Last night, I was scrolling through the lineup of “Netflix Originals” on everyone’s favorite streaming provider, and I couldn’t help but notice one thing that stuck out more than anything else.
When exactly did Netflix go so dark?
If you’ve watched any Netflix lately, then you know exactly what I mean. Dark. Depressing. Full of all of the world’s most heinous problems and criminal acts. It seems that nearly every single bit of original programming from Netflix is dark to the extreme. Whether it’s women in prison, drug lords & murderers describing how and why they did it, abducted children or the top 10 reasons using plastic drinking straws in San Francisco is killing dung beetles in Zimbabwe – it’s all just dark. It’s nothing but problems, with no light, no solutions, no hope. It’s as if nothing good ever happens in the world – except for during a cooking competition – when at least in the end someone gets to eat cupcakes. Other than that, there is very little new content that has any sort of redeeming value. Even the kids’ shows are spiraling down the toilet.
I hate to sound like an old fogey here, but does anyone remember when we would go to the movies or watch TV for a good time? You know, back when it was an escape from the dark realities of life, not a deep dive into the most heinous things imaginable. When I think of the movies and TV shows I grew up on, I know they weren’t as innocent as “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Dobie Gillis”, but they sure weren’t just outright wicked like what I see today. What in the world happened?
Think about “E.T.”, for example. Does it have dark moments? I suppose, but the whole film isn’t dark and violent. In the end, E.T. gets to go home, and you believe in the magic of space aliens coming to visit and hiding in the closet with your stuffed animals. E.T. didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t morph into a demonic beast or deploy beacons to guide the killer spaceships in to colonize the earth and nuke the populations. He just wanted to go home – and he could make your bicycle fly over the treetops. It is a magical tale.
What about “Star Wars”? High on the action scale, to be sure, but never without a redeeming plot line to continue on in the hope of finally defeating the dark lord and the evil galactic empire. It was about righting the wrongs and saving the innocent. It was about justice, a noble cause, not glorifying the darkness.
There were things like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The A-Team”, even “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rogers” and “Knight Rider” and “Airwolf” – they all had a common thread. Good versus Evil. The battle for justice. Lock up the bad guys and celebrate the good guys. Sure, things were dark when the bad guys struck first, but in the end the good guys always won, and the good guys always stood for something good and right and righteous…for the most part. Our fictional heroes reflected a still prevalent feeling in society of at least some semblance of right and wrong. They may have struggled with their own darkness, but they always overcame it.
All through my producing career I’ve struggled with the chicken and the egg equation. Do people watch dark content only because it’s produced and in front of them, or is dark content produced because that’s what people really want? I suppose it’s a combination of the two, because it’s the only way I can reconcile people’s obsession with things like zombies in television and the movies.
Zombie movies sell because writers and directors are mostly perverts, and it gives a ready excuse to get women out of their clothes. The same applies to vampires and witches and wizards and demons. The darker it is, the more sensual it becomes, and it gives a good excuse to get women to shed their morals as well as their shirts. Sex sells, and a lot of people are buying it.
And speaking of the writers and directors, let me just throw open the shades and let you in on a dirty little secret. Directors are the worst kind of perverts, because they know they have absolute power on a film set. They also know that desperate, beautiful girls are plentiful, and 99% of them are willing to do pretty much anything they’re asked to get noticed and advance their career. It pains me to say, but it’s not a stretch at all to get a woman to take her clothes off if you’re making a movie, or strip down to next to nothing under the auspices of “art”. I’ve known more directors than not who would easily be profiled as predators. They have all of the power, and they have all of the power of persuasion, because in that moment and in that setting, they literally can make or break someone’s career with a single shot in a single scene. The pressure placed on young and vulnerable actors is unbearable.
And that’s one end of why things have become so dark. The other reason is that Christians abandoned the arts centuries ago, and the void has been filled with the absolute depravity of man. In the heart of the world’s entertainment – Hollywood – the culture has always been one of “getting away with it”, referring to perversity, violence, language, and pretty much anything else that someone who has a name to make for themselves decides is a good target to cause a societal ripple. You don’t get noticed unless you cause a disruption, and there are plenty of people who are happy to make their stand pretty much anywhere, as long as it gets them noticed.
When I was a senior in high school, a missionary came to speak one week in our high school chapel service. I was the tech guy, so I would get to leave class early to go and set up the microphones and anything else that would be needed for the assembly each week. When I went in, the missionary was there already. I introduced myself as I started setting up the mics, then he started asking me about myself and my future plans.
I excitedly told him that I was going to be a movie producer. He scowled at me and just said, “I just don’t know about that. I don’t know how anyone could be a Christian and be in that industry.” And with that, he walked away to “prepare himself in prayer” for his talk to the entire high school. I’ll never forget that moment, as it seared itself into my soul. I had experienced some opposition before to my dreams of being in the movie business, but never like that. He had basically just accused me of being a non-Christian, or at the very best a terribly misguided and astray Christian. For, according to him, no “good Christian” could ever aspire to the motion picture industry. In other words, he was typical of what I had started to discover – that the church as a whole had largely abandoned all hope of ever reaching people for Christ through the art of motion pictures.
That interaction left an indelible impression on me that day. Part of it was a determination to prove him wrong, but the other part of it was an intense hatred of all things in the church. What I saw in him was a small-minded man, completely closed off to anything outside of his seminary education. It made me mad. It made me furious.
And it’s attitudes like that which have prevailed in the church for decades, even generations. It has squashed the creative spirit more times than not, diverting creative potential either away from the arts completely, or serving to drive such a wedge between the church and that particular individual that it drives them to continue to create, but without any regard for spiritual truths. They’re going to continue to create their art where it is valued. If the church doesn’t place any value on it, someone else will.
The real reason Hollywood is so good at attacking Christianity is because it’s so full of disenchanted Christians. They know exactly how to hit the church where it hurts, and the church has driven so many of them away that it has no one left who can speak with authority to defend it. And, without any real rebuttals, the angry Christians who left the church and now find themselves in Hollywood are left to launch their attacks unimpeded. Who is left in the church to fight back? The church drove them all out.
And we wonder why the content is so dark. It’s dark because we, as the body of believers, have failed to embrace the creatives and the arts. Without any place to be a valued part of the church, those shunned creatives moved on to where their skills and passions were valued – out into the world. Away from the church, surrounded by the world, their content goes dark very quickly, and it very rarely comes back.
It takes a strong individual to stand for Christ in the creative arts. Unfortunately, those strong Christian individuals are rarely understood and often maligned by the very people they came from.