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Hollywood: Church of Masses? Not in the digital world | The Arkansas Democratic Gazette

Hollywood: Church of Masses?  Not in the digital world |  The Arkansas Democratic Gazette

 


As the creator of classics such as “It's a Wonderful Life” and “You Can't Take It With You,” director Frank Capra has touched the hearts and souls of moviegoers.

The self-described Christmas Catholic took this power seriously. “No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan has ever had the power of a filmmaker,” he once said. It was the “power of speaking to hundreds of millions of people for two hours in the dark.”

The power of today's digital media is much more complex than that, said Barbara Nicolosi Harrington, a former Catholic nun turned Hollywood screenwriter and screenwriter.

“Hollywood has been the church of the masses, but I don't think that's true anymore. At least we can't say that movie theaters are the sanctuaries they once were for most people, especially for young people,” said Harrington, author of “Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture.”

When she was young, she explains, mainstream entertainment “was everything. Hollywood created images that told us what was cool and what it meant to be successful and loved.”

Today, when she speaks to young people, they have a completely different relationship with the media. The voices and images of Hollywood compete with legions of “influencers” reaching the masses through ubiquitous smartphones.

“There are so many competing screens and a lot of the content is really stupid,” she said. Young people accept this, but believe that they and their peers can decide what is true and what is false in this digital world. When messages come in, social media experts then connect users with creators, activists or networks related to the content.

“Kids think they’re in control,” Harrington said. “But how can you tell what's right and what's wrong if it's TikTok and its algorithms that decide what you see? … You think you're the one who decides what's right for you and what voices will guide you. But is this true?

The big question is whether millions of parents, pastors, teachers and counselors realize how much the balance of power has shifted in media and entertainment. That's the question I've been trying to address in a Substack newsletter I call Rational Sheep – a name taken from the prayers of the Orthodox Christian baptism rite.

A quarter of a century ago, in an essay titled “The Liturgy of Mass Media,” I highlighted the importance of the work of scholar Quentin Schultze and a circle of researchers at Calvin University in their book “ Dancing in the Dark.”

“Usually, adults simply ignore popular art aimed at young people. … By ignoring youth art, however, adults are ignoring the children in their care,” they wrote. In the age of cable television, one trend was clear: “Instead of watching television with their families, adolescents typically watch it alone or in groups and talk little about what they are watching to their parents.” » All these media signals have become “maps of reality”, providing “stories, metaphors and symbols that explain life and suggest answers to its dilemmas and mysteries”.

At the time, Schultze said, the goal was to teach “discernment” to adults and young people as they struggled with the forces of media in their lives, trying to place what they saw, heard and read in “a biblical context” of good and good. bad, beautiful and ugly.

“Now we feel like we're up to our eyes in the ocean, just trying to figure out what's going on,” he said. “We are dealing with intertwined digital networks – local, national and global – that change and transform based on how people use them.”

It's hard to be discerning when smartphones serve as a divide-and-conquer technology that divides people of different ages into different audiences when it comes to politics, business, morality, education , family life and, of course, faith.

“It's difficult to be discerning when you're not even sure what many of these messages and symbols mean,” Schultze said. “Children in our homes who are only three or four years apart are literally growing up in different worlds.” While it is difficult to know what parents, clergy and teachers should do, he added: “One thing is certain: you cannot ignore what is happening and act as if it has no meaning. importance”.

Terry Mattingly is a senior fellow in communications and culture at Saint Constantine College in Houston. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and writes Rational Sheep, a Substack newsletter about faith and mass media.

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