Don’t throw the music/film baby out with the lecherous bathwater

The recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein and the film industry are as shocking as they are unsurprising. It is terrible that many felt pressured into sexual activity with the man who held the keys to their career in his hand. Yet, knowing what has long been known about the film industry, nothing is all that surprising about it.

Since then, Sarah Bowden – a music manager – appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire programme. New allegations have come to light concerned the UK music industry. Bowden spoke about endemic sexual harassment, abuse and rape that is ‘as bad if not worse’ than anything Hollywood had to offer. Once again, shocking as such revelations are, it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has any knowledge of the music industry whatsoever. Stories abound, are even bragged about by band members, of their sexual exploits. When even the likes of Mick Hucknell from Simply Red (yes, even him!) boast about the thousands of women he has bedded, one struggles to believe that the paedophile epidemic of the 70s won’t catch up with those offering lewd details of their exploits with groupies. In such a licentious environment, with such young fans inevitably in tow, perhaps this is about to kick-off serious investigation into what most have long presumed to be the case.

From a Christian point of view, the tendency is to look at this and presume the waterhole has been well and truly poisoned. It is certainly one thing to look at the behind-the-scenes goings-on of the film and music industries and be appalled at the behaviour. The danger is that in (rightly) condemning such opportunistic sexual predatory, we choose to regard film and music qua film and music as intrinsically corrupt of itself. This, I think, is a mistake.

I have already noted some rushing to condemn all film and music as the product of this morally degraded environment. Plenty of fundamentalists have been lining up for long enough to tell us how awful all film and music is; worldly filth that should be avoided at all costs. They have long viewed music and film as intrinsically evil, whose styles have infected the modern church, and these latest Weinstein and UK-music accusations are, to them, proof-positive of their case.

It is interesting that the rock music and film wells are considered poisoned as a result of Weinstein and the behaviour of various musicians while the classical music and literature wells are considered pure and chaste despite the similar actions of those therein. Nor do too many fundamentalists raise any issue singing hymns to tunes written by Vaughan Williams despite his keeping of a mistress. It does often seem that the lewd worlds of classical composers, poets and novelists don’t lead to the same cries of licentious worldly music degrading the church, that is apparently saved only for the lewd world of rock music. The only people with a penchant for such arguments with a leg to stand on are those exclusive, unaccompanied psalm guys. But even that principled position is not without its issues (see here). It just seems highly inconsistent to denounce rock music and film as ‘poisoned’ because of the actions of some of its protagonists while ignoring the licentious behaviour of classical musicians, novelists, poets and the rest. It smacks a little of justifying our likes as ‘good’ and dislikes ‘evil’, as though God himself has sanctioned our preferences.

Let’s be clear, we should all rightly abhor the behaviour of many film industry executives as well as those musicians who have made a virtue out of sexual exploitation. That does not mean, however, we must throw out an entire musical genre, or artistic medium, simply because some who do it are *shock horror* sinful people who act in worldly ways. You would be hard-pressed to find a biblical mandate for determining certain styles of music or film as intrinsically benign while others are evil and malignant. It is possibly true that no music is culturally neutral; it is all certainly morally neutral. This, by definition, means all styles of music and film can be used well and to God’s glory or badly, in ways that are dishonouring to Him.

This should not lead us to blasé acceptance of all film and music regardless of content. It simply means we should judge all film and music according to its content, rather than denouncing it as inherently evil because we don’t like it. Worldly, sinful guys creating it doesn’t necessarily mean it is automatically evil. That way lies listening to, using, buying and engaging exclusively Christian-produced stuff. I hate to break it to you; you can’t always find stuff that is Christian produced. And where do we draw the line on that? Does a Catholic-made piece of art make it acceptable or is it theologically bad enough to warrant the label ‘evil’? What about a nice piece of music made by a Reformed Calvinist that was made without the exclusive desire to honour God in it? There is simply no end to the stuff we can deem verboten.

So, let’s not decide all film is inherently evil because Harvey Weinstein has, unsurprisingly, shown that he is. Let’s not determine all rock music is evil because some rock stars act in evil ways. Let’s instead judge all things on their merits and assess them by their content. This might mean you stop listening to some rock or no longer watch certain films or whatever, but let’s not assume it rules the whole lot out. Don’t throw out the baby of music, film and any other cultural medium with the lecherous bathwater of the Weinsteins and artists of the world.

Let us judge content on its own merits and, if you watch, listen or read be convinced in your own mind, do it in faith and to the glory of God.