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Do What We Say - Moralizing in Films

Almost as long as there have been films, there has been moralizing in films. Heck, the entire Hays Code was pretty much created to make sure that everything happened the way was “supposed to.” There were lots of things that just straight-up weren't allowed and of the things that were allowed any actions that were deemed to be sinful or illegal had to be appropriately punished by the end of the movie. But some movies take this a step further and base their entire movie around openly teaching some moral lesson.

You can look at films like I Accuse My Parents or Reefer Madness (a film we will be covering in episode 119) and there’s no question that the movie exists for the sole purpose of teaching viewers a lesson. Educational shorts, religious films and kid’s shows often delve into this territory as well. Ironically though it seems like the more you focus on trying to force a message, the less likely your audience is to be receptive to it. You might satisfy people who agree with you already, but you are very unlikely to change anyone’s mind.

As someone who enjoys badly made movies, I have seen quite a few educational shorts and religious films over the years that are determined to teach a lesson. Rarely do they succeed in actually getting their message across.

Offhand I can think of only one religious film and one educational short that I thought were somewhat effective. For the educational short, it was a bizarre short from the 1970s called Drugs are Like That. This is a truly weird short that talks about how drugs are like not stepping on the lines on the sidewalk and jumping from a rope into a lake all while these two little kids build something out of Lego. Despite being hilariously strange, I thought it was actually more honest than most anti-drug shorts. It talks (in metaphor) about how sometimes drugs can be really fun, but that if you aren’t careful you can end up in terrible situation.

As for the religious film, Christmas with a Capital C also earns some respect from me. While the trailer makes it look like an over-the-top Christians good, atheists bad type situation, it actually produces a much more nuanced message. Yes it talks about how some atheists can be really anti-Christmas but it also shows that some Christians can get carried away and start using Christmas to attack people. Plus by the end of the movie you learn that atheists can be good people and even help celebrate Christmas if they want without giving up their atheism.

In both these cases we get a more balanced approach. Not only are you more likely to sway people’s opinion when they don’t feel like you are shoving your opinion down their throats but these movies even contain stuff for people who already think drugs are bad or that Christmas is good to think about.

Of course, if it weren’t for the wrong-headed approaches we would have missed out on so many classic So Bad, It’s Good movies and shorts so it’s not all bad. But if your mission is to convince people, balance (or at least the appearance of balance) seems to be key. 

Category:general -- posted at: 4:00pm EDT