Hollywood has dished up some horrific monsters in the past hundred years. You can name them as easily as I can: Godzilla, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Alien, Frankenstein, Harvey Weinstein, etc. All but the latter were creations of someone’s fertile imagination. Hollywood’s fictitious monsters may be occasions of entertainment or catharsis for us, but their movies eventually end and we go back to our real-time existences. Moral monsters on the other hand sicken us because they are so real. We can’t switch them off.
But that’s the point of human monsters. Their very repulsiveness is the reason why God allows us to see the hideous face of evil from time to time. We sometimes call them animals, but animals treat their kind better than humans do. Animals are also products of nature. Moral beasts are products of human culture. They do not just pop into existence one day to terrorize an unsuspecting public – they are grown over a period of time in the human community, grown in a culture if you will. Without a climate of immorality and vice in which to grow this evil, we would only have to deal with mere villains.
The Beasts of Revelation
God’s Word testifies to this truth. In Chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation a ferocious beast rises “out of the sea” with ten horns and seven heads, uttering blasphemies and seducing the nations to worship it. “The sea,” in Biblical symbolism, represents the realm of brute and uncontrollable forces of nature – unregenerate, chaotic, deep, dark and violent forces. Monsters live there. The beast is from the sea; he was nurtured at the feet of the serpent-like Leviathan, the very image of the devil.
A second more hideous beast emerges from “the earth” later in the same chapter. This creature is the perfect deceiver, blasphemer and extortioner who coerces people to cooperate in his idolatry. The earthly environment out of which this beast arose represents all the forces of nature that have rebelled against their Creator and have coalesced into a social force of evil that overwhelms its citizenry.
Why are these beasts of Revelation important? Because they presage a human monster who emerges from the immoral swamp of the first two beasts. His symbolic number should be familiar to us:
Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six (Rev 13: 18).
Most scholars believe that the first century referent of Revelation was the evil Roman Emperor Nero, but the purpose of the image is to teach us that evil has a human face and that it emerges from a human context. If the frightening spiritual beasts of the story could not awaken the readers of Revelation from their moral slumber, perhaps their cooperation with – or at least proximity to – the very real human monster would.
Those who think that the Book of Revelation is a prophecy about the end times are only partially correct. Revelation’s main burden is to expose, in sometimes shocking imagery, the recurrent dynamics of evil in history. Evil is now. It has a human face. It thrives among us. Pay attention.
The Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal has all the feel of an apocalyptic novel. The Hollywood cesspool has provided the perfect culture in which to breed such a monster. If we are to believe the self-serving complaints of the A-list stars who tolerated Weinstein’s sexual advancements for years in order to reap the benefits of stardom, we see the dimensions of a deeply morally-poisoned environment. And, apparently, Harvey wasn’t the only offender. The monsters were allowed to play with the poseurs as long as the starlets shut up about it. All the male stars who knew about the problems were curiously silent too. So much for silver screen machismo. Only now do we discover that this degrading game has been going on for three decades (in the case of Weinstein) and probably for close to a century if the other reports about the infamous “casting couch” are true.
But the Christian church in America has been making the argument about Hollywood’s “toxic culture” for a long time, hasn’t it? It was a Catholic priest, Fr. Daniel Lord, who was largely responsible for the Movie Picture Production Code in the 1930s. This was a set of guidelines that assured that the content of Hollywood films would not violate the basic Judeo-Christian values and humane culture of the general population. Fr. Lord was well aware of the tendency of images to become corrupted in the name of “art” as well as their corrupting power over culture. For over thirty years the Code was something of a disinfectant for immoral art even if not over the immoral behavior of the artists.
Michael Medved, in his book Hollywood vs. America, notes that in the years before Hollywood eliminated the Code, the films that won the Oscar for Best Picture were My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, A Man for All Seasons, and Oliver. Following the demise of the Code the Best Picture went to Midnight Cowboy, a film about a gay prostitute and the only X-rated movie ever to win an Oscar. After 1967, Hollywood insisted on becoming America’s cultural septic tank.
From Promiscuity to Blasphemy
The decent, God-fearing American public has long-since lost or ceded the battlefield of moral issues to the pagans who run Hollywood. Now, promiscuity, cohabitation, homosexuality, abortion, graphic violence, and vulgarity are not just Hollywood’s standard fare; they are dogmas, up to and including an obsessive habit of blasphemy.
A few weeks ago I saw the recent Jackie Chan release, The Foreigner, because the trailers portrayed it as an action-packed film with a redemptive story line. That, of course, was a deception. It was a panegyric to the demons of revenge and blasphemy. Thankfully, sexual promiscuity received only a passing nod in the movie, but the film had a much more damaging aspect. Our Lord’s sacred Name was used to curse someone or something every five minutes of the two hour movie.
Blasphemy is the worst sin in the vast constellation of Hollywood’s many moral offenses; it is the nadir of human culture because it represents a complete rejection of the Creator of all art. Those who habitually blaspheme God have no real art, no joy, no blessing and no future. Harvey Weinstein’s nine blasphemous anti-Catholic films should have signaled that, and I suspect that he is now only reaping what he has sown for so long. But the movie industry as such is a haven for blasphemers.
Hollywood can’t help itself. It is a profoundly tainted human culture. It is dominated by a power that is even stronger than its own perversions. It is in the thrall of an unclean spirit that is in fact the source of all perversion. No wonder monsters emerge from there.
The reason God allows us to see the destructive power of human beasts is that they shock us out of our own moral slumber and our slothful consent to evil. We are not responsible for another person’s evil, but we often tolerate, consume and celebrate things that objectively violate the laws of God and our own consciences. In other words, we contribute to the toxicity of culture by our consent.
And yes, I am as guilty as anyone else. When I sat through the whole Jackie Chan movie, I gave implicit consent to its toxic script. Why did I not march right out of the theatre and demand my money back? A lazy consent to evil dressed up as entertainment. It is as simple as that.
The long-overdue sex scandal in the movie industry is certainly a national embarrassment but also a beacon for us. It is far beyond time for us to withdraw our consent from the venomous culture of Hollywood. I fully understand how hard this can be for most people. The cesspool flows into every nook and cranny of our society. We even carry it around with us on little toxic pipelines called “smart phones” and casually wallow in it for diversion from stress and boredom. I get it.
Yet, the murky darkness does not recede on its own. We must withdraw from it by an act of will, as St. Paul urged the first Christians who had the same problem with the surrounding pagan society. Not only did he advise them to separate from the harmful culture (cf. 1 Cor 6 and Eph 5), but he also provided the perfect antidote for the poison:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil 4:8).
It is impossible for monsters to emerge from that kind of culture.