Sorry for the extremely awkward title. I just couldn’t think of anything else. >_<;;
When I was a kid, I used to watch a lot of kiddie movies (most often Disney ones) and fairy tale, sing-n-dance, musical flicks (e.g. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Babes in Toyland). Then there were also religious cartoons such as those that animated popular Bible stories.
However, when I look at myself now, I actually feel sort of alienated from it. Back then I would enjoy the fluffy songs, the silly dance routines, and the blatantly obvious religious themes in those shows.
Now however I find myself more in tune with a darker form of entertainment. I find myself more absorbed by dramatic and imperfect characters. And instead of colorful musical numbers, melodramatic fight scenes are what I would use to judge visual quality. I get more hooked reading/watching stories that reflect the world’s dark realities than simple-minded fluff.
Now most people would tell me that it’s just a sign of me growing up. However, for a while now, I’ve kept getting the idea that a lot of Christian people might disapprove of my “mature” taste in entertainment.
If that is so, wouldn’t that make growing up more of a bad thing? Is it more Christian to stick to light and fluffy shows like The Smurfs? Was it a bad thing for me to go from fairy tales to Final Fantasy?
It’s an interesting question and topic, one that I wish could be discussed for hours by a group of friends and acquaintances at a coffee house. The medium of online conversation makes this topic difficult to discuss, as we can’t see faces and bodies. It’s hard to know what someone has lived through without actually getting to know them with our eyes and other senses.
Lost Wanderer, I’m curious as to how old you are. You sound young, like someone in their twenties who is just beginning to experience life. You sound like someone who has awakened to the truth of life and wishes that they could go back to sleep, but knows that the sleep will be tortured with nightmares from now on.
As a child, I read almost every fairy tale book in the school library. Many of the fairy tales, as you know, are dark. If you get hold of a translation of the original E.T.A. Hoffman “Nutcracker,” you’ll see that it’s not about dancing candy and a beautiful snow queen. It’s very broad and deep. (IMO, it’s the Gospel told German-style, with imagination given free-reign.)
When these tales were adapted for screen or stage or dance or cartoon or Big Wonder Book, the writers left out a lot of the darkness, although many of the early Disney movies contained a hint of the gruesomeness; .e,g., Malificent is truly one of the most evil images ever created, IMO.
When we are young, we require fairy tales to help us sort out life and make sense of good and evil. Children are reassured that life is “OK” when they hear of a wicked witch or giant or troll who ends up nailed in a barrel and rolled down the hill into the water.
As we get older, I agree with you, Lost Wanderer, that many of us require darker stories and images to help us deal with the terrible tragedy of the universal human condition. This tragedy is that at one time, at the beginning of creation, we were made in the very image of God and were destined to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden. But we deliberately chose to rebel against God, and as a result, sin and death came into the world. We are cursed.
That is the human tragedy.
This curse hangs over everything. When we go to visit Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving, the curse is there, and the brightly-lit room is shadowed. Even though we try to avoid looking, we can’t help but see that Grandma is more frail than last Tsgiving, and that Grandpa is losing his memory. Out of the corner of our eye, we see dark Death standing in the hallway, waiting for his Time, waiting to swing his grisly scythe and chop Grandma and Grandpa away from this life and take them away from us.
We want Death to go away and leave us all alone, but He can’t, and we know it. In fact, we know that all too soon, Death will come for us, even though now we are young and healthy. We’ve seen our young and healthy friends mowed down by the same Death that waits patiently for Grandma and Grandpa.
Along with Death, there is Sin. This imp, this witch, this monster waits for our children, and at some point, that adorable baby will grow up and rebel against God and Man, and commit a wilful, defiant act of sin that will condemn him or her to eternal hell.
Every moment of our lives is lived under the shadow of a curse. Is it any wonder that we find stories of shadow and stain and sadness more appealing than happy sunshine stories? These happy stories are hiding the truth. Or perhaps they are a feeble attempt to recall those early wondrous days when humans were first created and knew God face to face and all was goodness and light. At any rate, these happy tales are the sad stories because they are about things that can never be.
Thank God for Jesus Christ! He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light! (I Peter 2:9).
When we read a story of darkness in which a “hero” rides through flame and pain to rescue helpless victims, we are reminded of Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice on the Cross. Every story with a hero is actually a re-telling of the Gospel. As I said earlier, the story of the Nutcracker is an especially vivid re-telling of Jesus and His Love for mankind.
The darkness has to be in the story. Jesus’ mother didn’t give birth in a Sugar Plum Fairy Castle, and Jesus didn’t die on a singing cross.
In my opinion, stories suitable for Christians should have some ray of light, however feeble and faint. Even the dark stories of Lovecraft and the Cthuhlu Mythos held out hope that someday the Old Ones would once and for all banish the Deep Ones to their watery homes. The old Dark Shadows series was filled with light–always, ALWAYS, the hope was that good would overcome evil, and Barnabas WOULD throw off his curse and live out his life as a good and loving human man.
IMO, stories that are unsuitable for Christians have no hope, no light, no possibility of a hero. I frankly don’t know of too many stories that are like this. I think that almost all stories penned by humans contain some kind of longing for a return to Eden and our friendship with God.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I think Christians can read pretty much anything, no matter how dark, as long as the light is somewhere to be found, the light that reminds of us our Hero, our Savior, Jesus Christ. The darkness is Truth–we are truly a dark and cursed people, and we need to remember that always. The worse thing that could happen would be for us to “pretend” that we are living in light when in reality, we are stumbling in the dark. We need to recognize our need for Jesus Christ. Those who do not recognize their need and who think that all of life is happy and gay are indeed, of all people, most miserable.
Wow Cat, you’ve pretty much worded everything that I’ve been thinking! I couldn’t have done it better myself! 8D
Yes you are right in that a lot of fairy tales were a lot darker than their incarnations in cartoons and such. And frankly, as much as I admire Disney for some very gruesome scenes, they could use a little bit of the dark original story in their adaptations (especially nowadays).
And yes, I do agree that people who prefer to live in Candyland might be the really delusional ones. The world is a dark place. Growing, to me, seems to be the process in which you realize that. However, you are right that the best thing about a dark tale is that there is always a glorious light that fights bravely against this darkness. Finding this light that conquers the dark evil is always the thing I long expect from a grim yet profound tale. Furthermore, the fight is not the mere vanquishing of the bad guy or the foiling of a cliche supervillain, but it is a great trial (such as Frodo’s journey to Mt. Doom).
I know, but as far as people like that… it’s pretty obvious THEY are the ones with the problem. Not the ones who complain about certain shows necessarily, but the ones that go out of their way to find something “un-Christian” in pretty much every TV show.
when I was a child I spoke as a child and thought as a child, and now that I am an adult, I have put away childish things, and speak and think – and govern what I allow into my mind through my senses – as an adult.
It is quite possible to deal with adult characters and themes, including those deeply Christian themes of sin and redemption – in the sense Paul uses adult, not in the sense the movie ratings and porn industry use it – without resorting to morally repugnant images, words and actions. That is the skill of those writing and producing visual media. To the extent they lack the skill to communicate those themes, they must resort to techniques that shock and titillate and be content to forego genuine communication in favor of “entertainment.”
Interesting that you suggest Care Bears. Back when Care Bears was popular, I was an evangelical Protestant raising two little girls. There was a huge backlash by evangelical Protestants AGAINST Care Bears. They were considered “New Age.” We were all urged to keep them away from our children.
One of many books that was popular back then called Turmoil in the Toybox by Phil Phillips. This books describes the dangers of toys like Care Bears. I remember many of my friends reading this book and discussing it.
I think that among Protestants, the issue is not so much what kind of arts and entertainment are appropriate for Christians, but the issue is, "IS any kind of art and entertainment EVER appropriate for Christians?"
And I think that these teachings have rubbed off onto Catholics, who are assimiliating them into their daily theology.
The Piety Movement and Puritanism cast a lot of suspicion on any form of arts or entertainment, and to this day, there are sects of Christians who will not ever indulge in any form of art or entertainment. To them, the only forms of entertainment that are legitimate are reading the Bible, singing hymns, and working. (Work is play.) They might attend a sacred concert a few times a year, but it had better be above suspicion. (E.g., in our community, a family of Mennonites attends our production of The Messiah every year.)
These Christians have many good reasons for believing that arts and entertainment are not appropriate for Christians. In many of the books of the 1980s that spoke out against various toys, the authors taught (from the Bible) that any form of pretending was “vain imaginings.” They believed that allowing little children to pretend to be animals or soldiers or anything was allowing them to practice a lie. They also believe that pretending opened up the mind to allow Satan and the evil spirits to enter in and take possession. These Christians quote verse like “Take every thought captive” and “Have the Mind of Christ in you.”
This adversion to “pretending” of course extended to any kind of theater (including movies and television), any kind of fiction works, and any kind of image-making (most of the visual arts).
When my older daughter was in high school (Class of 2001), she looked around the U.S. for a Christian college (we were still Protestant, so she didn’t look at Catholic colleges) with a Theater major. There were only six (6) Christian colleges in the U.S. at that time that offered a major in Theater Arts. And of those, only two did any kind of theater that could even remotely be considered “secular.” Most of them stuck with alternating between productions of The Sound of Music and Godspell, and even Godspell was considered “too controversial” for some of these schools, so they stuck with “Biblically-based plays” written by their own professors. Also, the students at four of the schools never “mixed” with the local secular theaters, but stayed isolated in their own colleges doing “safe” theater.
There are many Christians who do not believe that “theater” in any form is ever appropriate for Christians, often because of the reason I mentioned above–“vain imaginings.”
Another reason why Christians are suspicious of arts and entertainment is that they feel these activities are a waste of time. We should be “redeeming the time,” as the Bible says. To spend time at the theater, or reading a novel, or painting a picture, is wasteful when the time could be spent praying, reading the Scriptures, or preaching the Gospel.
And of course, there is the teaching that anything “of this world and of the flesh” is evil, or at best, not important. We should seek the spiritual and reject the physical. This is what I grew up hearing, and I believe it’s one of the major reasons why many evangelicals do not accept the teaching of the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. They reject the teaching that the body is of God. They think that it is all corrupt and depraved. (Calvinism). They even reject the idea that Mary actually contributed half of Jesus’ genes; instead, they see Mary as a mere surrogate who carried a baby that had been totally created by God, with no human intervention at all. (No wonder they don’t give Mary any honor.)
Finally, there is the dubious history of arts and entertainment. It is true that in the past, many artists (theater, visual, writers, etc.) were of questionable background and reputation, and consorted with “lower” classes of people. I wonder if this was influenced by the Eugenics Movement that flourished at the end of the 19th Century well into the 20th Century. The idea that certain “classes” or “races” of people were “inferior” or “undesirable” was common back then, and I think these attitudes are still very common in the U.S. (e.g., “hillbilles” are considered a “lower class” of people)
With this misunderstanding of the arts and the “physical” in their minds, many Christians feel guilty watching “Christian” entertainment, let alone “dark” entertainment.
I think there are many Christians who are weary of the constant conflicts and debates in life, and they would rather not ever be confronted with controversies about anything, so they avoid anything that might embroil them in a conflict. They just want to live in peace and tranquility.
Best to just keep watching Oklahoma, listening to George Beverly Shea recordings, viewing Pieta, watching The Andy Griffith Show, and reading “Little Women” over and over again. And when it comes to our children, just make homemade teddy bears and stay away from controversial New Age items like Care Bears.
This is exactly why I abhor people who promote such fallacious teachings. What they deem as “vain imaginings” is creative talent. Talent is a gift from God and not something to be repressed religiously. It’s also ironic at how they command people to “Have the Mind of Christ in you” when Christ himself used His imagination to tell parables that baffled the literary norm at the time. (e.g. the Samaritan being portrayed as one of the “good guys” and showcasing respected members of Jewish society as self-centered cowards).
Personally, I still have an inkling towards the movie version of the The Sound of Music. However, that was only because while there were very light-hearted songs, I could see the dark shadow of Nazi Germany looming in the historical background.
What I find disturbing is that that very oppressive “waste of time” mentality is what causes many in the arts industry to abhor and even mock Christianity as well as reinforce the stereotype of Christians being religious, kill-joy prudes who do nothing but pray and read the Bible 24/7. I cannot remember how many times I had face-palmed (and even lost my temper) when some ignorant liberal “artist” goes off about how Christianity is anti-art, anti-music, and all that biased nonsense. I would very well go as far as to say that mentality is what gave birth to the cesspool known as Hollywood!
Maybe these people should follow their own advice and read the Bible… again. Jesus hung out and consorted with a lot of lower class people in His day (the most hated, I believe, were the tax collectors).
I wouldn’t care if they just kept it to themselves. Sadly, they don’t. It just irks me at how they constantly promote such restrictions on the freedoms of speech and expression. This does not say I don’t draw the line (far from it actually) but that’s no excuse to draw one that’s so high up, ridiculously uptight, and hard to please.
Perhaps this is a poor choice of words on your part, but how is “prefer[ing] to live in Candyland” delusional? You prefer to live in the dark reality we live in? You prefer the violence in the streets, the wars, et al.? Call me delusional but I prefer to live in peace.
We should live in the reality of the Light of The World, Jesus Christ.
We should live in the Kingdom of God, but be fully aware that this Kingdom is currently physically located on Planet Earth, which is the domain of the Prince of the Power of the Air, Satan himself. To lose awareness of this fact, or to deny this fact, is folly.
Even though it is tempting and desirable, we should not try to create a “fortress” on this earth in which we remain constantly and NEVER venture out into the world.
There are Christians who do this. At one of the Protestant fellowships in our city, it is totally possible to be born, live in the nursery and pre-school, then the grade school, middle school, and high school, then graduate and go to the college, then work in the church, and then retire into the nursing home. Theoretically a person in this fellowship would never need to experience ANYTHING out in the “world.”
But this is not what Jesus intended for his disciples. He sent them OUT into the world to be salt and light. Jesus said “I am the Light of the World.” But later on, he tells his disciples, “YOU are the light of the world.”
We are Christ’s Body, and He doesn’t remain in hiding.
I Thessalonians 5: 5 & 6 says “For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night or of darkness, so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.”
Italics are mine. The Bible is full of analogies of light vs. dark, and it is clear that Christians are of the light, not of the darkness. This verse says it clearly.
What does this actually mean for real people? We should live totally in the light of Jesus Christ and we ourselves should not participate in those things that belong to the dark.
But we should ILLUMINE darkness. In order to do that, we have to go into the dark places, learn about the lives of the people who live there, grow to love the people who are trapped or lost in the dark, and light the way for them to cross over into the light.
Acts 26: 17 & 18 says, “…the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
Romans 2: 19 “…are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in the darkness.”
Ephesians 5: 11 “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” (Read on in this chapter about darkness and light).
Of course this has to be balanced with passages like II Corinthians 6: 14–"Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
I think this passage refers to an actual partnership, not just friendship, between light and darkness. We have to discern the difference. It’s one thing to go see Rocky Horror Picture Show and have a good time with your pals throwing rice and cards. It’s another thing to get involved with or voice support for the lifestyles that are advocated by the show, or to get caught up with the show to the point where your home decor, your wardrobe, your music, etc. are dominated by dark, goth decor that does not present a message of the Light of the World.
A lot of Christians refuse to have ANYTHING whatsoever to do with darkness. They won’t venture out of the safety of the fortress that they have created. I think this is wrong.
I think it is deadly to raise children with no awareness of the darknes that surrounds them. They must be armed and taught the proper way to live as Children of the Light in a dark and dangerous world. A lot of Christian parents mean well as they attempt to hide all the darkness from their children. But all too often, this strategy backfires when the child has their first experience confronting darkness. They are defeated soundly because they have no armor. Or sometimes, the child is drawn to the Beauty of Darkness (“the Music of the Night,” as it is called by the Phantom), and crosses over totally into the Dark Side and we lose them.
As I said, we need to live in reality, not in a sweet fantasyland that doesn’t exist.
Perhaps the issue that Lost Wanderer is dealing with is one that all of us struggle with. What is the balance? How can we be “in the world but not of the world?”
Is it OK to watch football and to laugh at those baudy ads featuring well-endowed young women (and terribly handsome men!)?
Is it OK to enjoy secular rock music?
Is it OK to read the local newspaper? (I know fundamentalist Christians who do NOT bring the newspaper into their homes because it contains a horoscope.)
Is Halloween OK?
Is it OK to drink alcohol? (I say absolutely not, but I know that many Catholics disagree with me on that issue!)
These are all practical daily questions that Christians struggle with.
I think that the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we illuminating darkness with the Light of Jesus , or are we part of darkness?” And possibly we need to ask a third question–“How can I illuminate darkness if I refuse to go there?”
Oh my gosh, I found one of the sequels to that book at a library book sale. (Talking all about how awful the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were.) As an avid 1980’s toy collector, I had to purchase it, and I probably laughed almost non-stop for three straight days after reading it. I was so amused, I tracked down all the similar books I could find.
Absolutely fascinating!! But, I have to wonder, after reading these books…they complained about almost every major toy line of the 1980’s. What on earth did those poor children play with???
(I was also amused by all the factual errors in those books. Did those authors know anything about these toys?? Did they do any research at all??) :rolleyes:
I’ve gone through some of these struggles as well, trying to understand how to interpret and judge various literary (and multimedia) works based on their content, moral outlook and so on, and it’s good to see someone clarify some rather murky ideas on the subject, as well as on the Puritanical viewpoint on arts and literature and how it differs from the Catholic viewpoint on the same areas. Thanks, Cat!
I think a quotation from C.S. Lewis is relevant here: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe,and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight.”
I think the same is true for art and evils: art shouldn’t deny the existence of evil, but to get too focused upon that ugliness probably does more harm than good.
Life is sometimes dark, so we cannot expect everything to be like “Leave it to Beaver” (one of my favorite shows, and I’m only 24) or like Saturday morning cartoons from our youth, in which all the dilemmas were somehow lighthearted; even if the latter involved fighting major and powerful criminals, somehow the attitudes and feel were quite light. Sometimes (often) real life is not. Sometimes life is hard, dreary, scary, and confusing. Sometimes, life is angsty. I believe it is alright to portray that in art. My only caveat is that to me, both the lighthearted sappy stuff and the dramatic, angsty stuff are equal art forms. They have different aims. One seeks the “wouldn’t it be nice” reaction, and one seeks to build tension and release it. Both are legitimate art, I believe.
At the same time, there are a few considerations. First, I think we should never admire or desire the unChristian aspects of movies; that’s not to say that there can never be the depictions of sin and error in an appropriate film (though how far it goes depends on the age of the viewer too), but I think that a film or art where these things are looked upon favorably fails to live up to what a Christian should want. A Christian might still enjoy such a movie without sinning (if it doesn’t go too over the top or if the favor towards sins isn’t central to the film’s premise) but we should prefer that films are in line with our values, even if their characters are not. Since you call Hollywood a cesspool, I don’t think you and I are in disagreement about this one.
Second, I believe that there is a difference between Realistic and Cynical, and in my own life I judge that as key. I believe that it is unhealthy to admire or desire those artistic efforts that are overtly cynical. The Christian view is that life is sometimes ugly, but ours is also not a cynical religion, when all is said and done. We believe there is good, that by God’s Grace there can be good people and trustworthy people, and that there are moral codes worth holding to without any exceptions whatsoever. Some art and entertainment seems to mock such a worldview. The message seems to be “The world is bleak, there is no point to life. There is no redemption, and no purpose outside of enjoying the here and now. And those who hold to unwavering moral codes and unwilling to make exceptions are fools.” I don’t think that sort of message is desirable at all, and I tend to not watch such films.
Cynical films abound in Hollywood, because having a “happy ending” doesn’t necessarily mean a film isn’t cynical (no more than having a bleak ending means something is cynical). How many “hip” movies about exciting lives of young, beautiful people revolve around sex, partying, and bitter “do-whatever-it-takes-to-win” attitudes? Does this not suggest, no matter how subtly, that this life is all there is, so we should do whatever it takes to feel pleasure and win in the here and now? How many movies suggest that every religion or powerful organization is a conspiracy, out to oppress people? Does this not suggest that organized groups can ever be trusted, and that only oneself (and maybe one’s loved ones) can be? Even some “hero” films can conceivably fall prey to Cynicism. Yes, the hero might win, but far from being a Christ figure the hero sometimes wins by being as cruel as the villain (even if only toward the villain), being willing to betray any strict moral code or to brutalize the criminals, who “deserve it anyway”. Violent rampages of revenge, for instance, are increasingly glorified in movies, looked at as “fair and just”, and that’s deeply cynical, no matter how otherwise “noble” the hero may be or how much the film tries to make me think the villains “deserved it.” It’s not that the only good hero is a perfect hero, but in Cynical works, the hero’s less ethical traits are celebrated as what make him heroic and noble.
The things mentioned above also mark an essential difference between Cynicism and Tragedy–a tragedy might be horribly sad and have a bad ending and characters who were anti-heroes, but it does not glorify these things, and in fact gives you the impression that a better ending and perfect character would be far better–it just “ain’t so.” Cynicism laughs in the face of optimism, telling those who long for a more optmistic or morally sound world to “grow up.”
Ironically I think Cynical art is the most immature art of all, totally unable to reconcile the idea of being unconditionally virtuous (or trying to be) with a tragic and tough world, and totally oblivious to any concept that there can be hope even if what’s right in front of you is all despair. Cynicism is not only incompatible with Christianity, it’s just not very creative or imaginitive, in my opinion. In fact when it comes to artistic merit and creativity, I dare say that Cynicism is far less imaginative than the happy-go-lucky fifties-type sitcoms and Disney-style movies to which it (Cynicism) pretends to be so superior. It takes no imagination to harp and moan about everything being meaningless and to spout off some non-sense about only being able to depend on oneself–humans like complaining. Counting their blessings or looking for the good in others does not come so naturally, yet that’s what the Disney/50’s type of entertainment tends to do, even if one-sidedly.
Anyway, I’ve rambled. Keep enjoying shows that probe into the emotional depths of the human problem with angst and conflict. For my two cents, just steer clear of those works dependent upon anti-Christian values or upon outright Cynicism rather than legitimate Emotional Drama and tragedy.
For what it’s worth, by the way, I believe Final Fantasy is often firmly non-cynical. There is a silver lining. There are a ton of good people–the world is crawling with them, with the villains often making up a minority of the world populartion at large (albeit powerful). The common everyday person is good and honest. There is tragedy, but there is also happiness. There is evil, but there is also good. The heroes are able to overcome the evil, and sometimes it even explicitly requires a healthy helping of idealism in order for them to do so. Likewise, most Final Fantasy titles are at worst neutral about Christian values, not necessarily supporting them but not contradicting them either. At least this was true for all the numerical Final Fantasy titles up through the PS1 days. The worst thing to be encountered, and the only thing I would change about many of them if I were the one making them, was strong language in some of the later ones. Still, aside from that, they were safe, in my opinion.
An exception to both rules is one particular title, Final Fantasy Tactics, that is both cynical (in the way of the Organized religion, the source of inspiration and faith for religious people in the game, being predictably evil) and anti-Christian (guess what Church that religion looks like, down to its central figure having twelve disciples and having been betrayed by one of them…guess who the final boss is. Hint: Blasphemy, blasphemy, blasphemy). I actually threw that one away as soon as I realized the offensive storyline. The others seem okay…FFX sometimes dances close to the cynical “Organized religions are evil oppressive forces and we don’t need em” theme, but the religion is so alien to any real-life religion that it was still bearable. Uncomfortable, but bearable–which is fortunate, given that the more central themes to the game were among some of the most beautiful of any Final Fantasy. That’s another key–the controversial elements were not only just barely mild enough to bear, they were more of a vehicle for other elements of the story than being the main focus in themselves.
However, I will say that cynical “authority is evil” theme–even [especially] if that authority is religion–is a disturbingly common theme in Japanese RPGs, and those Final Fantasy examples seem more the norm than the exception, even if other Final Fantasies are somehow not nearly so emphatic on that. Newer JRPG’s often prove unable to resist at least taking a small “take that” at authority, and sometimes that authority, even if not explicitly religion, is deliberately described in detail so that a Christian will notice it is very very reminiscent of God’s authority (one villain, though not a religious figure or deity, was going to let those who served him live in his paradise; those who didn’t had to remain outside in a miserable world…the game harped on this at such lengths that I couldn’t help but get the impression that the parallel was a deliberate commentary on what the developers would think of anyone, deity or otherwise, assuming such “serve me or do not enter Paradise” authority–especially since this bit of commentary was out of place, having no impact on the game at all and only being quite suddenly mentioned by the villain out of nowhere, as though the only motive for putting it in there was so that the parallel would exist). It’s a shame; I love JRPGs, so I hate to see the tendency of being increasingly incompatible with my values, or else making not-so-subtle criticisms of my beliefs, even when such soapbox statements are jarring and out of place with the storyline.
I don’t play Japanese RPG’s, but I will say that this anti-authority undertone certainly isn’t limited to them. It’s in Western culture as well… just look at how fictional depictions have changed. The villains are just as likely senators, generals, and corporate executives as they are mafia, street gang members, or terrorists. Probably moreso.
And how often are vigilantes glorified because “cops just aren’t enough”? Considering how many police officers give their lives in the line of duty to protect us, the least we can do is honor them more in art. But instead police precincts are depicted with corruption and intrigue, with a healthy dose of incompetence thrown in.
I agree with you that the anti-authority theme is found everywhere…it’s just that the medium I described, JRPGs, are particularly likely to draw some parallel between the evil authority and religion, assuming it’s not explicitly a religion that is the evil authority, which just makes it even worse. It’s very frustrating when a game that was basically light-hearted up until a certain point suddenly all but screams at you “The villain is acting just like the Christian God! ANY being that acts like the Christian God is no good at all!” The game in my previous example, the one in parenthesis, practically went that far. It didn’t actually mention God, but the parallel being drawn was obvious, along with the “ANY being that acts like that” implication.
As for vigilantes, I tend to like superheroes, but then superhero films aren’t (typically) saying law enforcement is incompetent so much as that law enforcement is (understandably) not superhuman like, say, Spider-Man, who has an unnatural advantage that the city actually appreciates him for using–while at the same time joining the law enforcement would require him to reveal his identity (probably) and endanger his loved ones, so his reluctance there is also understandable. So I guess it depends on the exact movie as to whether or not I think superheroic vigilanteism is sending a cynical message (“law is incompetent”) or an inspirational one (“You can use your exceptional talents to do something instead of just sitting around, and you can find a way to keep your loved ones safe in the process”). But then, superheroes are usually only “technically” vigilantes in that the Law Enforcement itself often appreciates them, and in fact they may as well only be a super-powered police officer than a vigilante…it’s only on paper that they’re vigilantes, and if any policeman tries to arrest them, it’s often in a “I guess I have to arrest you, wink wink, nudge nudge” way where the officer actually wants them to escape. In those sort of superhero stories, they may as well be vigilantes in name only, so it’s not all that cynical…at least in my opinion. Now, I agree that movies that show more realistic vigilanteism (realistic individuals who take the law, including use of force, into their own hands just because they don’t like the pace at which the system moves) is quite often cynical in nature, and does indeed usually depict policemen as corrupt and the law system as uncaring or incompetent. As you say, that does a disservice to all the brave men and women who risk their lives daily for our safety. It also tends to be tainted with the glorification of revenge, since often the vigilante in such cases has a personal vindetta against the criminal in question, and in such movies that sense of vengeance is considered just and glamorous.