cheerful norm, we are going to have to make do with insipid works — creations that skip the crisis and difficulty and go from a happy beginning to a happy ending.”

    Why make do with any art at all, insipid or otherwise? Despite what you might think, I am not saying this against any forms of creativity. Rather, we have thousands of years of art and theater, and a hundred years of film. Since a large amount of modern productions are filth, I see no reason to partake in much of any of it. There are lots of choices that get ignored because they are “old” or something like that.

    Beyond that, I want more writings, more film, and more art created by those who find today’s works to be offensive and immoral. We will never overcome this world until we start making what we want, even if it starts from scratch. This is the internet age. You might still need money and advertising, but distribution is relatively easy. My advice to Camila B. and her generation is to take that “anger” toward today’s productions and create your own works. Form clubs, work groups, even production companies based on what you want rather than what you are forced to have. Use “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “The Blind Side,” “Soul Surfer,” and even “The King’s Speech” among others as your guide. Others artists of bygone centuries, including Shakespeare, used the Bible and History as inspiration. Mormons have the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price to draw artistic impressions from.

    It is possible. We Mormons have taken on the world of Science Fiction and Young Adult novels. There is no reason we can’t expand to include art, music, adult contemporary novels, and film if done with more depth and talent.

  9. Absolutely right. Good art can and maybe even will have to include the whole spectrum of human activity, which includes sex, violence, greed, you name it. But only bad art celebrates that stuff.

  10. john f., to me the point is that there are plenty of ways to explore themes of life and a range of emotions involved in life’s journey without gratuitous sex, vulgarity, violence/gore, etc.

  11. You are not the only teenager that feels this way. I know there are many kids LDS and non-LDS that feel as you do. So please don’t feel alone in your disgust for most of what is shown at the movies these days. Thankfully, shows like Gone with the Wind and others are on DVD and you can have your own movie nights with good shows that uplift and inspire. I applaud your stand and I hope that when you go away to college, you’ll be an example to your friends that you can have fun and a good time and be entertained without selling out your standards. :)

  12. Camila,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. This was a passionate sharing of yourself. I applaud you for taking a stand like this.

  13. I completely agree with your point. Just when I get used to how much sex they show on TV and movies….they show even more. It gets worse very quickly. It is a tragedy.
    I am appalled that no one in our society cares how this affects our society’s young people.
    However, I do want to point out that even older movies lack morality and are not necessary more inspiring. You managed to pick two movies that I didn’t particularly like. It’s been a while so I can’t really pick them apart well, but Scarlett is selfish and uses people despicably. Her morals are questionable. I also believe that the movie was scandalous at the time, containing the first swear word on screen?? So even back then, the Academy honored what was pushing the envelope.

  14. You really what the plot of Casablanca is? I wasn’t impressed when I watched it. There are a lot of movies from the old days that aren’t good. There’s a lot of implied sex and immorality. Nowadays it’s just out there in your face. So maybe you should look at a movie in it’s whole before judging it whether it be good or bad. I mean I rewatch some of the movies I grew up on in the 80s and their horrible! The timeless ones. I think there are a lot for messed up views when it comes to movies for anyone.

  15. I applaud Camila B. for her courage to stand up for common decency and morality in the making of movies. It makes me wonder if any one in movie industry, including any actor or actress is capable of making a decent film any more without totally debasing the English language by continually using foul and disgusting four letter words, especially the “F” word, or without taking the Lord’s name in vain “X” number of times throughout the entire movie?

    Many of today’s movies could by a little self policing impose certain ethical standards related to common decency and etiquette produce time honored classics if they would only leave out the explicid use of nudity, gutter language, and extreme violence that is often portrayed in so many of today’s movies as being “normal and realistic.”

    One wonders how many of the old time actors and actresses would have stooped to the level of many of today’s entertainers in order to win an Oscar, an Emmy, or some other trophy? Are today’s movie makers and television sitcoms even capable of making clasical films that will bring the kind of enjoyment, entertainment, and satisfaction that can be enjoyed by future generations, such as “I Love Lucy”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, or the likes of “South Pacific”, “Oklahoma”, or “The Wizard of Oz”?

    Many of the movies today have some really great sound tracks, but they often conjure up the memories and visions of lurid scenes of extreme violence or nudity that infringes upon the edge of pornography that would be better left to one’s imagination than to toally shock or embarass the masses with unsuspecting scenes or vial language.

    It would not be so bad perhaps if movie ratings were explicidly posted, and people actually knew what to expect if they were to purchase a movie ticket or to watch a particular movie on DVD, but even PG-13 movies are by past standards “X-rated” movies in today’s world, and there is no such thing as a “family movie” any more.

    Film producers in the past were able to convey through their movies a wide range of emotions, depict good and evil, and even violence, create great musical scores and beloved songs that were meant to be shared with the rising generation without causing offense or arousing impure thoughts; but one wonders just how much further will these film makers and the general public be willing to go down that slippery slope just to be able to depict the immoral depravity of those who refer to themselves as the keepers of art?

    Perhaps the general public is just as much at fault as the movie makers are. After all, film producers would not be making billions of dollars if the public refused to purchase the movies they try to dump on us. “After all,” they say, “we are only depicting the reality of life and our society the way it really is these days, so don’t blame us if the public craves these kind of movies. As long as they’re willing to buy, then we’ll keep right on making these kind of movies.” And so it is. And so it is.

    Think about it folks, “it doesn’t have to be that way!” The next time you decide to watch a movie thinking this might be a really great movie to watch, the very first time someone uses the “F” word, takes the name of Jesus Christ in vain, debases a woman, starts performing a homosexual act, or couples start stripping down to their birthday suit and having sex, at least have the courage to stand up and walk out of the theater, or to eject the DVD and throw it into the trash where it belongs, rather than continuing to justify yourself by sitting there and enduring to the end by saying, “If it were not for this or that, it would have been a really great movie, maybe even a classic.”

    Does anyone know what a really great movie is any more, or is Hollywood hell bent on turning out movies that corrupts everyone into believing that this is a normal way of life for most people, or in the least, “their fantasy,” and that happiness is defined by “eating, drinking, and making Mary.”

    Face it, Hollywood is not the norm, and celebrities and movie makers are nothing more than a bunch of perverted, egotisitical, narcissistic wantabe’s who will do anything to sell themselves and their movies to the highest bidder. Wickedness never was happiness, nor can it ever be happiness no matter how it is portrayed in movies.

    Furthermore, they love exploiting young naive women with the promise of stardom as long as they do exactly what is required of them, and as long as their beauty attracts gullible men to the theater; but stardom is often as fleeting as a shooting star, and then they are thown back onto the ash heap of society as broken, confused, and often abused “has been’s”.

    Stand up for what is good and right, and refuse to watch these kind of movies or to support these so-called celebrities. Pick up a really good book and read it if you want to stretch your imagination. And while you’re at it, start with the scriptures. You can’t go wrong with them.

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