Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #175: Faith, Flanders, & Folks in the Audience

A certain commenter, who shall remain nameless, has been posting random comments about the successful box-office performance of the low budget Christian themed romance Fireproof in unrelated posts. So, in the vain hope of getting the fellow on topic, I will make that film the topic of this post.

Fireproof is in the top-5 at the box office at the time of this writing, despite having a production and marketing budget smaller than what's normally spent on tick baths for Paris Hilton's chihuahuas, and a star who has been more or less avoiding the celebrity tabloid spotlight since his days as a TV sitcom teen heart-throb.

Now Hollywood is all abuzz about this little movie that could because it is succeeding when a lot of other "Christian" movies failed in the wake of the near miraculous success of Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ. They're looking at the film's grass-roots marketing, its promotion to church groups, and such, but that's not the whole story.

The real root, as with many things in Hollywood, is attitude.

There's a story from the 1930s about the host of a popular radio kid's show who just after signing off said: "That'll keep the little bastards for another week." without knowing that his microphone was still live on the air.

That's pretty much what the average American Christian hears when they see one of Hollywood's attempts to make films appealing to them. They don't feel the sincerity that would make those films achieve that all important emotional connection, just someone hitting certain talking points, thinking that's enough to win them over. When it comes to spiritual or religious themed films, mainstream Hollywood is the guy dishing out gruel at the orphanage in Oliver Twist, who gets offended and insulted when the scrawny, weedy, audience has the temerity to ask for more.

It wasn't always like this. The old school moguls had a little something that's lacking among today's management, respect for the audience. The Moguls had their own beliefs and they respected the beliefs of the people whose nickels and dimes kept their studios going. They knew that people weren't going to spend their hard earned money on being insulted.

Modern Hollywood does not only not respect the audience, they also don't understand the audience.

If you were cool enough to be worthy of the respect of modern Hollywood, you'd already be one of them. On the topic of spirituality Hollywood can only make that all important emotional connection with people who live and think exactly like them. So you end up with movies and television shows targeted at the Los Angeles Axis of Ego, the critic's circles of New York, and those who want to be them, pretty much forgetting the fact that everybody else not only lives in different places, but lead wildly different lives.

The denizens of "Flyover Country" are an alien species to the isolated citizens of the Axis of Ego, and what they don't understand, they hate. So you get Bill Maher making a "documentary" whose sole purpose is to insult people for their religious beliefs, you get TV crime shows where it always a "Creepy Christian" guy who is almost always either the killer, or at the very least a sleazy hypocrite. Pretty much leaving Ned Flanders as one of the handful of overt Christians on TV and film not to have killed or molested anyone, yet.

When a film is targeted at Christians, while not targeting Christians, is considered entertaining, and doesn't try to hide its lack of sincerity with over-preaching, it is going to do well.

It's just that simple.

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