I’m sitting here watching Pope Francis on Time Warner Cable’s new all-pope-all-the-time channel — click here for details — while coverage also continues on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, the broadcast networks, EWTN, etc. There’s no bigger news right now (Thank God!) than the pope’s Apostolic Visit to the U.S., specifically New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
The humble Argentinean, the spiritual son of a troubled young man from Assisi who gave it all up to follow Christ, is the undisputed King of TV News today.
And yet, it’s hard to dispute that Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, have lost their grip on the culture at large, especially the entertainment industry. Very little of what’s produced reflects our value system and worldview, and a fair percentage of it is downright hostile to both.
For a Church that has created, inspired and funded some of the greatest works of art in all of human history, how has this happened?
Books could be written (and have been) on the economic, demographic, historical and ideological reasons why the culture has been, first, lurching, and now, careening, leftward since the 1960s. At the same time, a lot of the Church went with it, a dizzying freefall that is only just beginning to be corrected.
So, is all lost? Do we just give up?
No. Failure is not an option.
What can we do?
For the moment, I want to focus on two things: access and confidence. Access relates to our ability to influence the entertainment industry; confidence relates to our will to do so.
You can’t change anything standing on the outside. Pick any cliche you want: You have to be in it to win it; You can’t score if you don’t play; You won’t be represented if you don’t represent.
What it comes down to is this: Many, many more faithful Catholics are going to have to go into the entertainment industry and be willing to stick with it long enough to attain positions of influence. This means acquiring marketable skills at a high enough level to compete; understanding the nature and history of scripted and unscripted entertainment, even if it means wading into unsavory waters; aggressively pursuing opportunities; and then working your butt off.
Despite the tales you hear of nepotism, success usually comes down to some combination of the above. And, if you plan to be on the creative side of the business, you’ll also need talent on top of the rest. If we remain in the faith-based niche, we may make some money, but we won’t change the larger culture. We need to be in the editing and executive suites, in the talent agencies, on set and in writers rooms, making costumes and music, painting sets and creating animation.
And even if your entertainment-industry job doesn’t involve on-screen credit, you exist as a witness to Christ everywhere you go. It won’t be easy, but then it’s not easy for anyone to succeed in Hollywood — and you’ll have the advantage of a strong belief system to sustain you.
Along with this, take the time to build a network of fellow Catholics in the city where you’re working. We don’t create community nearly as well as other groups do, and having the support and advice of those who understand your Faith is invaluable.
So, what’s the best way to get to Hollywood? Take Fountain, of course.
But seriously, research the industry, learn about the available jobs, build up your skill set, put on your walking shoes and have at it. This is the greatest mission field imaginable, if we would only till it.
Secondly, there’s confidence. The reason that the Church produced astonishing art is that it believed in what it professed, and it was unashamed to proclaim it to the world. Even if all the artists weren’t necessarily believers, those paying for the work wanted the truth of Christ boldly and unequivocally depicted in images, words and song.
I’m not asking you to go out there and exclusively produce religious art. These days, that could be counterproductive, and not even faithful Catholics really want to spend all their time watching Gospel stories. What I’m asking is that you believe what you profess, and that you believe that others should also believe. That may seem to be the opposite of our live-and-let-live, relativistic world, but actually, it’s not.
Plenty of people out there have powerful belief systems — be they connected to sexuality, politics, the environment, whatever — and they have no problem evangelizing the heck out of them all over the place. They may not want you to impose your religion on them, but they have no issue imposing their own worldview on you.
Be confident in the rightness of your cause, the solidity of the Rock upon which you stand, and go forward without fear. Whether you’re shooting a toilet paper commercial, playing the lead in a horror film, editing a music video or arranging financing for an indie film, do it boldly and with the Faith foremost in your mind.
And when you get the chance, promulgate the Truth without compromise. And if you offend someone, remember what deathbed Catholic convert Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” or, in showbiz terms, “All publicity is good publicity.”
Luckily, in the emerging digital world, production is becoming democratized and decentralized, so opportunities to make a splash have never been greater. It’s probably still good to have a foothold in Los Angeles, New York or London, but it’s not the absolute it once was.
Work hard; do good work; do good. It can be done.
After all, if the Apostles had been too holy to set foot on those pagan Roman roads, the Faith wouldn’t have gone far.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
For more entertainment and digital-media coverage, visit my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos.com, or like my Facebook page.