Monday, April 1, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, April 1, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Georgia passes bill restricting abortion. The response of the cultural elites? Hollywood threatens to pull out of the state, potentially taking billions of dollars in the process
Human beings made in the image of God are inevitably social creatures. As social creatures, we create culture. Wherever you find human beings, you find that culture. You find evidence of that culture. You can see it on the walls of ancient caves. You see it in the ruins of ancient civilizations. You actually see it traceable at every moment in human history. And thus, as we are thinking about culture and the reality and power of culture, from time to time Christians need to take a step back and ask the question, how does culture happen? How is it created? Who does the creation of the culture? Who has influence in the culture? How does that happen? What are the driving energies of a culture? What's the direction of a culture? All of those are questions the thinking Christian should keep in mind just about every day as we are negotiating the culture.
One of the realities we have to keep in mind is that culture is created. The cultural creatives are those who are creating the artifacts of the culture. They have the greatest influence. The people who are writing the stories, the people who are shaping the language, the people who are developing the morality, those who are shaping politics, those who are creating, disseminating, producing the entertainment ... They are among the cultural creatives who are creating the culture around us and driving it in a certain direction.
The same is true of politics. It is certainly true of higher education. It's true of big business. Wherever you find big energy, big institutions, driving energy, the flow of capital, which means the direction of money, you are seeing the direction that the culture is headed. And as we are thinking about that right now, Christians obviously have a lot of questions, questions about the future of the culture. But we also have to look at those engines of cultural production. We have to look at those major centers of influence, who are not only building the culture as we see it today, but have had great influence on where the culture is now traceable through the past, and now have a great deal of influence about where the culture is headed.
In the United States, and now driving the entertainment culture worldwide, there is no factor more important than Hollywood. Hollywood's not only a city, it becomes a metaphor; a metaphor for big entertainment wherever it is found. Big news over the weekend about where it is now found, but might not in the future be found because of the moral coercion coming from Hollywood.
A story by Lisa Respers France of CNN ran the headline over the weekend: Hollywood comes out in opposition to Georgia's heartbeat bill. France reports, "Alyssa Milano is leading the charge in Hollywood against a controversial bill in Georgia. House Bill 481, known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act, was approved by the state's legislature last Friday, and bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, supports the legislation and is expected to sign it." I'll just interject here. During the campaign last fall, he ran largely on this issue. He had better sign that bill.
The CNN story continues, "Currently, women in Georgia are allowed to undergo the procedure up to their 20th week of pregnancy. Milano, we are told, penned an open letter to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Governor Brian Kemp against the quote, "so-called heartbeat abortion bill." Dozens of other celebrities joined her, including Amy Schumer, Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Rosie O'Donnell, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, and Mia Farrow."
So before we look further at the article, we already see what's going on here. This is overt coercion coming from Hollywood insiders, often identified here mostly as actors and actresses who are saying officially in a public threat to Georgia, "If you do pass this legislation, Hollywood may pull its business out of your state." And we need to note, Georgia generally, and Atlanta specifically, has been the site of increased entertainment industry investment. The Hollywood Reporter tells us that just last year, 455 different productions filmed in Georgia, resulting in an estimated $2.7 billion dollars in direct spending in the state. Major projects to shoot in Georgia include AMC's The Walking Dead and Netflix's Ozark and Stranger Things. In addition Marvel, we are told, filmed two of its biggest 2018 blockbusters, Black Panther and the latest Avengers film, at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta.
In the letter released by the Hollywood celebrities, there was an overt threat to pull their business from Georgia if the anti-abortion bill passes. Quote, "We want to stay in Georgia. We want to continue to support the wonderful people, businesses, and communities we've come to love in The Peach State, but we will not do so silently, and we will do everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women if the bill becomes law." Notice the language here: "We will do everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women."
This is how today's moral battles are fought. It is fought over the word "safety," a very interesting political development that has massive moral importance. Safety here, we need to note, means that a woman has a safe right to an abortion. Of course, there's no concern whatsoever in this letter ... we can assure you of that ... that the safety of the unborn child is even an issue, of course, because the unborn child is invisible. The unborn child disappears in this moral equation simply driven by the left's determination to make the woman and her autonomy the only important moral issues. The baby doesn't exist.
But it's not just the people you would recognize as actors and actresses on this list. It is also the writers behind them. The Writer's Guild of America East and the Writer's Guild of America West released a joint statement joining in the coercion. Quote, "This law would make Georgia an inhospitable place for those in the film and television industry to work, including our members." End quote. Let's just consider what this is saying. Here you have the Writer's Guild, both the East and the West, making a common statement that if abortion is restricted further in Georgia, it is not the kind of place that the television industry would want to work. That tells us a very great deal. It tells us more than those who have offered this coercive letter intended to say. It tells us that Hollywood is now defining itself, not just in general terms, but through the official voice of the Writer's Guild, that Hollywood is for abortion unconditionally, extremely, even radically. They put themselves on the line here.
This letter continues, quote, "If the Georgia legislature and Governor Kemp make the bill law, it is entirely possible that many of those in our industry will either want to leave the state or decide not to bring productions there. Such is the potential cost of a blatant attack on every woman's right to control her own body." End Quote. Now again, we're talking about the Writer's Guild: the people who do most of the writing, all of the recognized labor union certified writing behind Hollywood's productions. Here you have their official voice stating officially that the right to abortion is a sine qua non. It is an absolute for the Writer's Guild East and West, and there is overt threat here. If this bill becomes law, we will do everything in our power to harm the state of Georgia economically.
But as Christians try to think intelligently about these overt threats coming from Hollywood, we need to recognize that this isn't the beginning of the threatening posture. Behind this overt threat is an entire culture of covert threat. Long before these actors and actresses released their letter, or the Writer's Guilds released their letter, the reality is that Hollywood and other forms of big business have been trying to bring incredible pressure on conservative states not to take action on laws that would be pro-life; or furthermore, would threaten in any way the full normalization of LGBTQ relationships and behaviors.
Christians thinking about this must recognize that it is the covert pressure, the pressure that doesn't make the headlines, that may be even more threatening than the overt pressure. But the shift to this kind of overt threat indicates that Hollywood has decided that it will declare open war on those parts of America and those Americans who do not stand with them in their leftist trajectory for the culture.
How the massive opposition to 'Unplanned,' a decidedly pro-life movie, reveals the hostility of the pro-abortion movement
Next, I'm often amazed that when we have a development like this, there is often another development or further developments along the same lines. It's almost as if when you see a story like this, there's almost assuredly more to the picture, and more of the picture is in short order going to become plain. And that was especially true when considering the issues of Hollywood and abortion just over the last several days. Because as important as that story was, there's another extremely important story on Hollywood and abortion that is still unfolding, and this has to do not with a state. This has to do with a film.
The film is Unplanned, a major theatrical release just in the last several days. And this is a movie about the conversion of a woman who had worked for Planned Parenthood. She had been pro-life as a young person. In college, she became pro-abortion and she began working for Planned Parenthood. But it was during the very process of an abortion, as she was observing the process, even looking at the ultrasound of the baby, recognizing as she looked at that ultrasound that the abortion taking place and abortion at which she was assisting was tearing apart an unborn baby, her heart was changed. And this is the movie of that transformation. It is a movie with an unashamedly pro-life message, and that's why Hollywood hates it.
An article in the Wall Street Journal summarizes the movie this way: Quote, "Unplanned is the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director. On a morning when her clinic was short staffed, a doctor asked Ms. Johnson to assist during a surgical abortion on a 13-week-old unborn child by holding the ultrasound probe as he positioned the suction catheter. Ms. Johnson was so distraught by what she witnessed that she resigned." End quote. Indeed, she did, and she told her story, and her story is now being told to millions of Americans who will go to see this film. And I heartily encourage you to see this film. But one of the issues I have to discuss is that this film is rated R, and there is a story behind that, I assure you.
But before we get to the ratings issue, we have to look at the massive opposition this movie has already had to overcome. For example, it's reported that the major television networks, including Lifetime, the Hallmark Channel, HDTV, and others have refused to air advertising or the trailer for the movie. As a matter of fact, the only major cable network to allow advertising and the trailer has been the Fox News Channel. It's important to recognize the candor with which the Hollywood Reporter has given us the story. Quote, "If you haven't seen a commercial for Unplanned, an anti-abortion movie critical of Planned Parenthood, it isn't for lack of trying on the part of marketers whose efforts have been consistently rebuffed by TV networks. Pure Flix, the distributor behind the box office hit, God's Not Dead, and other movies aimed at Christians, opens the movie in 1000 theaters. That would have been last week. But outside of the Fox News Channel, every other mainstream television outlet has declined to air the ad." End quote.
Once again, we're looking at a major moral statement being made within our culture, even being made again in Hollywood, being made by the entertainment and the news industry. Industries which, by the way, have become so intertwined, it is very difficult to distinguish between the two. News and entertainment are now something of a common cultural product. But we also see here that other form of coercion. These news outlets have not put out statements or letters threatening the movie. They have just refused to allow it to advertise or to air its trailer.
And behind that are signals being sent. Signals being sent throughout the industry, don't have anything to do with this movie. If you have anything to do with this movie, your job may be threatened. Your reputation may be on the line. Don't be on the wrong side of this moral revolution. Side with abortion, side with abortion in an extreme and radical position and you're safe. You do anything, including taking advertising for a movie that questions abortion, and you may be out of this industry. Those may not be the words that are used in public, but you can be absolutely assured that is the message that is being sent throughout Hollywood.
But if that wasn't evidence enough, on Saturday, the movie's Twitter account was blocked. It was blocked officially after complaints were made. It was restored, but only after there had been many people who complained to Twitter about the fact that the account was blocked. Because this is a story from Hollywood, I'll go back again to the Hollywood Reporter, one of the major news organs there in Hollywood. Quote, "The Twitter account for the anti-abortion movie, Unplanned, was briefly suspended on Saturday, but has been restored to Twitter." After several users screen-shotted notices of the suspension on the service and tagged Twitter and its co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, the account returned.
In this article that came after the previous article about the advertising that had been denied the movie, the Hollywood Reporter tells us that the movie, quote, "Has experienced difficulties marketing the film on TV networks." And according to these reports, Lifetime, The Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, HDTV, Food Network, The Hallmark Channel, and USA Networks, all declined to run ads for the film. John Sullivan, a producer of the movie said, quote, "We were looking to spend money, but they didn't want to get involved." End quote. According to this report, however, the Fox News Channel is now not alone in accepting advertising. It has been joined by the Christian Broadcast Network.
But as you're thinking about the moral divide in the United States, just think about that for a moment. Two and only two major cable networks would even accept advertising for this movie. Two and only two. That's about as close to unanimous from Hollywood as you can get. The only outliers, Fox and CBN. That's it. But there's another big story tied to this movie, and that is that rating, that R rating. Why would this movie be rated R? What would be the justification or the rationale for that rating, and what kind of signal are the raters trying to send America?
Well, that becomes very clear. It was especially clear in an opinion piece written for the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. The author was the Archbishop of Kansas City, Joseph F. Naumann. He wrote, quote, "Unplanned got its R rating for 'violence'." The word "violence" put in quotation marks because it was taken from the statement. Quote, "It is noteworthy for Hollywood to acknowledge that abortion is violent, but the onscreen violence in Unplanned isn't gratuitous. It's medically accurate." "Viewers," he wrote, "see exactly what compelled Ms. Johnson to leave an organization to which she had devoted herself for more than eight years." "Unplanned," he wrote, "wasn't produced to shame women who've had abortions or to condemn those who perform them. It's about redemption. Ms. Johnson herself had two abortions and is a beautiful example of how God's endless mercy is available to all who ask for it. Dr. Anthony Levatino, who performed countless abortions and served as a consultant to the filmmakers, has committed to educating others about the medical reality that each abortion takes a distinct and unique human life." End Quote.
Well, this is where the story gets even more interesting. What does that R rating mean? R in this case stands for Restricted. That is one of the ratings used by the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America. It has offered this rating service now for decades. It has always been controversial. It has always been confusing. It has always been political. One of the dirty little secrets about the R rating is that for years, Hollywood has used it to send a signal to teenagers and young adults that they want to see this movie. It supposedly is going to be restricted, that's the R, to persons 17 and older without an accompanying adult. But the reality is that that is a rule that is seldom enforced, and instead, it really becomes a sinister marketing tool.
But it also indicates something. You have to put in gratuitous violence and overtly explicitly sexual content in order to get that R rating. So if you want it, you're going to have to throw that kind of content into it. As you're looking at the whole rating system, Hollywood aims primarily for PG, PG-13 and R rated films. You put those three ratings together, that's the vast majority of the commercial product. If you go left of the R rating to NC-17 or X, the audience is just too restricted. The label is just too taboo. Hollywood's not going to make the mega millions that it aims for.
On the other hand, if you go to the right of PG, which means "Parental Guidance Suggested," then you're in the G or General Audience category. And one of the things we need to look at as we're thinking about the developments in this culture in recent years is the fact that Hollywood really doesn't produce many G rated movies at all. If you look to the year 1969, there were over a hundred. If you look to the year 2017, basically only 11. There's been a reduction by something like a factor of 10 as you're thinking about the number of Hollywood movies that have a G rating. Why is the G rating so unpopular? It is because it has become the rating that is believed by most Americans to indicate a movie for very young children. And thus, a lot of teenagers and young adults say, "I don't want to go see a kiddie film." But this really sends a far larger signal pointing to a deeper reality about the vast moral change in the United States, as measured just in the number of G rated movies released from 1969 to 2017.
But as we look at that R rating assigned to Unplanned, we need to recognize the signal that the MPA is sending. "This is a movie," it is saying, "that includes gratuitous violence." Now, what would be the violent content in this movie? It is the reality of an abortion. And the movie faces that reality squarely. That's the whole point. Abby Johnson's testimony is that she was face-to-face with that violence on the one hand, and the ultrasound image of the baby on the other hand, that led her to this radical change of heart on the issue of abortion.
But here's where you see the massive hypocrisy of Hollywood. You have Hollywood ... official Hollywood ... actors and actresses and the Writers' Guild threatening Georgia with pulling out billions of dollars of economic energy if the state dares to preserve unborn human life. But the very same industry comes back and gives an R rating to a movie that actually tells the truth about the deadly nature of abortion. And both of these stories have emerged within just a few hours of one another. Again, it's almost as if Hollywood has decided to send a concerted signal about where it stands, where it demands this country should go, where it stands on the issue of abortion, and the fact that nobody had better stand in their way.
Who determines what a film is rated? How a story about the woman in charge of the classifications acknowledges that the ratings are a part of the inside Hollywood game
But as our third major story of the day, I want us to look at that rating system in a larger context. Because Hollywood is so much a part of America, understanding that rating system would be very, very important. We've looked at it from time to time, but I want to look back to a major report that appeared in the New York Times near the end of last year. Brooke Barnes wrote a story about the woman, Joan Graves, age 77, who has served for 30 years on that MPA board, and for 18 of those years, she served as the chairwoman of the board that assigns those ratings. The headline in the story? "PG? NC-17? She made such calls for 30 years."
The story begins, quote, "Joan Graves, 77, has seen enough sex on screen for five lifetimes. New and inventive ways to kill people? Don't get her started. She has spent decades assessing off-color humor, deciding what constitutes glamorized smoking, and counting instances of the F word. Only once, she told the New York Times, has a horror movie been so violent that one of her employees lost consciousness. Paramedics arrived and hauled the staffer away on a stretcher." End quote. I don't know the signal being sent there. Is the signal sent that this happened once, or that it happened only once? It is telling that it appears to be that the context and implication means only once.
Later in the article, Barnes writes that Graves, quote, "is Hollywood's ratings czarina for 30 years. She has watched movies ... at least 12,500, he figures ... and assigned grades of G to NC-17 so parents can make decisions about what is appropriate viewing for children. For 18 of those years, she served as the rating systems chairwoman, quote, sparring with boundary-pushing filmmakers who called her too prudish, and, at the same time, defending her process to activists and parents who deem her grades too permissive." End quote.
Let's just pause for a moment and recognize that if you're looking at that kind of cultural production, you're looking at Hollywood. You're looking at the release of several hundred motion pictures a year. The logic would say that someone is going to have to decide the ratings of these movies. But here's where we also need to understand the Motion Picture Association of America is a trade organization. This is Hollywood rating Hollywood. Hollywood's authorities tried to get out in front of the federal government or other cultural authorities that might have created an external panel with certainly more objectivity and more parental input to rating these movies. This was always an inside Hollywood game.
In her conversation with the New York Times, Joan Graves referred to the moral standards by which the judgments are made. She makes a very revealing statement. Quote, "We don't set standards, we reflect them. What are parents most concerned about? Overall, there is something," she says, "about graphic nudity in this country. We're all graphically nude a couple of times a day, so I don't quite get it." End quote. Now, just to understand what she's told us here. The woman who has served on this board for 30 years, for the last 18 years as the chairman of this board, tells us that she doesn't get it, that many Americans have what she considers to be a hang-up over graphic nudity. She says that, but of course she says that at the end of her three decades of service, not in the beginning. But she also tells us right up front, and I quote it again, "We don't set standards. We reflect them." End Quote. Again, a statement about the fact that there are no moral absolutes. Morality is just an ongoing process of cultural negotiation.
And if you doubt the influence of people who hold that worldview, just consider the fact that the woman retiring after three decades, most of those years at the helm of this ratings organization, she decides to tell us now that they don't set standards, they just reflect them. She gives us a few insider comments here. For example, the fact that the G rating is now so unwanted by Hollywood that, in her words, it's almost as if they throw in a dirty word ... she gives us some of those dirty words ... in order to get the PG rating. They throw in the dirty words simply because they want the PG. They don't want the G rating.
She also gives us hints about how self-referential Hollywood is. Movie makers use one technique, and then others decide to use the same technique. She said, quote, "Right now, having a conversation while sitting on the toilet is big. One year, everyone was throwing up. I think as young filmmakers thinking, oh, that's cool. I'll do that, too." End Quote.
I think she made one statement at the end of her conversation with the New York Times that is dishonest. I'm not accusing her of lying. I just think that she's probably somewhat dishonest with herself. She says, quote, "I can wipe my brain clean afterwards." She means after watching all these movies, which is actually helpful. "One analysis," she says, "doesn't bleed into another." End quote.
Well, let's just remind ourselves in conclusion about what the Bible tells us about human nature. It's not so easy, it's not even possible, to wipe the brain clean. I can remember as a little child being taught by my parents that song, "Be careful little eyes, what you see." That's a good message, not only for little eyes, for young eyes, but for all eyes. We need to be careful what we see.
Later this week, we're going to look at violence and the Christian worldview, an issue raise by this movie, Unplanned. But we're out of time for today.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow 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 Indianapolis, Indiana, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.