We’re in the midst of a series of really helpful, inspiring series of conversations on Open House about parenting, families. Today advice on being a culture wise family. Knowing what to do about the onslaught of TV programs and movies, to say nothing of social media, we see today. Is there anything we can do about the saturation of so-called entertainment that in the words of my next guest, is frequently extolling toxic values that are not your own?
Audio – Get equipped to be a culture wise family with Ted Baehr
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Ted Baehr is a veteran Hollywood insider. A critic, pundit and educator. He's the founder and publisher of the hugely influential Movieguide. He's chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission and was president of the production company that gave the world the TV version of The Chronicles of Narnia. Ted Baehr, welcome to Open House.
5 Family Pillars for Media Wisdom
1. Understand the influence of the media on your family
2. Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development.
3. Teach your children how the media communicates its message.
4. Help your children know the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
5. Help your children learn how to ask the right questions.
Ted, tell us how you've observed this entertainment industry changing over the decades that you've been involved in it.
I grew up in the entertainment industry. My parents were stars. My father was a cowboy star in the 1930s and he won the Box Office Award in America in Hollywood in 1936. He was the first Hollywood Texas Ranger. My mother was a star.
So I grew up on the non-faith side of the equation, dabbling in all the worldly aspects of life and I came to faith when I was 28 after financing five feature films. Then to put myself through seminary I became head of the university film department, City University of New York, where we got 60 professors together. I felt so convicted by the movie that I had funded, that I decided to get these professors together and we developed the first media literacy course.
Since then we've been perfecting media literacy to help parents help their children learn how to be media literate. And we've been influencing the entertainment industry. First through “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” on CBS televsion. But then through working behind the scenes and showing people how they can make more money at the box office by reaching out to people of faith and values.
In the United States, people in faith and values are a tremendous audience. We've got about 310 million Americans and about 149 million go to church every week. About 17 million Hispanics, my wife is from Argentina. That's the biggest audience grouping is the faith grouping, so movies with faith and values, even movies like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 do better at the box office. Showing Hollywood this, we've got them to go from one movie with positive faith in values in 1985 to 57%. So Hollywood is taking notice.
Why do you think it's changed as it has?
Well, that's a great question. You know, Hollywood is a very diverse community. You've got the six major studios that produce about 40% of the films that are released and they want to get as broad an audience as possible. So if you look at the list of the performance of the films, you'll see the companies that perform really well are companies like Pixar. It's way out front of the other companies. And then you've got Marvel. Of course, if you look at Iron Man 3 which is opening up this weekend in the United States but it's already opened in China, etc. it talks about heaven and hell, it talks about salvation, it has a confession scene. It's laced with values.
Sixty percent of the films are made by independents. And for many years the independents were usually the people who were making movies either because they were just playing at it or they had an agenda. And the agenda was often nefarious. Often they were people like - and I don't mind him as a person, he's a great actor - Sean Penn or Oliver Stone making movies extolling Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez.
The good news in that area–it's always worthwhile to point out the good news, because anybody can do this–is that there are more and more people of Christian faith who are making movies that are doing better at the box office. My radio engineer many years ago, was a guy who made a movie called Facing the Giants and then Fireproof. Fireproof did $175 million by the time it was finished with everything and that caused the companies in Hollywood to take notice. So you've got a little church in Georgia making a movie that earned $175 million.
Yes. We spoke with him at the time. Ted, with satellite and digital technology the entertainment industry for good or ill has such a reach now. This is no longer purely a Western world phenomenon in wealthier nations. It reaches literally everywhere.
It is. And of course the biggest box office today, maybe not of course for your listeners, is China. Iron Man just smashed all records in China. There's a downside and a positive side to all this. I'll go to the downside first. If you look at a study that came out of Boston University, most of the world has a very negative view of the United States of America.
The reason is, they think that America is highly criminal. They think it's extremely violent, extremely immoral. When you ask them where they get that point of view from, it's not that the people who have these opinions know Americans who go to church every week. In fact, in the Boston University study which covered almost every country in the world, 90% of the people had never met an American. But they got their opinion from movies which had a distorted view that tended toward sex and violence.
Now I told you there was a positive side too. The positive side is that China is excluding a lot of sex and violence. They want more family oriented, and they're funding more films. The Muslims, although you may have some Sheik going to Sydney to watch debased stuff, most of them do not let their billions of people watch it. So you've got about two-thirds of the world that does not participate in the race to the bottom of morality, which they do in places like Denmark and Germany, etc.
And you do think that that is changing?
It is changing in this sense: it's bringing pressure on Hollywood because Hollywood is an international commodity. American movies have to sell overseas. So every day this week there have been articles about Iron Man opening up and saying what was edited out of it, how it was changed, how they added something to appeal to the Chinese.
I mean you have these movies that- Quentin Tarantino who did arguably the most vile, the most violent movie of all time, Django. When the censors saw it in China, they saw it for about three minutes and then they shut the movie down and they weren't allowed to open it. So Hollywood says, If I'm going to make a movie and I'm going to spend the average Hollywood movie $104 million and I'm not going to be able to open it in some of the biggest box offices, India and China and the Middle East–then I might be counterproductive.
It's interesting that those developing nations are forcing the West to change tack so radically.
It is interesting and of course it's heartbreaking at the same time that the West is supposed to be reminiscent of a Christian culture, civilization and that was supposed to be marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. And Philippians 4:8, to look upon what's good and true... and what's beautiful. All of those things were the mark of Western civilization during the 1900s and 1800s and now we've seen all of that removed.
But the people in those countries–and this was one of the consequences of the Boston University study which we've excerpted on movieguide.org, People in those countries look upon us as–the short quote is the great Satan–but they look upon us as Christianity as being the harbinger of sex, violence, nudity and profanity.
How ironic. Ted, for families and as I said the culture wise family, I'd love you to take us through what you call the five pillars of media wisdom, you recommend to families. First one is understanding the influence of the media on a family.
Well, this is very important because the media is so prominent in America that people do not understand its influence. There have been 500,000 studies according to the Congressional offices, according to Senator Lieberman, 99% of them talk about the negative influence of the media. They talk about:
- 7 to 11% of the boys want to copy the violence
- 25% of the kids want to copy the alcohol use or drug use
- 31% want to copy the sexual mores
But we should know all this without all these studies. The fact of the matter is people sell products on TV, and radio, and even in movies. People would not pay $3 million for a short 30-second ad on the Super Bowl if they didn't think it was going to sell their Ford car.
You're second point is to ascertain your children's susceptibility. At each stage of their development, how does that work out?
Well, children pick up their scripts of behavior by watching. A hundred years ago, let's say in the Outback, the way they picked up their scripts of behavior was by watching their father and mother on the ranch, with the sheep, whatever else was going on around them.
Today, in the United States at least, I don't know about Australia, by the time a child is 17 they've spent 60,000 hours with the mass media. They've spent about 11,000 hours in school, if they go to school every single day they're supposed to be there. About 2,000 hours with parents who are working hard to sustain them and about 800 hours in church. The primary scripts of behavior they get are from the primary influence.
When I'm talking about it I show clips of people such as the American Vice President saying he changed his views on a very important social issue just by watching a TV program. So that becomes the scripts of behavior.
When children are in the imagination stage, from 3 to 7, they're extremely vulnerable to getting their scripts of behavior and I'm going to movies–we review 100% of the movies that open in a few theatres or more so we review almost every movie. We will see a terrible horror movie and some parent will have brought in their two or three year old child thinking the child is not getting anything out of it. But there's a lot of research how movies and television affect children at different stages of their growth, and it's very Biblical too. It's important to be careful about what they see at each stage of development so that they aren't affected negatively by those scripts of behavior.
One of the other things you do, which I think is really helpful, your third pillar is to teach your children how the media communicates its message. How do you say that happens, Ted?
Well, in the United States we'll have commercials for let's say arthritis medicine and it will show some guy who's in his late 60s, 70s who can hardly get up. Might be me. So if you take this pill, and then you see him getting up, and dancing with his wife, and the sun is shining, and the beaches are beautiful, and the band is playing, and everything looks idyllic. The visual is this tremendous selling point that if you take this arthritis drug you will do very, very well.
Underneath it they have a little script, a little subtitle saying, "If this causes kidney failure. If this causes heart failure, If you mind starts getting seizures, If you're lying on the floor very upset, call your doctor." Now that written part on that commercial is just as important if not more so than the visual, but the visual dominates in the media. So when people are reviewing movies or entertainment and they say, "Well, this line of dialogue said we shouldn't do this." But then it shows them doing it , The Hangover 2 or 3, and they're having fun beating, killing, maiming, mutilating, the visual image dominates.
And, therefore, kids need to learn how to ask the right questions you say. It's media literacy.
That's right. They have to understand what are their values, which is the fourth point. They have to understand, "Well my values are not to hurt other people, to be kind, and loving, and thoughtful, and generous" all those things the Bible calls us to. And then to ask the question, "Who is the hero?" Is the hero like the hero in a movie that just opened recently, Scary Movie,who maims and mutilates or is the hero like the hero in a movie in 42? A baseball player named Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier by being willing to turn the other cheek and really manifesting the love of God and talking about Jesus in doing that.
So it's important to know your values and then to unpack. Now I've given you one question. There are about 122 questions and we could go on a long time about this, but if you take one little exercise a day you can help your children to start asking the right questions, talking back to the TV or the movies and starting to think for themselves so that they develop the standards that you want them to have to stand against the tidal wave of disinformation.
And you have three words that guide these questions that kids need to ask and parents need to guide. The words are ascertainment, discernment, and reflection. Can you briefly explain that process, what you mean by that?
Ascertainment, discernment and reflection are pretty big words for this. Ascertainment just means to figure out what the facts are. In other words, to describe the hero. Does the hero solve the plot problem by beating people up or by saving people?
Then discernment is how do we look at that? Are we discerning that that's good or that's bad, what the hero is doing.
Reflection says take our Biblical values and compare them to the values that the hero is exhibiting. Some heroes have tremendously positive values and some of them have tremendously negative values.
It's important to say that you don't think all is lost. So you're probably more optimistic?
I'm very optimistic. We have an Awards Gala, like an Academy Awards. It goes on the Hallmark Movie Channel. We give out $100,000 prize for movies with Christian content, television with Christian content, $50,000 prize for scripts, $50,000 prize for free market. And we see people changing.
We have a lot of stories like the head of United Artists saying, "Everybody wants to win a prize." Or Stan Lee who does the Marvel movies who said he wanted to win the Epiphany Prize because in Spiderman 1 they had the Lord's Prayer. Aunt May says the Lord's Prayer when she's in the hospital. And that slows down a movie. So he said, "I'm going to win it next year." So the next movie he had two Lord's Prayers and I think a Hail Mary and something else. I said, "Stan, it's got to be more than just superficial." But actually if you go to Iron Man 3 you see that it is more than superficial. We had Disney talk about the fact they put a missionary in Pirates 4 and they made the whole theme around eternal life and salvation.
So they're getting it and we see people who are changing and getting faith and coming to Christ. We see new people making movies in entertainment but it's almost a day late and a long time short. We should have been doing this 50 years ago. I'm sort of like Paul Revere trying to say, "This is it. You can do it. You can make great radio, which is what you're doing. We need you desperately. You can make great movies. You can make great television."
For a long time, people in the United States said, "Well, we don't want to go to Hollywood." My word to that is we need more Christians in Hollywood, but less Hollywood in the Christian.
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