What follows in a discussion as "iron sharpens iron." It is not the end of the matter. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.
A. Weber: When it comes to entertainment, I like John Stonestreet's template:
- Is it true (does it show the world honestly)?
- Is it good (is it of high quality)?
- Is it noble (does it make us want to be better people)?
- Though I am drawn to Game of Thrones, it doesn't fit this template. The writing was good (high quality), and the story was true (actions have appropriate consequences), but even though I wanted to be Ned Stark, I felt in some way dirtied by the amount of evil in the book, like I had wallowed in a world from which I emerged a little more hardened, a little more disillusioned, a little more broken than before. That's not noble.
- The first two seasons of The Walking Dead mostly fit. Though the quality of the writing has dropped, the series has been mostly good (especially Season 1), true (it shows how the evil and the good wrestle within all of us) and noble (I can clearly see good and bad characters and their actions, and I cheer or jeer appropriately). Based on how Season Two ended, I'm not sure my opinion will hold.
- I'm almost done with Season Two of Men of Certain Age. It is very good; it is largely true, but it's "hit and miss" handling sin in a way that always enobles me. The characters played by Ray Ramano and Scott Bakula sleep around and gamble, but if I see real world consequences, and I'm not seduced into their weaknesses with them, I'm okay with those situations being portrayed. As Season Two winds down, I would say the show overall contrasts the emptiness and pointlessness of sin with the reward of commitment, faithfulness, and character.
- Does the writer intend for us to root for the bad guy or for evil to prevail? (The Oceans movies, Pirates, or The Godfather)
- Are there consequences for evil actions? (Ben on Lost)
- Is there a lot of nudity? (Basic Instinct, Show Girls, or Boogie Nights)
- What is the trajectory of the main characters? (Do they get worse or better? See The Shield or Sopranos)
- Is redemption a key part of the show? (Lost or Star Wars)
- Is sin viewed as desirable? (The American Pie movies or any daytime soap)
- Is evil an unbeatable force? (Constantine or just about any slasher film vs. Stephen King's Desperation)
- Given that we have almost limitless entertainment choices, if something is iffy, can I find a cleaner substitute? (Why watch Transformers when I could watch Thor?)
KM: Okay, take the question, "Does it make me want to be a better person?" In Saw, the killer is torturing people because he is dying of cancer and they are taking life for granted. It’s actually a pretty in-depth story, just with bloody torture. One could easily say, “Saw makes me appreciate the blessings God has given me - including life.” Sure, the presentation is pretty awful, but doesn't AW's criteria of nobility only ask about the end result? And I don't think his view automatically excludes nudity. That would, for example, exclude Schindler's List.
SS: Is it possible that some people could take something positive from Saw? Maybe, as long as Saw doesn't provide a justification or create sympathy for torture and violence. But what about just the idea that it uses torture as entertainment? Perhaps "nobility" should not be measured just what you do when you leave (the end result), but by what's happening to you while you watch (the process).
Same for Showgirls and Boogie Nights. There might be a story arc with a form of redemption, but let's be honest: they make us want to see more naked women. This does not promote truth or nobility, no matter how good I may think it is, or how hard the filmmaker is trying to send a positive message.
KM: So what do you do with sitcoms? As much as Joey should come down with HIV on "Friends," he can’t because it ruins the situation which makes the sitcom work. And in order to be funny, the characters have to warped. You’re not going to find many role models on sitcoms, because by nature they are not trying to be real people; they are creating stereotypes to satirize both good and bad things. This may bother you, but it doesn’t me because I know they are not trying to show real life. So, it's not "true" at all, but can't it still be good and noble?
My bigger concern with today's comedies is that they make me laugh at things I shouldn't. The Office is funny, but should I really be laughing at Oscar and Dwight? Good, true, noble entertainment should make my emotions match the real world. I want to laugh or cry at the right things, otherwise life gets very confusing.
KM: So what funny things can Christians watch? Tommy Boy makes fun of drug addicted gluttons. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles makes fun of another overweight dude. Jim Carrey spends Dumb and Dumber trying to get laid. Every comedy purposely distorts the world and makes fun of sin. I don’t know how you get around it. Sometimes, laughing at serious issues helps to change our perspective in a good way while our guard is down - it's the spoonful of sugar. Isn't that why God gave us a sense of humor?
AW: If the Bible were a long-running TV show, would it be acomedy, tragedy, or both? Perhaps you are right about comedies; I can see Ecclesiastes working great as an Old Testament version of Men of a Certain Age. On the other hand, I'm pretty certain King Saul would star in an early version of Breaking Bad. Either way, the genres would have to capture how honest, deep, whimsical, dark, light, beautiful, true, noble, good, and hopeful the Bible. I'm trying not to settle for less from my TV.