Hollywood is more than a city in California. The word Hollywood has become synonymous with glitz and glamor, as well as the extravagant lifestyles and hedonistic philosophies of movie stars and celebrities. Love it or hate it, Hollywood exerts a vast influence on popular culture in the West and around the world.
We often use the term Hollywood to refer to anything pertaining to the entertainment industry, even though other cities such as New York and Nashville contribute to it also. Although there are many Christians living in Hollywood and working in the film industry, much of the entertainment produced there is completely secular. Many movies promote lavish materialism, adultery, sensuality, self-worship, and idolatry. Some Hollywood movies exhibit a blatant anti-God bias. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) abound in the movies Hollywood produces. Going to the theater can be a dangerous proposition for believers who wish to keep their minds pure. Should Christians boycott Hollywood? Should they be unthinking consumers of whatever entertainment comes out? Or should they find a middle path?
In forming a response to Hollywood, there are several questions to consider:
1. What, exactly, so attracts us to Hollywood? Part of Hollywood’s appeal is the covetousness it champions. From every newsstand and television set, we are told that we should want what the celebrities have. Headlines such as “America Wants to Know!” or “The Life Every Woman Dreams Of” scream at us from checkout lines, planting the message that we cannot possibly be content if we are not following celebrities. Millions of the discontent gobble it up and, in their attempt to live like their idols, become indebted, anorexic, or promiscuous. Hollywood is in the business of creating idols and foisting them upon us whether we want them or not.
God has strong words for the sin of covetousness. He included it in His Top Ten List (Exodus 20:17). Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Covetousness is a thief that steals joy, peace, and contentment—qualities God wants His children to have in abundance (Galatians 5:22; 1 Timothy 6:6). For a Christian to become enamored with the lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous is to break God’s tenth commandment and forfeit the contentment He wants us to develop.
2. Why is Hollywood so influential? Aside from the materialism it wallows in, Hollywood has come to represent the great American fascination with entertainment. Entertainment is an idol that has crept quietly through the back door of Western Christianity. It goes mostly unnoticed as a threat because it does not wear the mask of evil. Entertainment itself is neutral. We use it to distract crying babies, quiet restless children, and relax weary workers. Entertainment can help unify a family on vacation, give teenagers something healthy to do, and bring enjoyment in stressful times.
But in prosperous cultures entertainment has become an addiction. Entertainment for its own sake steals time, money, and mental energy that could be spent on more worthwhile pursuits. The world’s appetite for entertainment is Hollywood’s lifeblood. Hollywood could not sustain itself without the public’s hunger for more. As with any addiction, the craving for greater thrills increases, and that’s why the public demands spectacles that are bigger, louder, more exciting, more beautiful, and more sensual. The lust for entertainment can replace the joy of the Lord until time with God is seen as an interruption in the pursuit of pleasure. At that point, entertainment has replaced God as our supreme delight and has become an idol (Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Jeremiah 2:13).
Entertainment is also wrong when we allow ourselves to be captivated by things that displease the Lord (Romans 1:32). When we excuse a movie’s sex scenes with “It had a good message” or become fans of openly immoral entertainers, we are crossing a line. We are allowing Hollywood rather than God’s Word to define our values. When making entertainment choices, one good question to ask is “If Jesus was coming to spend the weekend with me, would I be happy to share this with Him?” Would He approve of the movie? reality show? new CD? Would He buy a People magazine and feast on the stories of mate-swapping and infidelity? Would He applaud the sensual dancers on the stage? If He would not, then why do we?
3. Do we excuse language and behavior in movies and television shows that we would never endorse if it was done in our homes? If we willingly sit through acts of violence, immorality, profanity, and anti-Christian themes without it bothering us, then perhaps we have allowed the values of Hollywood to invade our lives. When we can fill our minds with vulgarities on Saturday night, yet show up for worship on Sunday morning with no awareness of the inconsistency, we have fallen victim to the lure of the Hollywood god.
Philippians 4:8 instructs us about our thought life: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (ESV). Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). When our minds have entertained that which God calls evil, our thought life and eventually our actions will be affected. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
How we spend our time eventually defines us. If Hollywood is not reflecting the values we claim to cherish, then we must be careful how much time we spend with it. To honor God, we must compare the values coming out of Hollywood to the unchanging standard of Scripture. Then we must “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Hollywood flaunts what God despises. Why do we suppose God is indifferent when a culture clamors for depictions of sin? As Christians, we are to seek after God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). If any form of entertainment does not support that goal, our response must be to reject it.