Youth Culture Window
As I glanced through the show times of movies this past weekend, I took note that a few of the biggest blockbusters (currently in theaters) had one thing in common: a very twisted portrayal of relationships.
Do you know what’s playing at a theater near you?
A Deteriorating View of Relationships
Parents and youth workers know this best: one of the biggest influences in life – if not the biggest – is the quality of relationships we keep. But a quick look through the lenses of culture reveals a greatly cheapened understanding of relationships compared to those of yesteryear.
How people treat others is changing. In fact, how people are encouraged to treat others is changing. In many of today’s relationships, things like commitment, loyalty, and respect are on the endangered species list.
But that’s not the way it’s always been. Where is this new trend coming from? Who’s modeling this new (and lesser) understanding of relationships? Both of those questions can be answered in one word: media.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at three films playing on movie screens in your towns right now. See if their presentation of relationships is familiar to your understanding, or whether the lessons they’re promoting are (very) different from those you’ve known in the past.
Movie #1: Hall Pass
The movie’s official website offers a “unique” take on problem-solving within marriages. Here’s how the production company describes their film:
Best buds Rick and Fred (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) have both been married for many years. When they begin to show signs of restlessness at home, their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) take a bold approach to revitalize their marriages: they grant the guys a “hall pass,” one week of freedom to do whatever they want. No questions asked. Elsewhere on the site, the film defines Hall Pass as, “A week off from marriage to do whatever you want without consequences.” The film’s “green band” trailer (for all audiences) reveals the comedic trouble the guys quickly find themselves in as they go in search of babes. A “red band” trailer (for restricted audiences requiring age authentication) exists as well, showing why the movie fully earns its rating of R for “crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use.”
Hall Pass was released on February 25, 2011 and raked in $13.5 million during its opening weekend. And what did teenagers who saw the movie learn about relationships?
- When men (or women, for that matter) can’t control themselves, they should just be given whatever they crave.
- The promises made between a man and a woman during their wedding ceremony can be put on pause.
- Our actions do not have to have consequences attached to them.
These “gems” are just a few of the lessons highlighted in Hall Pass. Of course, viewers will also see plenty of gratuitous eye candy, learn some really foul pick up lines, and see grown men simulating masturbation.
Yeah…I think I’ll take a pass on Hall Pass.
Movie #2: No Strings Attached
This date flick asks the age-old question, “Can sex friends stay best friends?” Starring two of the hottest young celebs in Hollywood, No Strings Attached was released on January 21, 2011 and swept in $20.3 million at the box office that same weekend.
The movie’s official website offers trailers, photos, and an interactive (and risqué) menu. (Just roll your mouse over the navigation bar at the top of the screen to see what I mean.) The website describes the movie’s plot like this:
In this comedy, Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are life-long friends who almost ruin everything by having sex one morning. In order to protect their friendship, they make a pact to keep their relationship strictly “no strings attached.” “No strings” means no jealousy, no expectations, no fighting, no flowers, no baby voices. It means they can do whatever they want, in whatever public place they want, as long as they don’t fall in love. The question becomes – who’s going to fall first? And can their friendship survive?The “red band trailer” available on the site is just as vile as the one mentioned above in Hall Pass. But it will give you a 2 minute glimpse of what to expect for 2 hours in the theater. And what will young viewers “learn” from No Strings Attached?
- Sex and commitment should be kept separate.
- Obligation and responsibility are always optional.
- There aren’t consequences to our sexual actions.
This movie promises “no strings attached,” but if our kids take these lessons to heart, they’ll end up in knots.
Movie #3: Just Go With It
Danny (Adam Sandler) has always pretended to be married; that’s the angle that helps him “hook up” with women for sex. In the trailer for the movie, Sandler’s character admits, “I know it’s wrong, but there’s no strings attached, and nobody gets hurt.”
Geez…is there a theme developing here around the absence of strings…and consequences???
Jennifer Aniston teams up with Sandler to pull of this romantic comedy that Columbia Pictures describes this way:
In Just Go With It, a plastic surgeon, romancing a much younger schoolteacher, enlists his loyal assistant to pretend to be his soon to be ex-wife, in order to cover up a careless lie. When more lies backfire, the assistant’s kids become involved, and everyone heads off for a weekend in Hawaii that will change all their lives.This film is “only” rated PG-13 – which should make it the most decent film of the three – but what it lacks in nudity, it makes up for in “frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language.”
Jonathan reviewed this film on our MOVIE REVIEWS AND QUICK Q’s page and gave it the lowest rating possible: A Coaster (in other words, the only thing this DVD will be good for is setting your drink on it). He described the film as “truly painful to watch.” He went on to say, “It was like hanging out in a Jr. High locker room.”
This film was released on February 11, 2011 and collected a whopping $30.5 million during its first three days. In other words, there were plenty of young people willing to Just Go With It. And when they did, they could have walked away with a few of these “life-lessons.”
- Do whatever – including be fake – to get what you want.
- Lies can get you out of trouble, so string together as many as necessary.
- I can have whatever and whoever I want whenever I want…and nobody gets hurt.
- It’s OK for me to manipulate my friends to get what I want.
Sandler’s character encourages Aniston’s character to just “go with it.” But if our teenagers “just go with it” in real life, they’ll just get hurt.
Building Strong Relationships
The fundamental understanding of healthy, godly relationships is under attack by Hollywood, media, and culture, in general. Interestingly, if you think about it, these three movies center on the relationship of marriage in one way or another. (In one movie, married people are given a pass to break their promises, in another, marriage is unnecessary because sex is all that’s important, and in the third, the concept of marriage is actually pimped so a guy can have all the sex he wants.)
Understanding that Hollywood has set its sights on relationships in general, and marriage in particular, we need to prepare ourselves in advance so we can help our teenagers correctly understand all relationships, especially the marital ones. Here are just a couple of ideas.
- Be selective in the movies your teens watch. At least two of these movies above are utterly useless for the typical family striving to be godly. The good news is, you are the one who gets to decide what’s appropriate for your kids, not the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Do your research about movie ratings, content, messages, imitative behavior, and “lessons” contained in the film. If there’s something that’s unclear, consider viewing the film for yourself before allowing your teenager to see it. And in the event it doesn’t meet your standards, be courageous enough to explain why you’re not allowing it in their lives.
- Ask questions about questionable content. Even “clean” movies these days are going to have content you might wish was excluded. What do you do about it? The best solution is to talk about it. If you see a movie (in the theater) with your teen and it has some questionable content in it, ask them questions about it afterward. In fact, you can just turn each of the “lessons” I’ve pointed out for each movie into questions. “Is it OK to manipulate your friends to get what you want?” “What does the Bible have to say about breaking marriage promises?” Movies are answering questions that kids are asking. You might as well get a shot to answer those questions, as well.
We have provided a great resource to help you do this—our MOVIE REVIEWS AND QUICK Q’s page. This page not only offers a review of the film and a description of its content, it also provides three questions parents can ask their kids after the film. For example, in Jonathan’s review of Just Go With It, he gives parents an entire discussion about the lies of the world compared to the truth of the Word using I Corinthians, Chapter 6 and several questions parents can ask about the message of that passage.
Any parent and youth worker knows that good relationships are hard to find…and even harder to keep. Therefore, knowing the importance of relationships, we must take a proactive role in helping our kids forge solid, godly, healthy relationships.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.