One of the things we do in our family is discuss how the producers of entertainment use it to manipulate our emotions and program our minds. I picked up a season of The Big Valley off a bargain shelf recently and it provided us an excellent teachable moment.
In an episode entitled "Fallen Hawk", one of the sons in the wealthy Barkly Family, Heath, (Lee Majors) maliciously challenged an old acquaintance who had always had a habit of mooching, to ride an unbroken horse in exchange for a financial favor. During his attempt to ride the horse he was thrown and was paralyzed. Heath then felt that it was his duty to care for the injured man and his wife.
Heath's benevolence, especially as it pertained to the wife, were ridiculously imprudent. And though there is purposeful ambiguity as to the possibility of a budding scandal, in the end, the reality that everything was on the up and up is firmly established. But in the midst of this ambiguity, the scene below is inserted. It advances the story line not one bit, but it does allow for the caricaturization of Christians as self-righteous, judgemental.
This scene is obviously meant to elicit disdain. Nevermind the fact that, to be obedient to scripture, the deacon would have approached Heath if there was a concern, not his mother. Worse, the deacon admits basing the conclusions on "the talk" around town. What an easy church person to hate and ridicule. But the Church doesn't get to defend itself in these kinds of scenes; or does it?
This episode was aired in March of 1966.
Another way we are manipulated is by music. Two years after the airing of this episode a song written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie Riley entitled "Harper Valley PTA" topped the charts. The song is very similar in sentiment to this Big Valley clip. With an ad hominem argument 1 the song effortlessly brushes aside the folly of a mother wearing immodest clothing, and "drinking, and a-runnin' 'round with men and going wild," in front of her teenaged daughter. It simply accuses the accusers of being hypocrites. There. Done. One is left to presume that since everyone else is doing wrong too, evidently, it must be okay, and no one dare say anything for fear of being thought a hypocrite.
This little musical ode, like the video clip, are just two examples of many. They covertly program us to judge anyone as a hypocrite who dares to challenge our behavior while at the same time giving us aid and comfort in our own sin. After all, it does get one thing right, and that is that none among any of us is without sin. But the idea of judging ourselves; or of a righteous God judging us, vanishes.
But non-believers are not the only ones being affected by the arts. The American Church has also been impacted. Could it be that American Christianity now so desires to say, "We're really not like that", that it is willing to tailor its outreach, its worship services and its sermons around proving it? Could this mentality be at the root of "Emrgent-ism" and "Seeker friendly-ism", and avoiding certain doctrines as one might avoid mention of a pink elephant?
I am one of those who sees the Church as the only hope in responding to all that ails our society. While I doubt that the majority of preachers of the 1960's understood what was happening during that time, they certainly didn't understand it enough to teach their congregations how to mentally navigate the powers of the media, or the cultural shifts that that media was bringing about. But such ought no longer to be the case. It takes so little time to understand a few logical fallacies, and only a little more to teach on how to apply them to the predominant thinking of our day. Perhaps if love tempted us to protect the unwitting, there would be fewer of them who are misled by the arts.
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1. Ad hominem is the act of attempting to discredit the argument by discrediting the person making the argument.