Scott Nehring is a sometime film writer and current film critic, who blogs at GoodNewsFilmReviews.com. He is also a Christian, concerned about re-taking popular culture—if not necessarily for Christianity (in the sense of making every movie have a gospel message), but at least for the encouragement of positive movies that elevate people’s lives.
You Are What You See (you can order it here, in electronic or softcover form) is his manifesto. (I need to mention that I received a free review copy.)
It would be easier to praise or pan his book if it had been the sort of thing I half-expected—either a call to “come out and be separate” from popular culture, or a point-by-point, guaranteed-or-your-money-back blueprint for cultural revolution. Instead, the author leaves a lot of room for individual decisions. Because freedom is part of the deal, and every Christian has his own gifts, strengths and weaknesses.
This is good. But it means the reader has to do a fair amount of work, forever asking himself “How does this apply to me, if at all?” “Where do I fit in the scheme of things?”
That, however, is the price of honesty and biblical fidelity.
The simple fact is (and Nehring does not deny it) that to wade into the stream of popular culture today is to wade into a sewer, to one degree or another. Some people are simply incapable of handling it, and need to keep their distance altogether.
But Nehring believes that too many Christians are handling popular culture (especially the movies) in unreflective ways, either rejecting it entirely out of fear, or plunging into it, heedless of the damage it can do them.
Scott Nehring’s strategy, through this book, is to try to equip Christians to understand what is going on in their minds and hearts when they watch a film. To analyze it, to determine the filmmakers’ intent, and to judge what they’ve seen. Movies can corrupt us, but knowledge and discernment are valuable antidotes. In order to help us acquire knowledge and discernment, he spends a fair number of pages breaking down classic story structure, to help us understand how movies are plotted, and how their hidden messages can be recognized.
The information which follows will change the way you view movies. If you have any inclination toward continuing mindless viewing habits, stop reading now. Put the book down and walk away, for if you continue things will change. You will know how the rabbit got into the magician’s hat.
Once we understand this (he hopes) Christians will begin to be able to enter the film industry (the real one, not the cheap imitation we’ve tried to construct with too little money and skill), to produce stories that once again exalt goodness and expose evil. And if we can’t do that, we can at least make better choices with our ticket-buying money, going beyond the boycott and the protest to put legitimate market pressure on Hollywood to clean up its act. You Are What You See is a good introduction for Christians at their wits’ end trying to figure out what to do about popular entertainment. You won’t be given a hard-and-fast formula, but you’ll come away with some maps and compasses to help you find your own way.
Lars Walker is a Minnesota fantasy author. His most recent published novel is West Oversea.