a christian perspective on the world today

Media Trends: May 2016

Who would have thought that the Oscars, often perceived as nothing more than an over-the-top extravagant celebration in superficiality, glamour and glitz, would also bring to our attention issues of human nature, flaws and morality?

While there was the usual focus on fashion and controversy at this year’s event, and perhaps the televising of the awards show was simply about boosting television ratings, some of the winners should actually make us pause for thought, especially when it comes to human behaviour.

Spotlight, winner for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, is a dramatisation of The Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation into child abuse in the Catholic Church within the Boston area, and the subsequent discovery of hierarchical cover-up. Child sexual abuse is a difficult topic to broach, and the film doesn’t so much deal directly with the issue as it does with the journey of the journalists as they uncover just how widespread the problem was, and the extent with which it had been covered up.

“We are not going away. We are going to tell this story and we’re going to tell it right,” says the Spotlight Team. And they kept to their word. Since 2002, the journalists have written more than 800 articles on the Catholic Church scandal. But the film isn’t about demonising an organisation and its misconduct; it also highlights how everybody—even police officers and other journalists—were somewhat complicit in the entire cover-up, be it willingly, being reluctant to admit what was in fact staring them in the face or for the fear of becoming a social pariah.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them,” as a character in the film says. While the quote (and the movie) deals specifically with child sexual abuse, its implications are universal. Far too often we have shied away from justice, mercy and humility (see Micah 6:8) for reasons of self-preservation, and far too often we have become complicit in an issue that we should never have kept silent about—and that can be something as simple as witnessing someone being bullied.

And while some of us may choose to simply look the other way when it comes to contentious issues, there are others who choose not only to not bring it to the attention of the authorities, they decide to personally benefit from it. The theme of this common human flaw was highlighted in The Big Short, which won Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Oscars. The film follows a group of Wall Street pundits who look to profit from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, after identifying serious problems in the US housing market.

Viewers find themselves unwittingly cheering on these characters, whose main goal seemed harmless enough: to earn more money, both for themselves and their investors. But for the Christian, it is at this time that the Bible’s warning, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), rings true. 

And this is especially illustrated in the warning of an ex-banker in the film: “For every one per cent unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die,” and the lives of those affected and destroyed by the Global Financial Crisis are also depicted. 

The characters in the film didn’t set out wanting people to suffer—their main aim was simply one of greed and personal gain, but unintentionally, through keeping silent on an issue, they found themselves profiting off the backs of others. Which begs the question: Whom have we caused to suffer when we kept silent on an issue?

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