A Guide For Film Students (Addendum)
Let me begin this post by establishing some credibility. I have a background in the theater, have taught art and humanities appreciation courses professionally, and lead my institution’s Film Society. And, I have been teaching professionally for nearly 17 years. I think, therefore, we can safely say that I am not some reactionary film-hating Luddite who wants to burn books and VHS tapes. (Actually, that may be a perfectly good use of VHS tapes, but that isn't the point.) I like and enjoy films, both as an expression of art and as an instrument of storytelling. However, my love of film does not abrogate the need to evaluate all things critically and Biblically.
A former student of mine, who is also a film aficionado, recently posted on his blog an article titled A Guide for Film Students. The article itself was intellectually lackluster, in that it didn't present anything new. (But, then, probably this article won't either.) The writing was simple and it emphasized things no normal teacher would object to: go the extra mile, volunteer for roles in the department, don’t judge a course by its professor, and so on. Good advice as far as it goes; but advice that could as easily have been aimed at middle schoolers as college students.
But, then, that’s not particularly surprising. I would not be the first commentator to draw attention to the “snowflakes” and the “safe spaces” and the emotional coddling and general infantilization of the contemporary university student. This trend has been accelerating for more than a decade. It's a problem so blatant that famous comedians no longer play college venues because, in their whiny immaturity, they don't get any of the jokes. Everything is now an offense.
The whole phenomenon has become so egregious that it is openly mocked by grown-ups and sane people everywhere. YouTube has played an especially helpful role here. Watching the likes of Ben Shapiro demonstrates that (1) this nonsense is really happening, (2) these students are purposely championing a logically incoherent view of the world and of life, and (3) that this is – quite ironically – happening on the campus of institutions dedicated to cultivating “higher” learning. It's also cathartic to watch him "destroy" socialists, "melt" snowflakes, and "trigger" clueless ivy leaguers.
Higher education has always been a left-leaning enterprise, since long before I was born. One has always been able to number the Marxist sympathizers at a 3:1 ratio; yet a healthy respect, even a grudging admiration, for those with dissenting or non-conformist views endured. Now, that :1 is burned in effigy or shouted down or denied tenure or sued or dis-invited (or some combination of these).
Today leftist ideology is no longer about seeking greater equity in the distribution of economic resources. Rather, it is attempting to eradicate all distinctions which are not decreed by the state. Everything objective is denied, everything subjective is affirmed. It is hard not to see the obvious and purposeful subversion of Truth.
Make no mistake. It is the arts which have been one of the primary vehicles by which this subversion of the Academy has been realized. The arts were the "thin edge of the wedge" popularizing toxic ideas in subtle ways, and then sustaining, amplifying, and reinforcing the ideological momentum. Where did absurd notions like “gender studies” majors come from? They flowed from an earlier acceptance of a poisonous falsehood: that notion that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
(Incidentally, it is not – but that's an article for another time.)
It's the idea that neither Beauty, nor Truth, nor Goodness, nor even Biology (note the capitalized nouns) can be determined by externally or necessarily. At its core, once you peel the onion back, it’s little more than the denial that we can -- or do -- know anything at all. It’s nihilism. We don’t know anything, therefore nothing means anything, which means nothing actually matters. It just doesn’t matter. There is no significance, only sentimentality. Let us, therefore, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
The Academy is in such a state of ideological bankruptcy and institutional freefall that I cringe at the thought of sending any more of my students to these dens of intellectual servitude. The leftist extremism which now dominates college campuses everywhere has made it more necessary than ever to be ultra-selective about which colleges we are willing to send our children to. For what is a student profited, if he shall gain a full-tuition scholarship, and lose his own soul?
Fine Arts departments – film programs inclusive – have often proven to be filthy dens of moral degeneracy. For evidence of this, one need look only at the art and film which students create. Look at the screenplays they write. Much of the work is sensational, pornographic, violent, foul, or rebellious. It is work which conforms to a Woodstockian orthodoxy which is encouraged and rewarded by faculty and peer alike.
Of course, we’re not making silly statements. Nobody claims that all students are degenerate or all the work is degenerate. We are saying that such work has been normalized and, in many cases, incentivized. That virtue signaling will promote your career is self-evident.
Nevertheless, it’s the invisible bias – the argument from silence – which is most striking. Consider the wholesale absence of artistic work which would be described as conservative, moral, traditional, wholesome, or patriotic. As my wife discovered in her MFA program, all such work is considered cliché and would not endure critique.
Therefore, I have decided to offer some advice of my own to future film students.
Here are 6 things to consider before majoring in film.
1. Major in philosophy instead. Film is a vehicle for ideas, and failure to understand or appreciate ideas means you will be a crappy film maker. Or worse, you set yourself up to be a cinematic plumber – someone who can do all the technical things required to produce a show without every grasping the cultural importance of the medium or of one's work. Everything you need to know to produce a film can be learned from YouTube. How to think about ideas can only be learned from Socrates.
2. Know the difference between art and activism. College students are being groomed to be unwitting (or witting) activists. Nowhere is this leftist activism more visible than in Hollywood. Only two kinds of people work in Hollywood: leftist activists and the mute. You can lean left, or you can be silent. However, silence is consent, and so both are complicit. We do indeed need Christian film makers, but we do not (and should not) look for Christian film makers to emerge from secular programs which have little but contempt for the Faith.
3. Do you believe in magic? If you do not understand or appreciate the deeply occultic nature of Hollywood you are either ignorant or deceived. Perhaps the Illuminati stuff seems silly, but that stuff comes from somewhere. How many top-level actors and actresses and directors flash the same symbols? A few is a coincidence. But nearly all of them for the whole history of cinema? Look up the etymology of the terms “Hollywood” or “stars” to get a sense of how deep the occultic well runs. This isn’t a conspiracy theory – there is no theory – it's History. The pictures and movies and symbols speak for themselves. If you are a Believer who chooses to immerse yourself in that world, you will probably find out for yourself what that expression about “it being easier for a camel to thread the eye of the needle” than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
4. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. People are generally what they seem to be. It may be true that people can sometimes be more than the sum total of their stereotypes, but they are never less than them. It is a dangerous denial of reality to pretend otherwise. It's probably not necessary for me to point out the dominant stereotypes...you can easily guess the most obvious among them.
5. There is no neutrality. This is true culturally and morally. Every piece of art has a greater or lesser correspondence to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Your film or critique either moves the public towards or away from them. Neither are your private choices neutral. The Gospel is furthered or it is retarded. Your soul is either edified or rotted. Good art is therapeutic and redeeming. Evil art is cancerous and damning. Of course, this presumes you have a correct understanding of the difference between the two. If you don't know the difference, then consider not stepping into that space until you do. And just to be clear, you cannot redefine yourself out of this dilemma. For instance, Holy matrimony simply does not extend to sodomites, by definition as well as by created order -- regardless of how the civil law may seek to redefine the term. The Moral Law remains fixed. Incidentally, so does the natural law.
6. Film is a public performance art. Your mistakes must be endured by everyone, as must your errors in judgment. Of course, everybody makes mistakes -- that is, everyone has occasional shortcomings in the pursuit of their art. These are usually technical or aesthetic failures. Or simply, art which falls short of excellence. But errors of judgment can be literally damning. Some of the best cinematic art is found in movies whose worldview is in open, defiant opposition to the Scriptures. Remember, whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a Golden Globe were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
If you fail to grasp the enormity of ideas or the true nature of Hollywood, you will lure many to destruction.
But then, “he” already knows all about that, doesn’t he?