How to Protest Right, When Hollywood Gets It Wrong

Recently, I received a letter from a reader, furious because of an anti-clerical storyline that was featured this season on ABC’s, The Practice. “This show made me so mad! It was so unfair! How can you people in Hollywood put this kind of stuff out there?!”

Whine, Beg or Pray

This kind of misdirected rage is a classic example of the wrong way to try and make an impact on Hollywood. Still, the frustration behind it can be good for the culture, if it is channeled into effective protest that is qualified by a truly Christian decorum.

Before suggesting an effective way to register a protest to the media, I must first note that protesting is, at best, only a defensive strategy. Cultural renewal won’t happen because we, the Church, figure out an irresistible whining technique. There will not be any substantial positive change in the popular culture until we have prayerful, insightful, talented artists working in all levels of the entertainment industry. In his message for the 2001 World Communications Day, the Pope called for exactly this kind of approach saying, “What is needed in our time, is an active and imaginative engagement of the media by the Church. Catholics should not be afraid to throw open the doors of social communication to Christ.” As long as people who believe in God are missing from the ranks of culture makers, our relationship to the industry will always one of beggars trying to get a hearing. That said, it is still possible to have considerable impact if we can just learn to beg better.

I recently screened a video about a new interdenominational ministry that recruits Christians from all across the country to pray for Hollywood. The video consists principally of interviews with entertainment industry professionals. When asked how can the Church can best impact Hollywood, everyone had the same response: Prayer. Pray for actors. Pray for filmmakers. Pray for the executives who produce and green-light television shows. Pray for a spiritual renewal among artists. Pray for the Church to commission new works of beauty as a way of forming today’s artistic community. To paraphrase Jesus, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth Christian apostles into Hollywood.”

Mind Your Manners for Heaven's Sake!

As a writer and speaker, I have at times been horrified by the tone and substance of the mail I receive from some other Christians when they disagree with me. It is super-ironic how biting and demeaning people can be in the name of God. If I get this kind of mail, I can only imagine what Warner Bros. Is getting from some of us. We undo the heart of our message, which is love, by using a method of unrestrained anger and insults. The first rule of protest for Christians, is to remember that on the other side of your protest is a human being.

One of the myths that I hear from people outside of Hollywood, is that the industry is full of arrogant ideologues, completely indifferent to the sensibilities of the viewing public. This is absolutely untrue. Art is fundamentally communication. There is a drive in the artist not only to create, but to receive a response from the audience as to whether they have connected. My friends who write for television, all regularly pour over the fan web sites for their shows looking for affirmation and a sense that they have touched people. Our messages to the media will be heard much more keenly, if we presuppose that the crew behind the production is basically well-meaning and vulnerable. This presupposition is much more about our spiritual good then theirs, and yet it is also true that treating people as though they are noble, very often draws nobility out of them.

We absolutely need to register reasoned discontent when there is something offensive on television. We should salt our negative comments with praise for the positive aspects in a show. And there is always something positive about a show, if not in the stories, then in the production values. Every network show has a web site in which fans can register notes. There are also general network addresses for comments from viewers.

You can use the following contact information to reach the major television networks:

ABC &#0151Audience Relations Department

NBC &#0151Contact Pages (Then use the pull down menu for each show.)

CBS &#0151Feedback (Go to the bottom of the page and click on feedback. Complete the form.)

FOX &#0151 Ask Fox

WB &#0151Warner Brothers Help

Vote With Your Feet, Then Open Your Mouth

The most powerful means of protest theatergoers have is their own two feet. Find out what the policy for ticket returns are at your local theaters. Most major chains will give patrons a full-refund of their ticket price, if you walk out in the first half hour of a movie. When you see a movie that offends you, walk out. But don’t just leave, or you won’t do any good for the future. Ask to see the manager, and express in a polite way whatever it is about the movie that offended you. Ask for your money to be refunded. Let the theater managers know if the trailers shown before a movie were offensive to you. Don’t hit them with too much all at once, or they will dismiss you, but definitely make your preferences as a consumer heard. Then, when you get home, look up the web site of the major studio that distributed the movie. Let them know – again, in a thoughtful way – that you walked out of their movie, and why.

There is much in the media these days to sadden and offend people who love God. But anger is useless if we do not transform it into fuel for effective cultural change. If you can’t be an artist, be a discerning and active consumer of the popular culture, for your own sake, and the general good.

Barbara Nicolosi teaches screenwriting to aspiring Catholic writers at the acclaimed Act One: Writing for Hollywood. You may email her at [email protected].

(Originally published in LIGUORIAN Magazine, One Liguori Drive, Liguori, MO, 63057.)

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