One of my favorite movies to watch when I’m in the mood for something comfortable is a mostly forgotten film starring John Cusak, Catherine Zeta Jones, Julia Roberts, and Billy Crystal called America’s Sweethearts.
The premise is that Eddie Thomas (Cusak) and Gwen Harrison (Zeta Jones) were an incredibly popular hollywood couple until Gwen cheated on Eddie with another actor in a movie they were in, Hector. The movie, Time Over Time, during the filming of which those events happened is about to be released but the eccentric director, Hal Weidmann, won’t show anyone the movie until the press junket. So the publicist for the film (Crystal) must put together the press junket with the two stars of the movies not being on speaking terms and there being no film to show the press. Hilarity ensues.
And hilarity does ensue; it’s a very funny movie. It pokes a lot of fun at Hollywood and the selfishness and complete dishonesty that characterizes the movie industry. Which brings me to the modern difficulty in watching movies of knowing how awful the people who makes movies are.
I think this may be best summarized by sci-fi author Rob Kroese, a few years ago, in response to some idiocy out of Hollywood in the wake of some disaster or other:
Nice to see celebrities taking time off from raping each other to condemn prayer.
(As a side note, there seems to be law of human behavior that a person’s private virtue is inversely proportional to the number of public statements he makes condemning vice in others. Or, more briefly: virtue signaling is often camouflage.)
So, the question come up, unavoidably: does one go on watching movies in spite of their deeply flawed origins?
I think that the answer is yes, but it’s not a question which can simply be dismissed; people who simply say “who cares?” about this are just people who don’t know enough—they’ve never looked in the kitchen to see how the sausage is made.
(I should note that I’m talking about things which do not enrich Hollywood further or do so very minimally. I already own the DVD of America’s Sweethearts so watching it again puts no more money in the hands of the Hollywood. And even buying DVDs of older movies does little to support the current degeneracy of Hollywood, though strictly speaking more than zero. But for older movies, much of the money goes to people who are no longer working in the industry or their descendants because they’re dead. Life is more complicated when you’re talking about watching a new movie in a Theater.)
There are two reasons why the answer is yes—that we should still enjoy the movies made by the wretches of Hollywood. The first is practical (and probably more accessible), the second is philosophical (and more conclusive).
The practical reason is that this is a fallen world and everything is made by wretches. Some are worse than others, but even the best men will inevitably have their work tainted by their imperfections. Worse still, from a practical perspective, many men (rightly) keep their vices secret (so as not to encourage others in vice), and so one will not know what vices secretly infect their work. When it comes to the near-devil-worshippers of Hollywood, one is at least forewarned (and thus fore-armed) against their messages of lust, sloth, and pride. This does not remove the danger, and certainly doesn’t make their work preferable to people who aren’t consciously trying to promote evils, but it does put it in the realm of what can be done safely—or at least as safely as anything can be done in this fallen world.
The philosophical reason is more complicated, but at its heart is the philosophical insight that evil is a negative, not a positive, thing. Evil is the (partial) absence of being—it is a thing being only partially itself. This partial being warps and twists things, but it is impossible to be purely evil—a thing which is pure evil would completely not exist. There’s a sense in which Nothing (with a capital N) is pure evil, but that’s not really different from saying that nothing is pure evil.
This means that in all things which exist, there is good. Evil does not, properly speaking, taint the good in a thing. What it does do is disguise the good. This is not, however, an insurmountable problem. A tainted thing can be safely consumed, since the taint has a positive existence—you can’t drink a poisoned glass of wine and drink only the wine but not the poison. But a disguise can be seen through.
Seeing through disguised good is a skill and thus a person can be good or bad at it; this is highly contextual to the person, the good, and the disguise. What one person may watch safely another may be misled by; it requires wisdom to tell the difference.
And there is no substitute for wisdom.
5 thoughts on “America’s Sweethearts”
Really good points here Chris. Enough, I think, to soften my own stance about partaking in what Hollywood has to offer. We are all wretches and what we make might be viewed as suspect by those who disagree with us. That said, some are worse than others–most of Hollywood is made up of particularly unrepentant and wretched wretches. Some good stuff can still come through, though, and you’re absolutely right to point that out.
I’m boycotting to not give money to people who hate me, but if this movie comes on TV or whatever, I’ll watch it if I have the time.
It’s not even about those who disagree with us. A perfectly orthodox author might have personal vices—an addiction to meth, a habit of fornication, watching hours of porn a day—which he disapproves of but does in sadness, and this may well affect his writing even though he tries to keep it out.
That said, Hollywood is especially bad and not only doesn’t regret its vices but generally celebrates them. Though even there, it’s very uneven. The same man may be awful one year and far better the next, then worse the year after. And there is the curious fact that all people serve God’s good purposes, the only question is whether they do it intentionally or accidentally. Bad men may accidentally make good art (that is, morally good art) despite their attempts to make bad art, simply because the only one who accomplishes all things according to the intentions of his will is God.
But because wisdom is a prerequisite of getting the good out of art, and especially out of art made by evil men, I’m very much in favor of only showing things to children which one has already watched.
And I agree about not giving money to people who hate you, hence my caveat about talking about things that don’t enrich the bad men, such as watching a DVD already owned. 🙂
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“And there is the curious fact that all people serve God’s good purposes, the only question is whether they do it intentionally or accidentally.”
This is a really interesting point. Every once in a while, Hollywood does squeeze out something that represents the truth.
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I am still to this day utterly astonished by the fact that Hollywood made A Man For All Seasons in the 1970s. (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of Saint Thomas More, told where he’s the hero of the story. If I hadn’t seen it several times, I’d never have believed it.)
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