Moral standards and redemptive values — in Hollywood? Yes! Sutherland Soapbox, 2/10/15



This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Hollywood is just a cesspool of filth rotting our souls and ruining our children. Or at least that’s a narrative we often hear, right? While the entertainment industry does produce its fair share of garbage, there is a lot to celebrate.

This past weekend, a few of my Sutherland Institute colleagues and I had the chance to attend the 23rd Annual Movieguide Awards in Hollywood. The awards gala honors films that feature high moral standards and redemptive values. In attendance were directors, producers, actors and studio executives for films such as “Big Hero 6,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Unbroken,” and “Muppets Most Wanted.” Stevie Wonder even made a surprise musical appearance.

But the thing that stood out to me most was the economics of moral creative content. And I’m not talking about moral content in the form of an in-your-face, condemning-you-to-the-fires-of-hell sermon disguised as a movie. That stuff just doesn’t work. If you want to preach, be a preacher. If you want to teach, be a teacher. But if you want to be a filmmaker, you better learn how to entertain. That is, after all, why most people go to the movies. To have fun. To be entertained. And perhaps, along the way, folks might also be inspired, outraged or moved to action. The trick is to elicit that emotion without alienating the audience. And the movies honored at the Movieguide Awards did just that. And that’s where the economics comes in.

During the event, Movieguide presented a statistical analysis of the biggest box office movies of 2014, as they have done for decades. Their analysis shows where the real money is. Of the 25 highest grossing films of 2014, only four were rated R. Movies with a very strong Christian, redemptive or moral worldview raked in $2.2 billion, while movies with a very strong non-Christian worldview earned less than half a billion dollars.

As I list off the top-10 grossing films of 2014, think of all of the funny, inspiring, amazing and entertaining moments from these films. Read more

Trigger warnings and microaggressions — Sutherland Soapbox, 1/13/15

silenceThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

There’s a couple of interesting trends that have been brewing for a while that I’d like to talk about today because they might be symptoms of a larger issue. One is the rise of trigger warnings.

Trigger warnings have their origin in the completely rational and noble effort to protect the mentally ill or victims of violent crimes, such as child abuse or rape, from experiencing things like flashbacks or post-traumatic stress disorder. The warnings are given before exposing the consumer to anything that might “trigger” those painful memories. That’s great. There’s no reason to needlessly put the vulnerable through that trauma.

Unfortunately, there are some, including many on college campuses, who have taken this concept to the extreme. At one time, Oberlin College’s list included “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” To their credit, the administration changed the policy after some of Oberlin’s faculty voiced their displeasure. A New Republic article reported at the time,

In the faculty’s eyes, trigger warnings threaten not just academic freedom but the intrinsic nature of the liberal arts educational model. “We need to … challenge students, to conduct open inquiry in classrooms, to make students feel uncomfortable,” explained [Oberlin professor] Marc Blecher. “Making students feel uncomfortable is at the core of liberal arts education.”

A second trend gaining steam is the rise of the concept of microaggressions. The idea is that degrading stereotypes related to things like gender, race, religion and ethnicity often occur in subtle ways. Microaggressions are the seemingly innocuous comments or gestures the offending individual commits but is almost always unaware he or she has committed. It could be something like a male holding a door open for a female. Read more

Peace, truth, freedom and functional culture — Sutherland Soapbox, 12/23/14

TruthThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Some years ago, an influential organizational leader observed that the measure of peace experienced by an individual is a manifestation of the degree of congruity between not only a person’s values and their behavior, but also the extent to which the person’s values conform to truth. This is a compelling idea and one I’ve come to recognize as applying also to groups of people, indeed to all functional human cultures.

The interrelationship of truth and freedom seems also to be essential – as proclaimed by The Prince of Peace, whose birth Christendom now celebrates: “…ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) “Free from what?” we might ask. Free from distorted perceptions and erroneous thinking and thus free from the bonds of ignorance and from the errors and wasted opportunities ignorance produces.

Meaningful consideration of these concepts is incomplete without some definition of “truth.” I regard truth as immutable; as functioning independent of our awareness of it and irrespective of whether we agree or concur with it. As such, we have the privilege and responsibility to discover and choose to live consistent with, or to disregard, the truth. What is not available to us is the amending or redefining of it.

In 1978, Neal Maxwell addressed many of these fundamentals in a remarkable message presented to members of the Rotary Club International. A former professor of political science and later executive vice-president at the University of Utah and at the time a member of the presidency of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Maxwell’s remarks are stunningly relevant today even though he shared them nearly 37 years ago. Read more

On Point video: Holly Mullen on rape culture, 12/5/14

In this episode of On Point, Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, discusses rape culture with “Holly on the Hill” blogger Holly Richardson and Michelle Mumford, former assistant dean at BYU Law School.

You can watch all the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

Or use this link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

A head-scratching analysis of (dead) American adulthood

questionA story by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott last month declared adulthood dead in the United States. Well, maybe, but his reasons for thinking so are not the ones I’d choose.

Much of his argument seems to rest on the death of patriarchy in pop culture, with a side journey into American literature and history. Go ahead, read the whole meandering thing here.

Among other things, he cringes at the fact that American adults are reading (gasp!) young adult fiction. Well … that might have something to do with the fact that Harry Potter and other high-quality juvenile books are better written than many books aimed at “adults.” (Please forgive those of us “adults” who enjoy plots and moral clarity.)

Scott also sniffs at middle-age men “wearing shorts and flip-flops,” as if they should all be in Cary Grant-type suits 24/7.

David Marcus, in the Federalist, gave Scott’s New York Times piece a big eyeroll:

The first object of Scott’s imagination that needs to be tackled is his argument that “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Sopranos” are influencing and reflecting a turn away from male adulthood in our culture. …

Scott doesn’t fare much better as he wades into the history of America and its letters to find foreshadowing for our current crisis of masculinity. His readers are treated to a description of the founders of the United States in which they are not fathers, but “late adolescents.” Benjamin Franklin is his primary example, and while it’s true Franklin had his dalliances, he also pretty much invented everything we use in our houses. Meanwhile, the notion that Adams, Jefferson, and Washington were adolescent is really just bizarre. In Scott’s version, the American Revolution is little more than a temper tantrum directed at daddy figure George III.

Click here to read the rest of Marcus’ entertaining critique.

In search of best income equality? Utah’s the place – Mero Moment, 6/18/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Mind_the_income_gapIncome inequality is the new buzzword for progressives in their never-ending assault on the character of America – not that America doesn’t need a mirror held to its face every now and then. But progressives seem to relish every opportunity to remind Americans that we’re not that special after all.

Admittedly, I am an unabashed cheerleader for Utah exceptionalism. Last year, I wrote a short book about how Utah leads the nation in faith, family and freedom. Little did I realize at the time that Utah is also the most equal state in the Union in terms of income.

It turns out the research on income inequality has been ubiquitous for several years now, a new best-selling book on the subject has made it a cause célèbre once again. Progressives are eating up Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, and use it now in conjunction with liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren’s push for a living minimum wage.

As it turns out, much to the chagrin of progressives everywhere, Utah is the most income-equal state in the Union. The goal of income equality is a large middle class where the divide between the rich and poor is at its absolute minimum. Utah is the best in this category. Yes, homogenous, patriarchal, church-going, Republican-dominated, liquor-hating, federalism-loving, politically conservative Utah does income equality better than any blue state in the nation. Read more

The new American religion – Mero Moment, 5/20/14


Mary_Magdalene_Crying_StatueThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

As I’ve watched the continuing decline of American culture and the rise of progressivism, I have searched for words to describe this transfer of culture. I’ve pinned the blame on selfish individualism, political correctness, secular humanism and progressivism on the left and right.

One author calls it “utilitarian hedonism.” Utilitarian meaning that life is about maximizing personal pleasure and reducing personal pain. Hedonism meaning that pleasure is the only intrinsic human good. Combined it describes a political philosophy wherein “the pursuit of happiness” is debased as the pursuit of pleasure. Don’t do or say anything that gives me discomfort – let me do what I want to do.

This guy’s on to something. He describes a new American religion. He writes that this new faith “tries to make respectable the old disparaging slogan ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.’” He writes that the “lowest common denominator” of this new faith “boils down to this: suffering is worse than being happy, and being alive is better than being dead – except if it means that you will suffer.”

He says, “It’s the only rational way to explain to your grandmother how it is that gay marriage is now legal in most places where cigarette smoking isn’t, and why states that shrug at sadistic pornography grimly insist upon seat belts.” Read more

Men (and women) behaving badly

ArgueThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Do you have a right to behave badly? Most people probably would answer “no” to that question even if, in their heart of hearts, they feel quite differently. And, by all counts today, Americans do feel differently.

There is no constitutional right to bad behavior. In fact, the United States Constitution exists, in large part, to keep bad behavior in check at the federal levels of government. The same goes for state constitutions and a whole raft of state and local laws. Laws exist because of bad behavior – not to encourage it but to discourage it. A free society requires order, meaning good behavior, and a free society cannot long endure a culture of bad behavior – it can’t afford it, neither can it naturally counter it. There are no neutral corners in a free society where bad behavior simply vanishes because men all of a sudden become angels.

The need for law and order has been such a fundamental part of America since its founding that calls for less law and order have sounded irresponsible – until now. The exponential growth of government in our lives has justified a choir of imprudent overreaction.

Rather than shore up old ways, these modern voices are calling for even less law and order. I believe the call for less law and order today has more to do with the changing definitions of “bad behavior” than it does it anything else. You hear it all of the time, “Who gets to decide what’s bad behavior?” – as if these decisions are something new to the world. When what’s new to the world is changing values.

Read more

'Breaking Bad' reveals the sad joke of 'victimless crimes'

Jesse plays peekaboo with the little boy while waiting for the boy's addict parents to return in a scene from Breaking Bad.

Jesse plays “peekaboo” with the little boy in a scene from “Breaking Bad.”

As “Breaking Bad” winds down its fifth and final season, one of the most heartbreaking episodes (and that’s saying something) from the highly acclaimed AMC series comes in the middle of the second season. Episode 6, “Peekaboo,” finds Jesse (Aaron Paul) trying to recover drugs stolen from one of his dealers.

[Here’s a quick recap for anyone who hasn’t followed the show, which is very violent, gruesome and dark but is also a superbly written, acted and shot essay on morality, choices, pride, deceit, family and vice. Jesse is a drug-using high school dropout who cooks and sells methamphetamine. He is joined by his former high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Walter is looking for a way to secure his family’s financial future before he dies, and his chemistry wizardry produces a “better” meth product, which Walt and Jesse manufacture and sell—with far-reaching, horrific consequences.]

The junky mom calls to her little boy as Jesse demands they return his drugs and money in a scene from Breaking Bad.

The junkie mom calls to her little boy as Jesse demands they return his drugs and money in a scene from “Breaking Bad.”

Back to the episode at hand: Jesse finds the thieving junkies’ house and breaks in only to discover no one is home—or so he thinks. He has just settled down to wait when a 7-year-old boy (Dylan and Brandon Carr) emerges from a bedroom. When the boy announces he’s hungry, Jesse helps get him some food and plays “peekaboo” while they wait for his mom and dad to arrive.

The boy’s parents finally return home and are accosted by Jesse, who demands his missing drugs and money for the drugs the drug-addled duo have already used. The dad, Spooge (David Ury), tells Jesse they have his money in the backyard in an ATM they stole.

“FIDC [sic] insured, yo! It’s a victimless crime!” crows Spooge as viewers see the ATM heist that includes a murdered cashier. “I’m tellin’ you—victimless crime.”

Read more

What does detailed map of racial data tell us?

race-population-mapAn amazingly detailed new map shows the location and race of every single U.S. citizen in 2010. It’s especially fascinating as we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendary speech of 50 years ago.

On the map, a detail of the Wasatch Front shows just how white the area is, and where higher concentrations of Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other races are located.

For example, central Ogden shows a heavy concentration of Hispanic and other races, while the northern areas of the city and up into North Ogden are more of a mix.

In Salt Lake City, 700 East appears to mark a fairly vivid transition point from mostly white areas to the east and non-white areas to the west. West Valley City consists largely of well-mixed regions, with the northern part of the city composed of more heavily Hispanic zones.

The southern areas of the Salt Lake Valley down into northern Utah County are mostly white, with only Orem and Provo displaying a mix of non-white races.

Besides being a really interesting map to study, what does this data tell us? Why do people choose to live where they live? Does public policy have an impact on these choices? Certainly the segregation policies of the South and other states created mandated-by-law racial divisions in the first half of the 20th century, but what about now, after those policies have long since been abolished?

Does this map of the Wasatch Front indicate racism? Or are there other factors at play, such as economics, family ties, education and employment preferences and opportunities? Is it simply human nature? Humans tend to want to be around those who are like them, and that includes all of the factors above and, apparently, race itself. Why is it so common that those factors tend to line up along racial lines? For instance, why is it so rare for a white person to have a black brother-in-law who lives in the same neighborhood with the same socioeconomic status?

Are we less divided and more united now than in the past? Have policies such as affirmative action and university admission quotas helped or hurt? What about welfare policies — have they helped or hurt economic mobility? Is public education closing the gaps in education, employment and opportunity? And what effect, if any, do these policies have on family formation and stability?

These and other questions are important to ask 50 years after Dr. King said, “I have a dream ….”

To access the interactive map, head here.