Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The New Religious Right versus Media Wrongs: AFA Fights Temptation

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The New Religious Right versus Media Wrongs: AFA Fights Temptation

Article excerpt

I concluded that this nation was in the throes of a great spiritual war-a war for the hearts and minds of its citizens. I also came to believe that the outcome of this war would determine whether or not the foundation of this nation, and indeed all of Western civilization, would continue to be rooted in the Christian view of man, or change to the humanistic view of man-a view that not only rejects God's rules of conduct and conscience, but also rejects God himself and seeks to eliminate the influence of those who love him.... This spiritual war was and is the greatest single issue facing Christianity today. Knowing that the entertainment industry . . . was a primary battleground in this war . . . I realized that the organized church simply had to be mobilized to join the fight.

Never in almost 12 years of fighting the media s bias against Christian values had I ever come across a more blatant attack on Christianity than this movie. I realized that if there ever were a time for Christians to let the Hollywood elite know that the entertainment industry's constant Christian-bashing should stop, this was it.

-Donald Wildmon,

The Man the Networks Love to Hate, pp. 208, 200

The story told. . . exists as a formal entity in vital connection with its social ground, as something that stands for something to others in ways that affect and move them.

-Nichols,

Reinventing Film Studies, p. 46

"Culture wars," a term popularized in the 1980s, has become a part of the grammatical lexicon of both politicos and cultural critics. Reflecting the utility and rhetorical reality of the phrase, critic James D. Hunter in Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, writes that "America is in the midst of a culture war that has had and will continue to have reverberations not only within public policy but within the lives of ordinary Americans everywhere. . . . At stake is how we as Americans will order our lives together" (34). Garry Wills agrees as he asserts that "the struggle for a nation's soul is under way" (25). Gerald Graff concurs with both Hunter and Wills as he writes in Beyond the Culture Wars, that society "is becoming so shell-shocked by cultural conflict and disagreement that it would rather escape from the battle than confront it and work things out" (viii).

All of these critics sense that the United States is becoming increasingly polarized. Without taking sides, Hunter contends that on one side are those who are committed "to an external, definable, and transcendent authority" (44). On the other side are those who are guided by "the spirit of the modern age, a spirit of rationalism and subjectivism" where truth, if truth exists, "tends to be viewed as a process, as a reality that is ever unfolding" (44). Hunter argues that even though "most Americans occupy a vast middle ground between the polarizing impulses of American culture," (43) the tension between the extremes of each side "will have enormous consequences for the evolution of American public culture" (307).

On a general level, this paper studies the polarization enacted by the "external, definable, and transcendent authority" side in the "culture wars"-the New Religious Right (NRR)-as it calls for a "war" against the media.1 As Gary Thompson writes in Rhetoric Through Media: "Many of those writing in and about media see media texts as part of what has been called 'culture wars' . . ." (475). More specifically, this paper surveys one NRR group, Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA), as it fights a battle against MCA/Universal's The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese, 1988) for the film's "demeaning and degrading" portrayal of the life of Christ (''The Last Temptation of Christ Movie to be Released," 1). The focus of this critique will be direct mail (monthly magazines, petitions, form letters, and action memos), Wildmon's books The Man the Networks Love to Hate and The Home Invaders, and news releases generated by AFA during this controversy. …

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