04 October 2006

I'm sorry, that *offends* me.

I hate that word. Offends. The way that word is thrown around on BYU campus is ridiculous.

I had a conversation with two people from one of my English classes today while on campus that frustrated me. (Not offended, frustrated. There's a difference). One of the girls was saying that every actor or actress is a prostitute because all of them are selling something. (I assume she means their bodies). I pointed out that I'm an actress (or claim to be one, I've done enough theater to deserve the title, I think), and that I don't agree with her. I said that while there are plenty of very public people out there that have certainly given off the impression that they want to be selling themselves to...whatever (the name that comes to mind for me is Lindsey Lohan). But I would hardly say that all actors and actresses both on and off the stage are selling themselves.

She went on to say that people who play bad characters are selling something. She said that people sympathize with the bad characters. Fantine, in Les Miz for example. She said that Fantine does bad things (prostitution) to save her daughter and that she's glorified as a heroine for her prostitution.

Good. Gravy.

This reminds me of most of the Banned Books Week type arguments we read about as English majors. Parents wanting to keep their kids from books that deal with death or with really evil characters or subjects because it could teach their kids to glorify evil. Books like Huck Finn, or (my personal favorite), Harry Potter. Or Catch 22. The Bible (*gasp*!) . It gets pretty ridiculous.

Pulls out the blogging soap box.

I don't want my kids to be evil. Who does?! What parent decides to raise their kid to be the next Hitler? No parent I want to know of. But sheltering your kids from the extreme evils of the world aren't going to make them go away. Hiding from 'questionable' material isn't going to stop it from spreading. And I mean this within reason. We shouldn't go and watch porn-films just so we know what goes on in them so we know what to avoid. That's not my point. My point is this: Shouldn't these books/plays/movies teach us to sympathize with the evil characters of the world? Or the characters that aren't so virtuous? What is so wrong with that?

Fantine for example. She does something evil to bring about good. She sells herself to prostitution (knowing that it's wrong), in order to save her child. She decends below all to save the life of another. Are we seeing a metaphor here? I hope so. What mother wouldn't do that for her child? Wouldn't it be more selfish for her to sit around? Knowing the conditions of France at the time Les Miz takes place, and knowing the options for single women...there really wasn't much else she could do.

I feel bad for Voldemort in Harry Potter. I feel bad for Javert in Les Miz. I feel badly for them because I see what has happened to them. They end up alone, and miserable in spite of their power. Does that mean I'm going to join ranks with them (even though they are fictional-work with me), to empathize with them a bit more? No. But we need oposition. The scriptures make that clear all over the place. There must be extreme evil so that there is a chance for extreme good. I don't want to read a book about a hero who isn't flawed. That's boring! I don't want to see a play where all the characters sit around singing "Sunshine Day" and talking about happy religious things. That's not life. I can't relate to that. There needs to be a struggle.

I don't think that writing this will accomplish much. To be honest, my friends that read this and any other random people out there that read this will probably agree with me. Mostly because I've spoken with the people who read this, and I've already talked with them about this. And writing letters of protest to the world about why banning Harry Potter is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of will not change the fact that parents out there are worried about their kids turning into mini witches and wizards overnight because of a fantasy book.

So in response to my classmate-I'm sorry you feel that way. Really sorry. Because in spite of the terrible shows that are out there, and the horrible literature, and the pornographic films that really are selling something-there are still good, virtuous kinds of media out there. I'm sorry that there are people out there who take advantage of the bodies they are given to present themselves in terrible ways, but I cannot agree that all films/books/plays are evil. We need evil characters or there won't be good characters. If I choose to portray a character in a play that is bad, or even evil, I hope that I would do so in order to make the real hero that much more heroic. So stop being offended and realize that for every bad film, there are several more good ones out there that can uplift and inspire.

And...just for her information-I'm pretty sure President Hinkley said that his favorite book (outside of scripture) was Les Miz. Oh...and read up on Elder Bednar's talk from the last conference for more information on being offended.

Soap box over. I'm off to go read something evil.


Liz Muir said...

If you really want to see a good example of someone being ridiculously offended, check out today's reader's forum. Hilarious!

But obviously, I agree with you, of course. Reading about evil or portraying evil is not the same as advocating evil. And as much as we'd like to keep ourselves in a happy, religious environment, coming into contact with only virtuous things, if we do so, we are unchristian. Much of Christ's life was spent helping some evil people. How can we help them if we refuse to come in contact with them? Sympathy, empathy, and understanding are all necessary in order for us to combat evil in the world.

And frankly, what's so bad about a sympathetic character who does bad things? That description fits every person on this planet. We all do bad things, but God believes there is something worth saving in all of us.

Ben Crowder said...

Methinks that the offense comes from mistaking the portrayal of evil to be an endorsement of evil, as Liz says. For example, in the Book of Mormon itself we have scenes where a girl dances provocatively to seduce a man, Nephites raping and cannibalizing Lamanite women, and decapitation, to name only a few instances (and we won't even get started on the Bible! :)). But it's very clear in the text that all of these things are evil and they're absolutely not condoned or advocated by any stretch of the imagination.

There are, however, a lot of modern books and films which do condone evil, to one degree or another, and I think that's a plague which is gnawing away at our society. Gratuitous violence and sex and such aren't acceptable -- at least not to followers of Christ, in pursuit of all that is virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy.

I do think books and movies that are virtuous and so on can -- indeed, must! -- portray evil, because the whole point of human existence is to come off conqueror in the struggle against the evils of the flesh and the temptations thrown against us by the adversary. Art (in the general sense, including books and music and film and all that) which doesn't reflect that reality will inevitably ring false. Being in the midst of this conflict between good and evil, we're drawn towards stories that mirror our conflict, as opposed to relativistic tales where nothing really matters. Sure, I don't like evil, but it's only through a knowledge of the darkness that the light has any meaning to me. The more I comprehend how awfully things can go wrong with humanity, the more I love and cling to the goodness that emanates from the Savior.

One trap that it's easy to fall into is thinking that it's okay to consume portrayals of evil that do bring us down and offend the Spirit. That's wrong. And in the end, it really comes down to that -- the way to tell if something is appropriate or not is to see what the Spirit says. If it leaves, it's not good for the soul, regardless of what we think of it. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it doesn't matter so much what we think of things as what God thinks of them, since He has the full perspective.

Following along with what Liz says, it's much easier to really relate to imperfect characters, complete with a myriad of flaws and foibles, than to apparently perfect paragons of virtue. That doesn't mean we oughtn't have an ideal, of course, but I find nothing wrong at all with good people doing bad things, provided that they're not condoned. Evil and good mustn't be reversed. But if weaknesses are shown for what they are, we can learn from that -- regardless of whether the character triumphs over them in the end or lets them bring him or her down to destruction.

Darn, I want to read Les Mis, but I guess I'd better finish War and Peace first. :)