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Culture Snob takes on Decent Films


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For as intelligent as he claims to be, he's defending a rediculous position. That movies are morally neutral? Give me a break. He's half a step away from pure relativism.

If it doesn't matter what someone thinks of a films worthiness why do we care what other people think of films. Why would we read reviews on "Culture Snob."

Kudos for winning over (at least aesthetically) someone who so fundamentally disagrees with your worldview.

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For as intelligent as he claims to be, he's defending a rediculous position.  That movies are morally neutral?  Give me a break. He's half a step away from pure relativism.

but is that really what he's saying?

his statement regarding moral neutrality doesn't mean that movies can't inspire moral reactions or moral decisions in their audience - he is simply stating the obvious, that a movie is not a moral entity. to put it in Christian terms, a movie can't be judged by God and sent to either Heaven or Hell; Jesus can't save a movie; a movie can't commit a sin.

that may seem obvious, but i also think that's exactly what he's saying - after all, following the statement regarding "moral neutrality," he says, "No movie has ever murdered a person. No song or symphony has ever stolen. No television program has ever coveted the wife of a program in a neighboring time slot." Later, he says that "Natural Born Killers" inspired people to murder, but the film itself isn't guilty of murder...the people are. now, the people who made the film may share responsibility, but they are moral agents because they are human beings - the movie itself is not a moral agent.

he concludes with the thought, "Really, don’t nearly all good movies raise moral questions worth pondering, even if the films don’t bluntly endorse a Christian answer?" he's admitting that a film can have moral qualities, or inspire moral decisions and thoughts (that's hardly relativism), but it cannot be a moral agent itself.

so does decentfilms.com advocate the view that a film CAN be a moral agent? i don't think so, and i think that's where he's gone wrong. but he's hardly advocating relativism in his piece. not in the least.

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Semantics. If I flash a ten year old, is the flash a moral agent? No. I am. But to judge the act as indecent is still valid.

Movies contain moral messages, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes up for interpretation, but they are there. And to evaluate them in terms of universal understandings of decency and respect of mankind is legit.

According to this logic, SDG should be listing directors and evaluating their morality on various scales, and this hardly seems appropriate.

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According to this logic, SDG should be listing directors and evaluating their morality on various scales, and this hardly seems appropriate.

actually, i'd say CultureSnob would argue that viewers are more responsible for a film's morality than directors, or at least as responsible.

no offense, but people often cry "semantics" when they don't want to be percise about something. you can say it's just semantics, but semantics are very important - especially if movies have inspired people to murder, rape, etc. it's an important issue, and not one you can get sloppy over. it's important to understand who or what is responsible for that sort of thing, and it's important to be percise on the issue.

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Okay then. Films (while open to interpretation) have a thematic message(s), often agreed upon - at least generally - by the viewing public. And therefore, whatever that message is, can be evaluated as an extention of the filmmakers. A moral judgement. If we can make no moral judgements of films. If they're not trying to explore or express truth, why make them? Do you see why I think claiming films are amoral is slipping into a relativistic point of view? If films are free to be whatever we want them to be once the filmmakers hae "birthed" them, well then why not show porn at church and look for messianic figures?

I'm having trouble seeing how anyone can say films don't contain inherant moralities and maintain a straight face. Like I said, they can be ambiguous or differed upon to some extent, but to say we shouldn't look for those moral messages is ludicrous.

Perhaps what the culture snob's most angry about is that there is a "No One Should See This" rating amidst SDG's reviews (although, very few get it). Perhaps he's claiming that there's enough room for interpretation, that no man should make this decision for another. Snd there, he may have a point. Although, I daresay someone with as much film and theological knowlegde as SDG would be supremely qualified to give just such advice. But in truth, I think he's saying much more. He's saying no one should be making ANY moral judgements about any film.

If we're really getting down to "Films don't actually DO anything, so they cannot commit immoral acts." Well, then, we've moved the argumentation into absurd ground. I think there's an assumption that it is the filmmakers' intentions in the making of the film that are being assessed, not the soul of the celluloid.

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If we're really getting down to \"Films don't actually DO anything, so they cannot commit immoral acts.\" Well, then, we've moved the argumentation into absurd ground.  I think there's an assumption that it is the filmmakers' intentions in the making of the film that are being assessed, not the soul of the celluloid.

then i think the CultureSnob would probably argue that it's better to call the filmmaker "morally poisonous," rather than the film, since what's really being judged is the filmmaker's intentions.

i agree with you that he's reacting to SDG's terms more than anything else. he may be getting worked up over SDG's semantics, but as this thread has already proved, people get worked up over semantics, and that's why they're important - after all, he is using semantics, and you got worked up over his semantics, and i got worked up over yours, etc. people are always going to be irritated with how people say things, and that's what happened to CultureSnob when he saw SDG's website.

i disagree with you when you say, "I think he's saying much more. He's saying no one should be making ANY moral judgements about any film." i don't find ANYTHING in the column like that. it seems like this is a reaction Christians have any time someone questions one system of morality...that they are actually hoping to denounce all systems of morality. there's nothing like that in the article.

-seth

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then i think the CultureSnob would probably argue that it's better to call the filmmaker \"morally poisonous,\" rather than the film, since what's really being judged is the filmmaker's intentions.

I don't remotely understand this. People may be poisoned or poisoners, but they aren't "poisonous." What's "poisonous" is not people, but ideas.

For example, racism is poisonous. A racist is someone who has been poisoned by racism. If he spreads his racism to others, we might also call him a poisoner. But the poison is the idea, not the person.

And movies can be about ideas. And if a movie is about a poisonous idea in a way that puts a positive spin or light on the poisonous idea, encouraging viewers not to spit it out but to drink it in, I would call that a poisonous movie. For example, Triumph of the Will.

That's my take, anyway -- please discuss further.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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i disagree with you when you say, \"I think he's saying much more. He's saying no one should be making ANY moral judgements about any film.\" i don't find ANYTHING in the column like that.

From the article: Morality is a human characteristic, and the only moral quality that can be ascribed to movies would stem from how humans react to them.

From me: In other words, films don't have the morals we just give them the meaning. Guns don't kill people... Yada, yada, yada.

Seth

it seems like this is a reaction Christians have any time someone questions one system of morality...that they are actually hoping to denounce all systems of morality. there's nothing like that in the article.

-seth

That's a pretty big deduction. "Most Christians do this, so therefore.... you must also be..." Don't assume anything about me. I'm not what you'd call a typical evangelical moralist.

Besides haven't we already established that I think he's being relativistic? Which would not be denouncing all systems of morality, but allowing for all of them. And here's my evidence:

From the article:More importantly, though, trying to figure out a movie

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Welcome, Snob!

Well, I might as well post here what I was going to write to you you when I got the chance. (I would've written to you sooner, but, you know, deadlines. I'm losing enough sleep as it is.)

On a personal note, let me say that while I'm quite used to getting both positive and negative feedback from Christians, atheists, and everyone in between, as far as I know this was the first time I've been the subject of a significantly critical essay, so I want to thank you for being as gentle on me as you were. smile.gif

In fact, your critical comments aside, I'm quite gratified by your positive comments about my work. The left-handed compliment about "not as stiff and didactic as I expected" aside, your second paragraph includes some of the highest praise I've received from a fellow film writer, certainly in print (so to speak), so, thank you. (BTW, another write-up of my site also singled out the generous word-count of our Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island review... just what are y'all implying? wink.gif )

Turning to your critical comments, it seems on one level that what most troubles you about my work is the ratings. Good. It's the part I like the least too. I'm deeply ambivalent about all ratings systems -- mine included. It's not just as applied to moral-spiritual value, either. All ratings systems are inherently problematic, whatever they measure. It actually seems to me that at least some of your criticis would apply equally well to any "thumbs up / thumbs down" (or "fresh / rotten") ratings system, or even a more flexible multiple-star ratings system. No matter how we rate films, we end up making decisions that are, if not always, at least often arbitrary and very imperfectly reflective of what we actually think about a film.

In fact, I've long felt that part of me would like to do away with the ratings entirely and just let the reviews stand on their own. Indeed, that's exactly what I now do in the pages of the National Catholic Register, ever since I convinced them to do away with their own rather cryptic ratings system. On my site I continue to use my own ratings since I think that they do meaningfully convey worthwhile information, however imperfectly, but I'm very aware of the imperfections and limitations built into the system.

Having said all that, I stand by my ratings, and am happy to explain, clarify, and defend them.

It's true, first of all, that the films I am harshest to in moral-spiritual value are often high in artistic-entertainment value. There are at least two reasons for that. For one thing, a morally objectionable or offensive film that also lacks the kind of achievement that earns glowing critic reviews and generates positive buzz is not a film that's likely to generate any demand for a review from my readership, or that I'm likely to care enough about to bother seeing and writing up. There is something paradoxical and unsettling about a well-made and intriguing movie that is deeply morally problematic, but those difficult cases are precisely the ones that draw my attention. Still and all, it's perhaps worth pointing out that your complaint essentially involves a small handful of reviews out of hundreds that I've written.

There's a second reason as well, but before I get to that I should perhaps address some of your other points.

You seem to take issue with the whole prospect of my declaring a film "poison." Yet you also write, "Many people consider Forrest Gump "a feast for the spirit," and many others see "poison," and both reactions are valid. If you consider both valid reactions, then why is it invalid for me to have one of them? Why do you validate such opinions from other people, but not from me?

Is it because I express my opinion with a number? Because I make negative judgments about films that in other respects I can admire? Do you have a problem with a critic such as Ebert beginning his review of Very Bad Things by saying that it is "not a bad movie, just a reprehensible one"? Can one not acknowledge the craft of a film while still finding it morally repugnant?

Perhaps it's because you seem to think I claim some sort of infallibility and authority for my opinions that excludes other people from holding contrary opinions. You write, "Decent Films operates in a sphere of certainty, in which (a) there's no question about a movie's morality, and (cool.gif upstanding people must avoid anything declared immoral."

Says who? I refer you to my FAQ page, where I address the question: "If it's just [my] opinion that one movie is worthwhile and another one is offensive, why should anyone listen to [me]?" The question (cf. also the previous two questions) rightly assumes that my moral opinions about movies are just that: my opinions. While "the underlying moral principles informing my reviews are based not upon my own personal opinions or on vague climates of opinion, but upon the unchanging Christian faith," my application of those principles to specific situations in specific films is "always subjective," like all critical opinions.

My core beliefs, I'm certain of -- my faith in God, in Jesus, of my belief in the Catholic Church, and so on. But where did you get the idea that just because I take a stand on a movie and argue it emphatically, I somehow exclude all possibility of question or doubt, even for myself, let alone for anyone else? When another critic rates a movie four stars or zero stars, does that imply that no other view of the movie is possible -- much less that anyone in the world has some sort of moral obligation to abide by that verdict?

Who exactly do you think I think I am, anyway? I'm not the pope of movies. I'm not even the surgeon general of movies. I'm nobody's pastor or spiritual director. Nobody in the world has the slightest moral obligation to agree with me, much less do what I say (except for a very select group of individuals who all have the same last name I do).

I couldn't begin to count the number of times I've said it: As a film critic, I am not a judge handing down a verdict that anyone should blindly accept; my job is more like a lawyer who takes a side and argues it as best he can. The reader is the judge who decides case by case if I've argued my brief persuasively or not.

What readers get from me is not the one absolute and binding truth about a movie, but (a) some relevant facts about a film, and (cool.gif a hopefully informed and responsible construal of those facts that is worth taking seriously. If a reader happens to agree with my construal, fine. If not, that's fine too, at least as far as I'm concerned. Everyone is answerable to his own conscience and to God, not to me.

Quoting my remark that, whatever faults movies like American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, and The Cell might have, "each is in its own way interesting to watch," and that "parts of them I might even want to see again," you complain, "But even that small amount of nuance isn't allowed in the ratings."

Give me a break. It's a rating. How much "nuance" do you want from it? If you want nuance, read the review. Anyway, isn't my ratings system, which at least allows me (in the very limited number of cases we're talking about) to give due credit to the film's achievement while still giving full weight to my moral opprobium, far more nuanced than the ratings of just about any other critic out there?

I mentioned Ebert's review of Very Bad Things, a movie he acknowledged was "not bad" in one respect, but reprehensible in another. Splitting the difference, he gave it one star, the same rating given to movies ranging from Daddy Day Care and Flubber to Baise Moi and Bad Boys 2. My system at least allows me to differentiate technical criticism from moral opprobium.

Most readers, agnostics and atheists included, express appreciation for the level of "nuance" I have managed to allow for.

You say, "A major problem with the site is that the writers rarely back up the moral ratings." True, in the sense that I rarely say "I gave this movie a minus-1 because..." That's because I consider it the mark of an amateur to write to the rating, rather than rating to the writing. The review isn't there to justify the rating, the rating is there to give you a quick index of where the review is going to be coming from. Now, having said that, if you read a review of a minus-1 movie and can't figure out why I might have considered it morally problematic, either I dropped the ball in my review or you missed something. But I think in general it should be pretty easy to figure out why I gave a movie a particular rating, even if you happen to disagree with my reasoning or conclusions.

Quoting my American Beauty review, you say, "Note the qualifiers: 'it seems as if we're meant...' How does such a wishy-washy statement translate to a half-notch short of moral poison?" In reality, the statement isn't half as "wishy-washy" as you make out. All discussion about the meaning of a film, or of any work of art, must ultimately be discussion of what it seems the artist meant the audience to think or feel or apprehend. A work of art means whatever the artist reasonably intends his intended audience to reasonably understand or infer from it. Since we don't have direct access to the artist's thoughts unless he explains his work to us (and even then there may be ambiguities about how straightforward and complete his own account and even understanding of his intentionality is), we must always inevitably speak, implicitly or otherwise, of what it seems we are meant to take away from the work.

You say that "'moral' and 'spiritual' isn't a natural pairing, because one can be a moral person without being remotely spiritual, and vice versa." That's a subject of some dispute. You say the pairing isn't natural; I say it's the dividing that isn't natural. I don't know if you're familiar with the philosophy of moral nihilism or the "boo-hurrah" school of ethics, but I happen to find quite persuasive their arguments that, absent a source or reference of absolute good and evil, all moral judgments are only statements about how the speaker happens to feel, and have no more truth or falsehood for anyone else than "I have a headache" or "I prefer ranch to Italian." You're free to disagree, of course, but it's legitimate for me to predicate the usage of my site on what Christians believe, not what you believe. And it's Christian belief that virtue and religion are inseparably linked.

"And 'a feast for the spirit' and 'poison' are vague and largely meaningless terms that don't really belong on the same continuum." "Vague," I'll give you. But how are "feast" and "poison" not opposite ends of a continuum? A feast is something I love to eat; poison is something I want to be very careful not to eat. I thought it was fairly clever actually, or at least felicitous. Anyway, it's just a verbal conceit, a metaphor.

"More importantly, though, trying to figure out a movie's moral character is futile." Is it futile to try to say what a movie is about? Is it futile to try to say how it is about it? Can we not make judgments between the attitude toward race and Nazism in Schindler's List vs. that of The Triumph of the Will? Can we not apply moral affections to those judgments?

"They're complex, open to interpretation, and not meaningfully evaluated in a binary system of 'good' and 'evil' (or 'thumbs up' and 'thumbs down,' for that matter." Well, then, it's a good thing I didn't create a binary ratings system, isn't it?

Or do you mean that the whole concept of good and evil can't be meaningfully applied to movies? What about the concepts of "good art" and "bad art"? Why is that different? If you're such a Culture Snob, and consider yourself so "damned judgmental," I assume you make judgments from time to time about some things being in some way better or worse than other things. Is it only when it comes to morality that everything suddenly gets so vague and imponderable that we'd be better off not trying to come to any conclusions at all? I really don't understand.

"But to take it a step further, movies are morally neutral." Yes -- in the sense that pornography, the Bible, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and Mein Kampf are morally neutral. They have, however, moral implications. They are about various ideas, and those ideas have a moral dimension. Some of them are good, some of them are bad. It matters which, and there are meaningful things we can and should say about them. Not all movies are so morally charged as all that, of course... which is why the vast majority of films rate somewhere between +2 and -2 on my site.

"And that leads to what makes me the most angry about Decent Films: It attempts to prevent people from making their own judgments about a movie's value." Honestly, Snob, I don't think that's fair. I'm all about people making their own judgments. But for most people in the world, especially those whose lives don't revolve around film, one of the main judgments they want to make is, "Is this a movie that I want to see? Will I be glad I saw this movie, or will I wish I hadn't?" I try to give people information to make that decision, but I also tell them honestly my own opinion, for whatever it's worth. Nobody has to listen to me. But when I get emails from people saying "Oh, my God, I just saw The Hours and I hated it, and then I read your review, and I just wish I had read your review first and I could have saved myself the two hours and ten dollars" -- well, it makes me want to knock them upside the head for not reading my review first, otherwise why am I doing this? But it also reinforces my belief that I'm doing a service to the people who do see my review first and write to say "Thanks for saving me from this one, two hours of suicidal depression is the last thing I need at this point in my life."

"Really, don't nearly all good movies raise moral questions worth pondering, even if the films don't bluntly endorse a Christian point of view?" I think as you wind up your essay you're ramping up the rhetorical liberties for effect. You can't possibly have spent any time on my site and think I only like movies that "bluntly endorse a Christian point of view." Heck, I even like movies that are definitely rooted in non-Christian religious traditions, including Taoism (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Shinto (Spirited Away), and others.

"And isn't an essential part of being a truly moral and spiritual person self-examination, and processing experiences -- including movies -- in the context of one's beliefs and philosophy?" Yes. But at the end of that process of self-examination and processing movies in the context of one's beliefs and philosophy, we are allowed to come to conclusions and make judgments. That's all I'm trying to do.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Guest Russell Lucas

I want to find some time to really engage this, because I think we've got a great opportunity to think through and clarify-- for ourselves as much as anyone else-- the role of critics, the role of Christians who like to (or want to, or feel called to) recommend films to others, why films should be recommended to others and a bunch of related issues.

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Thanks for writing back, Jeff.

Interesting lineup of titles. I think I'm safe in saying you're definitely going to find that there's a wide range of opinions at play here on all the titles you mentioned.

In fact, it seems to me that you chose your titles specifically for their ambiguity and the range of interpretations and readings to which they are subject.

But you needn't have bothered. Hardly any film is going to get a unanimous reaction from every Christian cinephile on this board. Even a film like The Last Temptation of Christ, which I happen to think one of the clearest examples of a movie that belongs in the deepest circle of hell, is subject to widely divergent opinions and readings. (In fact, I'm in the minority here, at least among more vocal members.)

But I think your query is worth taking up... perhaps on our main film discussion forum. In fact, I'll start a new thread just for this purpose.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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In fact, it seems to me that you chose your titles specifically for their ambiguity and the range of interpretations and readings to which they are subject.  

But you needn't have bothered.

I chose the titles earnestly, with a sincere interest in the reactions of people here. Really. I swear.

I also think they'll inform the discussion. (My apologies if the inquiry didn't belong in this forum, by the way.)

And anybody who wants to is welcome to call me Jeff.

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I chose the titles earnestly, with a sincere interest in the reactions of people here. Really. I swear.

No, I totally believe you, and didn't mean anything different. Those ARE exactly the kinds of titles to provoke a serious exploration of interpretive and moral ambiguity in film. I didn't mean to imply anything negative at all. Of course it stands to reason that if you want to see interesting and creative grappling with moral issues, a film like Do the Ring Thing is more likely to provoke lively or illuminating discussion than a film like Schindler's List (which is not to say that you won't have ANY lively or illuminating discussion around Schindler's List, but you're more likely to get a predominant convergence of opinion around certain broad aspects of the issue).

(My apologies if the inquiry didn't belong in this forum, by the way.).

Not at all, no apology necessary -- the inquiry grew naturally out of the discussion, and this is where we were, so where else would you have posted it? Honestly, I started a new thread in the "Films, Directors" forum as much because that forum gets more traffic as anything, and I wanted to give your query a higher profile. smile.gif

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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CultureSnob wrote:

: It would be helpful and instructive for me, in terms of understanding

: where all of you are coming from, for some brief reactions to the

: morality of certain movies.

You dislike ratings but you want "brief" evaluations of the morality of various films? What's more, you want to see where "all" of us are coming from, and not just SDG? Hmmm, not sure how this computes. At any rate, just check our existing threads, and you'll see all sorts of disagreements over our moral responses to films -- as SDG notes, just check The Last Temptation.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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But maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. When I write about a movie, I don’t use a methodological approach. I think and write until I find something interesting, and then I run with it. Perhaps the moral evaluation is instinctive, and each person uses his or her ethical/spiritual compass to come to a conclusion that feels right.

And if that’s the case, I really am a moral relativist.

not necessarily.

here's what i think you're saying: "I find it easier to determine a film's moral value with my gut, rather than with a methodological approach."

you're not saying that movies don't have moral values, or that a movie can't be morally repungant, or that there's no absolute system of morality that human beings should live by. you're simply saying you don't believe there's a good systematic approach of criticism that can adequately represent a film's moral worth.

i would agree with that assertion. i never apply a methodological system of criticism to movies (or anything) when i examine them (either for artistic or spiritual purposes). i disagree with Goethe, just as i disagree with most critics who use anything but their gut to judge art...well, that's not entirely true. i simply think we shoud judge art with our gut to the extent that it communicates to us viscerally, and that we should judge art with our minds to the extent that it communicates to us intellectually. and film tends to be a very "gut-happy" medium...in my experience, films provoke an emotional response far more often than an intellectual response (even many "intellectual films" do this, by using emotionally charged situations to raise intellectual problems).

that being said, i think SDG definitely provides that sort of nuanced criticism in his reviews. he is able to react to the complexity of a film's moral worldview in his reviews without relying on a cold, methodological standard. it's his rating system, on the other hand, that seems to have troubled you. and while the semantics of his rating system puts me off too, i think the content of his reviews more than compensates for that.

-seth

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you're not saying that movies don't have moral values, or that a movie can't be morally repungant, or that there's no absolute system of morality that human beings should live by. you're simply saying you don't believe there's a good systematic approach of criticism that can adequately represent a film's moral worth.

I hereby name Seth my proxy. Please direct all complaints to him.

To refine the point, though, I would say that because of the medium's complexity I don't believe there's a systematic approach of criticism that can meaningfully represent to me a film's moral worth, and furthermore that I am constitutionally incapable of evaluating a film's moral implications on a "gut" level.

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I'm loving this discussion. Welcome, Culture Snob. By all means, smoke out our unexamined assumptions and maybe we'll be able to return the favor. biggrin.gif I'm sure we'll at least leave you with a new appreciation for the diversity of what is often assumed a monolithic "Christian" view. (Just as some Christians often assume a monolithic "secular" point of view.) In any case, we're none of us here stand-ins for any cultural architype, but a bunch of individuals emerging from one tradition or another who like to argue (sometimes noisily) about movies.

Jumping in at random...

Movies contain moral messages, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes up for interpretation, but they are there.  
All movies? Do all works of art contain moral messages? Does a garden?

But the poison is the idea, not the person.  And movies can be about ideas. And if a movie is about a poisonous idea in a way that puts a positive spin or light on the poisonous idea, encouraging viewers not to spit it out but to drink it in, I would call that a poisonous movie.
But ideas are interpreted. What has bothered me at times with SDG's approach is what I perceive as a frequent attitude or assumption of objectivity: with regard to what SDG might identify as "poisonous" ideas in Last Temptation, I felt we were in fact interpreting those ideas in different ways. In fact, I also feel a need to resist the notion that every symbol or image (or action or bit of dialogue, which can actually be symbols or images rather than necessarily or primarily conceptual) in a film is reduceable to an idea. For some people, that kind of interpretive humility opens the door to total anarchy, relativism,
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The best example I’ve ever seen of this sort of thing is a famous discussion between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky, where Chomsky is arguing for some position on the basis of a hazy morality.  Foucault seizes upon this, of course, and demands to know the source of Chomsky's notion of quote justice unquote.  “Don’t press me,” says Chomsky, “because I couldn’t tell you.  I just know that justice exists.”  

that's beautiful.

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mike_h wrote:

: The best example I've ever seen of this sort of thing is a famous

: discussion between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky, where Chomsky

: is arguing for some position on the basis of a hazy morality. Foucault

: seizes upon this, of course, and demands to know the source of

: Chomsky's notion of quote justice unquote. "Don't press me," says

: Chomsky, "because I couldn't tell you. I just know that justice exists."

I get the impression Chomsky is hazy on a number of things, factual and conceptual, which is unfortunate when one is presuming to be an arbiter of moral truth on the international scene. What I find kind of confusing about this particular summary is that it is not clear to me whether it is the SOURCE or the SUBSTANCE of Chomsky's "justice" that is at issue here. Is it a question of "hazy morality", or is it a question of the "source" of his morality? The SOURCE is never that important a matter, when one is having dialogue across ideological, political, and religious boundaries. The crucial point in such discussions is always the SUBSTANCE.

If I am ever brought to trial, the last thing I want is juries and judges that go by their "gut" and not by an adherence to certain "logical" principles and processes.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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If I am ever brought to trial, the last thing I want is juries and judges that go by their \"gut\" and not by an adherence to certain \"logical\" principles and processes.

of course...but as you say, that's the difference between sources and substance.

but when it comes to films...well, as i said earlier, i just don't believe systematic or methodological morality can be applied to films in the way we apply them to people, or a person's actions. you can't bring a jury before a film and ask them to judge it, from a moral point of view, and then base your entire moral perception of the film from the jury's conclusion. systematic morality can be applied to actions (which is what juries do...they don't even judge persons, just a person's actions). i don't think you can argue that it can be applied to anything else...not even persons, for that matter. after all, when Jesus was called "good," he replied, "Why do you call me good?" only God can offer that sort of evaluation, i believe.

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