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The Parents Television Council’s Study of Entertainment and Religion: A Perspective

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The Parents Television Council conducted their seventh study on the treatment of religion in prime-time broadcast entertainment programming titled "Faith in a Box – A Study of Entertainment Television and Religion." Here they examine the treatment of religious matters. The study divides religious subject matter into five categories: faith, clergy, laity, institutions and doctrine, and miscellaneous.

PTC analysts studied prime-time entertainment programming on the six commercial broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN) between September 1, 2005 and August 31, 2006. Instances of religious content were entered into their computerized Entertainment Tracking System (ETS) database. The study also notes that depictions of faith (particularly by contestants on reality programs) tended to be positive, while depictions in all the other categories (especially on scripted dramas and comedy shows) tended to be negative.

I would not have a problem with the study if it was presented in the style of Sgt. Joe Friday — "just the facts" — but this study is peppered with biased commentary. Where I have a problem is in the following statement: "Such findings imply that while most Americans enthusiastically endorse religious belief, Hollywood tolerates an indistinct 'spirituality' but is deeply negative towards openly religious individuals and organized religion."

The PTC’s Christopher Gildemeister states in his conclusion, "This stands in stark contrast to Hollywood’s 'creative' elite, which demonstrates its contempt for religion — and for its own viewing audience — by deliberately portraying God as subject of ridicule, and followers of organized religion as oppressive, fanatical, hypocritical and hopelessly corrupt". While Mr. Gildemeister lists his findings, he likes to generalize Hollywood as the source of all that is negative. In other words he insults my friends, neighbors and me.

Why must you generalize, sir? You are basically taking this statistical data and twisting it to say that everyone in Hollywood deliberately portrays God and religion in general as a subject of ridicule, and followers of organized religion as oppressive, fanatical, hypocritical and hopelessly corrupt. Nowhere in this study did I find anything that reveals what is in the hearts and minds of what you call Hollywood’s "creative" elite. I live in Hollywood and I am in walking distance of more than half a dozen churches. There are many Christians in the entertainment industry who contribute their perspective, although it may differ from yours. Many of my friends and neighbors in Hollywood are people of faith, and even those who are not are hard working, charitable, contributing members of society. They all want what everyone in America wants and that is to house and feed their families. I do have my faith, but whenever I, and others like me, criticize an aspect of our faith, we get branded anti-religion or anti-Christian.

Having seen many of the shows listed in the study, I want to present a slightly different and hopefully more pragmatic interpretation of this data.

First, I believe that God has a great sense of humor. Depicting him commercially with the long white beard is more mocking of Charlton Heston than it is of God. I also feel that showing God commercially as a man with the beard and robes is less offensive than committing real atrocities in his name, and isn’t it great that we live in a country where an artist can depict God in whatever medium he chooses?

Second, I don’t really see Hollywood’s "creative" elite demonstrating its contempt for religion, just those who pervert their religion for their own personal agenda (kind of like the conclusions of this study). Not all religious people are targets, just a select few like the following:

  • Those who peach morality and have affairs.
  • Those who preach against homosexuality and are themselves gay.
  • Those who make claims that SpongeBob SquarePants and Tinky Winky (The Teletubbies) are gay and are part of a plot to turn children gay.
  • Those who think that they are above man’s law.
  • Those who are in a position of leadership who harm children and are transferred to another parish by their superiors.
  • Those who ban books like Harry Potter, Macbeth and Cinderella because they promote witchcraft instead of being thrilled that their kids are reading.
  • Those who boycott stores that hang a sign that says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" for moral reasons. These same people have no moral problem with the "Merry Christmas" store’s employees, who may even be Christians, not making a living wage, not having medical insurance while they sell you merchandise made by children in sweatshops for pennies a day.
  • Those who, in times of crisis, will blame the problem on gays, feminists, and the ACLU, and Hollywood/The Media and being morally bankrupt.

I do not see Hollywood’s "creative" elite negatively portraying those Americans who live a life of faith and prayer. Nor did I see negative portrayals of the pastor who needs to work a part-time job because his parish can’t pay him enough to live — the same pastor who is probably more interested in helping the hungry and homeless in his community than are the people in Hollywood or Washington.

Finally, Hollywood’s "creative" writers, actors and directors still need to make a product that is commercially viable. New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story came in fourth place at the box office and made less than $8 million its opening weekend. Those numbers will have more of an impact on Hollywood than this study. Those who put this study together should be nominated for a Shatner Award because they need to be told to get a life. They accuse Hollywood, a city in California, of having an agenda, while the PTC is obviously pushing theirs.

To quote Bill Maher from HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, "Hollywood isn't your cesspool America. It's your mirror."

Stay tuned.

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About Tony Figueroa

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    I guess I’m not seeing the point of any of this. So they don’t portray religion the way they want? So what?

    When Fox News interviewed Bonzell, he went on and on about how the studios aren’t grabbing their audience because of this, but I don’t see any stats as to lowered viewers as of late as the number of negative religious marks goes up.

    Is this some sort of problem the studios should be paying attention to? Should non-religious people be shocked?

    Its a complete waste of time, much like the PTC itself.

  • Baronius

    Tony, I’ve found PTC to be hit-and-miss. I’ll definitely have to check out this report, though. As for your article, it might have been better if you had used fewer generalizations and discussed the results of the study, rather than the study’s lapses into subjectivity.