Monday, Feb. 25, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, February 25, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The moral messaging of the Oscars: How the entertainment industry influences society.
Last night, many millions of people in the United States and around the world watched the annual event known as the Oscars Ceremony. That is at least the familiar name by which the event is now known. It was as an event not yet measured in total audience share on television, but that's a big issue for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because it has been losing share, and the income from the Oscars Ceremony television event is itself the biggest single income source for the academy. That is a very big deal financially, but that's not the biggest part of what's going on here.
What we saw last night was a major artifact in American culture pointing to the importance of Hollywood. Now it also points to the self-importance of Hollywood. More on that in just a moment, but what it points to is the fact that we have become what no previous human civilization has ever been and that is a society largely driven by entertainment. If you go back in previous epics of human history, what's interesting is the entertainment has been there in some form from the very beginnings of human culture, but it's also important to recognize that there has never been a culture so saturated with and so driven by entertainment. And what's really important in this respect from a Christian worldview perspective is the fact that culture and its production has now become such a major driver of the moral influence of the society. It is now the controller of the major narratives of the society. If you control the stories that as society tells eventually you control the mentality, the worldview, the morality of that culture.
You do so by its stories and Hollywood, if anything is a storytelling network. That was also very clear last night. It was a competition not only between producers and directors and cinematographers, actors and actresses. It was a major competition between narratives. And then you have to add something particularly acute in 2019 and that is the fact that the Oscars have become a part of the maelstrom of political correctness and the very mixed messaging coming not just in the culture at large, but particularly from the cultural left. So if you watch what was going on in the program and in the awards last night, you understand the acute quandary faced by the academy and its judges. There is no way that any single movie, that any, any single production house could tick off all the necessary symbolic gestures required by the political left. And so what you saw last night was a process of cultural negotiation.
And it's very symbolic. Symbolic is itself not an accidental term. When you look at the power of Hollywood, we have to understand it is a particular very specific kind of power, is not just a narrative. It is controlling even the language, the gestures that are used. It does so through the culture of celebrity that is now so powerful in American society. And it does so by the constant self-referential nature of Hollywood and the culture industrial complex as a whole. That constant self-referential signaling comes down to the fact that actors and actresses have to very carefully give exactly the right gestures. They have to tip the hat to exactly the right issues. And furthermore, like so many of the candidates right now in the 2020 presidential race, they have to outdo one another in trying to appear to be ahead of the curve. But that curve is itself a big problem even for the cultural left because it's impossible to stay ahead of it.
By the time many of the movies nominated for best picture in 2019, by the time they had been made, by the time they had been seen or for that matter, not much watched by the watching public. The reality is that the cultural revolution had already moved past much of the messaging that they were doing. Some of the movies were controversial because they weren't cutting edge enough even in the current cinema year. And then you add to that. So many of the things going on in Hollywood these days, and of course the culture of celebrity is now such a transformative process in the United States. For one thing, you have the fact that celebrities with no particular expertise in anything other than acting in entertainment are now seen as moral ex-employers. They are now seen as moral authorities in our society. This is sometimes taken on ludicrous form a few years ago, congressional hearings on a chemical that might have some kind of impact on humanity, a chemical used in apples.
The testimony before Congress was not from scientists, it was not from apple growers. Most famously, it came from a Hollywood actress. Indeed, more than one Hollywood actress who supposedly because of acting apart, had something to say about whether or not Alar was a harmful chemical when it was used in the production of commercial apples. That was ludicrous. But frankly, it's a lot more dangerous to consider the ways in which you have celebrities now signaling America's morality without any particular expertise whatsoever. And furthermore, we have to understand that for the better part of the last century, the major engines of cultural production have been in the hands of the left. That's not an accident. The Marxists understood long before anyone else the reality of cultural production, Marxist analysts looking at the way culture works pointed to the fact that cultural production is itself more or less in industry even though most people in Western civilization had not seen it that way.
Those providing the ideology for Marxist Revolution understood that those revolutions would be extremely enhanced by, aided by, driven by, the Marxist gaining of control over the major mechanisms of cultural production. And so when you look at the Soviet Union, you look at Cuba, you look at other kinds of totalitarian regimes, most classically right now what you see in China, you see the Marxist revolution working its way out by using engines of cultural production, whether they are propaganda or entertainment. If the regime or the revolution can gain control of this kind of symbolic cultural production than it can eventually gain control of the society. Hollywood has understood this. It's been a self-evident kind of understanding for Hollywood and at various times in American history it's taken different form. If you go back to World War II you can see that the federal government understood the importance of Hollywood. It harnessed the engines of Hollywood in order to further America's national identity patriotism and war aims, and that was understood to be necessary given the urgency of fighting the greatest armed conflict in the history of humanity.
But ever since the 1950s Hollywood has been particularly under the sway of the left, the political left in the United States. But beyond that, because the left in this country is always in conversation with the left in Europe, you can see a blending of all of these themes together and many Americans go into the movies just have no idea that even as they buy a ticket to a movie, they are actually putting themselves in a seat to receive a great deal of messaging that they might not understand is very carefully packaged in order to change the morality of a society. That's where modern Hollywood comes in in a very big way because as you look at the sexual revolution, as you look at the revolution, especially with the initials LGBTQ, it's really important to understand that Hollywood as a whole has taken as a part of itself self-identity and it's self-fulfillment to drive that LGBTQ revolution and to do so in such a way that anyone watching the movie would first of all be touched by the stories being told.
The control, the narrative, the kinds of even emotional responses that come with a major Hollywood production, but they are also watching something that is changing the reference point of reality for the society. That is something most people don't think about when they go to a movie, but the reality is that some of these movies are so sophisticated. The artistry is so seductive. The storylines are so powerful that people go in and leave having the moral intuitions realigned without themselves ever understanding it, but it's not by accident. And furthermore, when you look at the Oscars, when you look at the political messaging set last night, there's no question it was intentional. It was pervasive even if at times they can't keep up with themselves.
Another aspect of the Oscar ceremony we need to note is America's culture of moral self-congratulation. Now, this comes up in the fact that even when you're talking about childhood soccer leagues, everyone has to have a trophy. Now in Hollywood, you might know not everyone actually gets a trophy. Its one person or one winner in every category, but the entire process makes sure that everyone involved at least feels like a winner to some extent. How has that carried off? We'll consider the fact that if you take the last several Oscar's programs put together, the math actually tells us something. For example, if you look at the average over the last several years, 37.6 minutes was taken with film clips played about the nominees. That makes sense? 37.6 minutes, 29.7 minutes was made up of all the speeches. That is actually interestingly the most carefully controlled timing aspect of the Oscar ceremony.
But then you had 24.3 minutes of introductions and banter. Don't you love a program that schedules banter, 13.8 minutes average in musical pieces, 10.1 minute average of extended applause? Crowd shots and filler, opening the envelopes takes an average of 4.2 minutes of the entire program, but this is my favorite part. One of the longest categories of time used at the Oscars comes under the listing of walking 24.3 minutes and the average Oscar program is simply watching people walk up to the platform. Now, not shown walking down from the platform, but walking up to the program turns out to be a theatrical performance that those who are winning have practiced for just to make certain there walk matches the award ceremony and the messaging they want to send.
One final aspect of the Oscars, the 2019 Oscar's ceremony had for a brief time but not for long. The proposed category of an Oscar for popular film. Now why would the Oscars need that? Well, it's because so many of the best pictures that have won the award by the critics, they haven't turned out to be very popular. So that points is something else. There is a clear distinction between the taste of the critics and the taste of the public and so bending to the fact that the public just might be somewhat important in this equation. The academy decided that it would offer an academy award this year for popular picture, but the credits are so upset. They decided, "No, we won't do that. It was a bad decision." Now, if you're looking at the news coverage concerning the Oscars this year, it turns out that about a dozen times the academy announced they were making a change to the program and the main purpose to gain more audience by shortening the program.
At the end of the day, they were unwilling to withstand the withering criticism of the critics who after all in Hollywood turn out to have the upper hand. But that's not exactly true because if the audience stops buying tickets, there won't be any Hollywood. And that was the other final subtext about the Oscars last night and that was the main interest in whether or not the Netflix Film Roma won best picture, which it didn't. But if it had, it would have been not only the very first foreign language film to win best picture. It would have been the very first film produced by an enterprise, primarily known for streaming media and that's the big story. As current trends continue, the experience of going to the movies is being exchanged for the experience of the movies going to us. It is easy to look at Hollywood and the self-congratulatory nature of the Oscars and forget the fact that human beings as human beings, sinful human beings are incredibly self-congratulatory as a species, but most of us don't have any opportunity quite like the Oscars. If we did have the opportunity, we might take it.
How new regulations further prevent taxpayer dollars from funding abortion— with Planned Parenthood at issue.
But next, big news on the abortion front from the Associated Press reporting, "The Trump administration on Friday set up new obstacles for women seeking abortions, barring taxpayer funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals. The new policy is certain says the Associated Press as reported in the Dallas Morning News to be challenged in court. The final rule released by the Department of Health and Human Services would prohibit federally funded family planning clinics from being housed in the same location as abortion providers and would require stricter financial separation. Clinic staff would still be permitted to discuss abortion with clients."
There's a big back history to this that's really important. The Reagan administration in the 1980s had come up with a similar kind of policy. It was inherited by Bush 41 president George H.W Bush and during that time, the pro abortion movement took the administrations to court. But the supreme court ruled that the policy under the authorization of the executive branch and the Department of Health and Human Services was constitutional. Nevertheless, by about the time the government could have put all of this into effect, George H.W Bush was out of office. Bill Clinton was in office and that changed everything. Bill Clinton in his very first act as president, signed four executive orders, two of them liberalizing abortion, and thus we had to wait until 2018 2019 when President Donald Trump moved through his administration to enact similar kinds of policies. What's so important here? When you look at Planned Parenthood, you are looking at the largest provider of abortions in the United States.
You're also looking at an organization, that one way or another, and that's very important to say, one way or another, benefits from about a half billion dollars of US taxpayer subsidy. Now the question is, how in the world could Planned Parenthood be starved of that taxpayer subsidy? The policies handed down Friday by the Trump administration would require any organization that offers so-called reproductive health services and abortion to separate them so that there would have to be a different physical space. There would have to be a completely different set of books. Personnel would have to be distinguished. Now, how would that affect Planned Parenthood? Well, Planned Parenthood counts upon what is called the fungibility of funds. That is, if you look at Planned Parenthood's budget, then the budget that the federal government does not allow to be expended for abortion nonetheless supports Planned Parenthood. That can then on the basis of that financial stability offer abortion services.
Now remember something else earlier in the Trump administration, official emissaries including Jared Kushner, went to the leadership of Planned Parenthood and offered to drop plans to defund Planned Parenthood if the organization would cease performing abortions. Infamously at the moment, Cecile Richards, who was then the head of Planned Parenthood, went public with the offer by the Trump administration denouncing it and stating that abortion was so important to Planned Parenthood, it would never violate its moral principles by adjusting to dropping abortion in order to retain taxpayer funding. And so what you see now is the response from the Trump administration. It will not affect only Planned Parenthood, but there is no doubt that Planned Parenthood will be most directly effected. Pam Belluck reporting for the New York Times reports that the policy handed down Friday, "Could strip millions of dollars from Planned Parenthood and direct it towards religiously based antiabortion groups"
Now again, we have to look at the media coverage here. That Associated Press story as reported in the Dallas Morning News describes the policies as setting up, "New obstacles for women seeking abortions." Now when you look at news covers like that, you look at that kind of language, ask how it otherwise could have been reported. It could have been reported that the Trump administration protecting the interest of American taxpayers move to make certain that taxpayer money would not be used to fund abortion. But when you look at the framing of an article, you understand exactly where the reporter or the newspaper stands. Again, if you look at the New York Times, famously pro-abortion, it describes the challenge to Planned Parenthood and then says that the funds could be redirected towards religiously based antiabortion groups. Now that's not even really true, but it tells you again how the New York Times believes that the story is to be interpreted.
And of course the big issue there is abortion protected at all costs. Even the Wall Street Journal reported with a headline, "Administration Targets Planned Parenthood." Again, that's not exactly wrong, but it's also not exactly right, but we are looking at the fact that the American taxpayer been largely unaware of the fact that many title 10 funds have gone towards Planned Parenthood, even as the federal government by the Hyde Amendment is prohibited from using taxpayer funds to directly subsidize abortion. Now, one of the truest statements made in almost all of this press reporting is that the policy is likely to be challenged in court. You can count on it, and this is one of those stories we're going to have to follow, but it is really important for those who care about the sanctity and dignity of human life to recognize that what happened in the announcement made by the Trump administration on Friday really is big news.
And those who care for the sanctity of human life must recognize that at the very least, at the very least, we must do everything possible to make certain that our own government, which is funded by moneys coerced from the population by taxation, cannot use that taxpayer funding in order to pay for the destruction of human life in the womb.
Gender revolutionaries want you to believe that men and women will dress identically, but is that really so?
But next, we shift to another engine of cultural production and we are increasingly told an engine for bringing about moral change or at least the self-consciousness of this industry. It's becoming more and more clear. The industry is fashion. The off-duty section of the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal ran a major story entitled “Cut from the Same Cloth.” The subhead: Unisex Style is Rising but are Separate Men's and Women's Clothing Lines Really a Thing of the Past? And What Does the Gender Neutral Revolution Mean for You?
Well, the entire point of the story is to say that major fashion houses are now blending the styles of men and women's clothing. Gender blending is becoming a thing not only of the future but of the present. And to make that point, individuals identified as a man and a woman are shown in the color photography in the section on the front page wearing pink suits. We are told that this is a major retail shift that is happening worldwide. The reporters tell us, "As the fashion industry adjust a customer's who are challenging the gender binary." One expert quoted, said, "Around 2015, gender identity became part of the national conversation." Then speaking about millennials, the individual said, "These scripted ideas of what a man and a woman should do are breaking down and therefore what they're wearing no longer has to follow those rigid lines either." That statement was made by Justin Berkowitz identified as men's fashion director of Bloomingdale's, but of course if it's true, he's working himself out of a job.
If men and women's clothing will not be distinct. You don't need a men's fashion director for Bloomingdale's, but the moral messaging, and this is really clear by the time you get to the end of the column, we read and I quote, "We're still in the early days of a gender questioning revolution, but fashion for everyone has become a lot more fluid." Now before we look at this and are critical of the argument we need to, there are two separate columns, what unisex style means for men's wear and what unisex style means for women's wear and what we're told this new revolution means for men's wear. We are told to look forward to a lot of pink suits, men wearing lacy shirts. I am not making that up. Leopard print pants and wider women's inspired silhouettes. We are told that women are going to be wearing clothing more traditionally cut for and designed for men.
What's the bottom line in this? I don't think the average American will care at all what the Wall Street Journal or the fashion houses are saying is the new fashion revolution. I'll just say that when I look around humanity in the United States, I don't see any men wearing pink suits. I don't expect to see that anytime soon. I don't ever expect to see that as a matter of fact. Why? Because when you are looking at the elites of fashion, you are probably looking at one of the arenas of cultural production that has the least impact upon most Americans, but the Americans upon which it has the greatest impact are the people who would care what the Wall Street Journal says about the future of the fashion industry. If you're in that category, you just might be shopping for a pink suit. As for the rest of humanity or at least the male side of humanity, I'm betting not.
If you are going to bring about a gender revolution. Don't worry about the people who read the Wall Street Journal. Think about kids in high school. If you convince high school boys that wearing lacy shirts and pink suits is the wave of the future, then you might just be looking at a moral revolution. But again, I don't think so.
Spirit cleansing? When Christianity is removed from society, the void is always filled with some kind of spirituality.
Finally, yesterday's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle had a story with a headline, “Spirit Cleansing? There's a Class for That.” The subhead: Scarlet Sage Company Wraps Up its Offerings for Her Lipstick Seekers. The reporter: Maggie Winterfeldt Clark. Mary Grizzly says in the article, “I see dead people.” Her tone is light, self-aware, but she's not joking. Communing with the dead is just one extension of Grizzly’s clairvoyant abilities. It's a chilly winter night and students we are told, stare up at her over steaming paper cups of cold fighting herbal tea as they introduced themselves.
It's revealed that several students also see dead people or know someone who does. Others simply identify themselves as dreamers. One says simply, “The women in my family know, which is met with scattered nods of understanding.” Others receive messages we are told through divination tools like tea leaves or coffee grounds. A hairstylist and Palo Alto says she reads messages through hair. Clients now seek her out as much for a trim as for a reading. A woman explains that she was always viewed as the sensitive one in her family and has started Taro studies as part of a quest for validation.
Then the author of the article writes this and the first person, "Then there are those like me who aren't clairvoyant. Just a little intuitive and very curious. I was raised on the east coast with a traditional religion, a blind trust in western medicine and a healthy dose of eye rolling skepticism towards anything woo woo. Then I moved to San Francisco and had children,” she says, "I began dabbling and alternative wellness during my first pregnancy, visiting an acupuncturist between OB visits, taking prenatal yoga, drinking special blends of herbal tea to aid birth and learning to tune into the feelings that it always hummed along in the background of my gut. By the time my second child was born, I was seeing an intuitive counselor regularly."
Then we are told about Scarlet Sage, the shop at the center of this story. We are told that it “is best known for its world class herbal apothecary." but Scarlet Sage also sells homeopathic remedies, organic personal care, crystals, moon ritual products, spell books, and more offering what Ash, the owner of the shop describes as, "A holistic view of health, spiritual, and physical." We're told that just since last summer, the shop has, "Ramped up its roster of educational and healing offerings, it now has the capacity to host two or four classes during the week. Certifications and intensives on the weekend and private sessions with healers specializing in everything from spirit cleanses to dream interpretations."
Now what exactly is a spirit cleanse? It turns out that that is a kind of new age woo woo approach to finding out what spiritual disease you have and cleansing it by means of any kind of esoteric treatment including herbs. The story gives us some background and the fact that San Francisco became such a center of the counterculture in the 1960s in the 70s, "When people began challenging religious dogma and commoditized Western medicine." That is a very strange way of putting any kind of argument, but it comes down to the fact that here we are told that there is an alternative to western medicine, but you'll notice in the article it says that this doesn't mean the complete repudiation of traditional Western medicine. And looking further at the article without going into details, it turns out that the kind of nontraditional medicine they're talking about is for rather nonspecific diseases with nonspecific symptomology. When it comes to anything rather concrete that might actually kill you. It looks like they go straight to the western medicine they supposedly reject.
But what's more important than anything else is that repeatedly in this article we are told that this new approach is what one finds when one repudiates traditional religion, which is to say otherwise traditional theism, which is to say specifically Christianity. This is where Christians understand that when Christianity is removed or displaced within a society, what opens up is not a genuinely secular space at all. What shows up because we're made in God's image, is some kind of spiritual quest that can take any number of forms. Most of them detailed in this story, rightly described as woo woo. And that reminds me of the famous statement made by the British author, GK Chesterton, who said that when you stop believing in God, you do not start believing in nothing. You start believing in everything.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Kingsburg, California–decidedly non-woo woo–and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.