To me, all great art strives to tell the truth. This is not to be confused with telling true stories. There are true stories that can be terribly dishonest in the telling, and fictions that express some of the greatest truths. The definition of the poorly made film, TV show, or book (and there are many) is a failure to or disinterest in telling the truth. There may be many reasons for this. We all enjoy a momentary escape from reality. We all like to laugh, to be thrilled, to be lost in fantasy for a little while. But the greatest fantasies, the thrillers and comedies that become classics rather than occupants of the bargain bin at the grocery store, each in their own away inevitably tap into some truth about the human experience.
Truth can be dispensed with for a lot of reasons. In Hollywood as far as I can tell,most of the time the only truth that really matters is the box office reciepts. If it makes money, it's good and truth is often sacrificed in a race to the lowest common denominator. Another way truth can be placed on the sidelines is when it inconveniences the presentation of a more important Message, say a spiritual or moral Truth, that one wants to get across. While ostensibly all about getting the Truth out there, the stories and their characters are as false, unbelievable, and inauthentic as an action movie sequence in a Hollywood blockbuster. Whether for base or noble reasons, the end result is the same. A poor quality, cynical product shoved at an audience willing to consume junk food.
Anyway the furor earlier this year over the two movies got me thinking about how Christians appear in the arts, in particular the storytelling arts whether film, television or books. I feel there is a real lack of authentic Christian characters in the stories our culture tells. Most often Christians are simply absent from the cultural mainstream. Even on the rare occasions where Christians do appear, their portrayal feels a little off. Speaking as someone raised in a Christian culture, and who has had a fair amount of interaction with the different "brands" of Protestant and Catholic culture, I don't recognize myself or people I know in the characters I see on screen. Exhibit A of this not quite right portrayal of believers in mainstream media would be the character of April Kepner on the other "Grey", "Grey's Anatomy." Barbara and I have been long-time fans of the show. We DVR the program during the week and it's our Saturday night treat after the kids are in bed. Dr. Kepner is a Christian, but with all due respect to the acting skills of Sarah Drew (who, incidentally, is a Christian), she doesn't seem familiar to me at all. You can almost sense the writers trying to figure out what a Christian might say, do, and believe. And I appreciate the effort, I really do. It just doesn't quite ring true. The way she talks about Jesus, about her faith, and her convictions, which are very central to her choices just doesn't sound like the way I or the Christians I know would express themselves.
It's almost like they need a committed Christian to write for her character. And maybe they do. It may not matter.
Because it seems Christians do no better themselves. When we have a chance to write our own stories, to make our own movies, to sing our own songs, with the world as our audience, we seem to drop the ball as well. For us, the Message overwhelms the demands for authentic characters. And I don't think that serves the story (or the Message for that matter) well. While we might cheer on stories and characters that promote our values and beliefs, too many of us feel that the quality of the story being told, the authenticity of the characters is of little importance. Our stories are sanitized, family-friendly, and tie up neatly with righteousness triumphant in the end. Our characters are romanticized, speak in sermons, and feel wooden and forced.
What we need are stories of believers that are honest and real. Stories that may sometimes be gritty and sometimes definitely not family-friendly. Stories that end in an ambiguity more true to the real life faith journey we are on. We need characters who are rough around the edges and who talk like real people. We need stories of followers of God, who fall down, get mixed up, make the wrong choices and suffer the consequences (or not). We need stories that focus on telling the truth about the human experience as a believer in God, not simply easy-to-swallow morality tales with a happy ending.
If only such stories existed.. . .
It's an anthology actually. It's called the Bible.
It tells the truth, honestly.