Witzel (L.A.) – Peter Milne, Motion Picture Directing; The Facts and Theories of the Newest Art, Falk Publishing Co., New York, 1922.
Where has the church gone wrong? This seems to be a question that many are asking at the moment and, looking around, it’s not difficult to see why.
Right now, in the Western world, Christianity is anathema. This hit home to me a few years back when my wife and I settled down to switch off our brains to the knockabout comedy spy caper that is Kingsman: The Secret Service. The film as a whole is unremarkable (probably a generous evaluation) but there is one scene that made me reflect, if somewhat uncomfortably. It is a gory massacre that takes place in a Southern Baptist style church service. Faces get stabbed and burnt, torsos are impaled on spikes, heads are removed with axes. It is a bloodbath. But it is meant to be a comic bloodbath, and the only way the film can achieve the tone it’s looking for is by choosing a group of people to get stabbed, burnt, impaled and decapitated that they assume nobody would really mind being dispatched en masse in this manner. In the past, Communists, Nazis or slave dealers would have performed this sort of function. Now, Christians too can be entertaining, guilt free canon fodder.
Now, of course, you may protest, we’re not all homophobic racists with a perverse delight in hellfire and damnation like the preacher who starts off that particular scene, but that’s not the point. That is how we are commonly seen. And it seems that in some senses, our culture would laugh at any gruesome demise that should come our way.
So, how do we fix our significant PR problem? How do we halt our accelerating slide towards cardboard cut out movie villainy? The answer that many are putting forward with increasing vigour is that we should look to regain influence into our society again.
Christians, it seems, have disengaged from the wider culture, at least in Britain, in the last century, and retreated into our own sub-culture, actively taking people away from politics, business, media, the arts and the other areas that seem to have most influence on shaping the values and thinking of people at large. There are many reasons that have been noted for this, not least the strong divide between the sacred and the secular that has hung heavily in the ether of evangelicalism in recent times (which we explored here). However, whatever these reasons are, the solution is simple, many say- let’s do something about it and get more Christians into those areas again. The church should wake up and step back into the public arena with confidence and intentionality. We need to reclaim the 7 mountains. We need to cultivate and create culture. We need to make art that shapes life.
If that last exhortation sounds familiar, it’s because it is part of our very own tagline. Why does Sputnik exist? Because thought shapes art and art shapes life. Yes, Sputnik itself would have been seen as a pretty enthusiastic proponent of the general picture painted above.
However, I’ve developed a pretty strong distaste for Christian fads over the years, and if only in the name of consistency, it makes sense that ‘fads’ that I am involved in should be subject to the same serious critical reflection that I apply to those I’ve avoided. Over the last few months then, I’ve been doing just that. Reflecting. Not just on cinematic church gorefests, but on influence. And church. And church and influence. And most specifically on whether we, as Christians, should place a high priority on influencing the wider culture that we live in.
And so I’d like to present some thoughts on this topic over the next couple of weeks, and then apply them specifically to artists and creatives.
As something of a spoiler, I haven’t closed down this website, or even changed our tagline! I am still very enthusiastic about people who love Jesus and live their lives in allegiance to him, gaining significant influence in our society. However, how we go about gaining such influence is another matter altogether.
There’s an added issue for artists in this area as well. While this new emphasis on cultural engagement may have caused us to get a bit more respect in Christian circles, for some, this attention may be unwelcome if it leads to people once again reducing their work to a utilitarian formula. I’m fully aware that many artists don’t make art with the express purpose of influencing people. There’s something about art that kicks against any express purpose at all. As Hans Rookmaaker put it- ‘Art needs no justification’. As it doesn’t need to fulfil a ‘gospel content’ quota to be validated, so it is not worthwhile art, if and only if, it gains a certain measure of influence. So, how do we as artists really fit into this picture?
Dun. Dun. Derrr. (For the next installment click here)
Jonny Mellor is a rapper, a writer, and the director of Sputnik.