The Media and Hollywood’s New Moralism: Not Yet the Real Thing

By Tom Gilson Published on December 9, 2017

Hollywood has adopted a code of conduct. Hurray — at last! And look — Congress is standing up for morality, too! 

Maybe elite America is re-discovering something like sexual morality. They may remember that power is not for abusing. Maybe. But I’m not convinced. 

Not As Optimistic As I’d Like To Be

Why? Because as good as this newly rediscovered morality may be, it’s based on a wrong principle. It has virtually nothing to do with how men and women should relate to one another, and everything to do with how we mustn’t.

Far from being truly relational, it’s just as rule-bound as the most stereotyped religious fundamentalism. Have you been to a sexual harassment seminar at work lately? If so, you know exactly what I mean. Don’t say this. Don’t do that. Don’t let your eyes do this. Don’t, don’t, don’t! And if someone transgresses, report them!

The new moralism, built on avoidance, aims toward minimizing relationships.

This new moralism is enforced by social, organizational and/or legal power. In the end it brings us back to a power principle. It feels a lot like a new face on a principle that never went out of style, even among the rich and powerful: “Don’t push me around.” 

As a power principle, it can abused by people with power. And with such massive new momentum pushing this new moralism along, it’s impossible to be sure that abuse will never occur.

Keep Track of the Real Thing

What happens if our elites really do start leaving by this version of sexual morality? I’m not sure. We can easily predict what it won’t look like, though. It won’t look like freedom. It won’t look like grace. It won’t look like other-centered caring.

The new moralism won’t look like real people engaged in authentic relationships, such as you find in ordinary Christian marriages and families across the land. It also won’t look like the reality you can find among single men and women connecting on a fully human level at church, at school, in their extended families, on the job and elsewhere. It will look like people trying not to be bad, not like people being good.

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True morality is about what we all do for each other in love. Of course loving others rightly requires respecting boundaries, including sexual boundaries. If you care for someone, you don’t pressure her (or him) for sex. You don’t use your power over her to get what you want. Even Hollywood knows that — now.

But true morality maximizes relationships. The new moralism, built on avoidance, minimizes  relationships. True morality makes people friends, even family. It builds communities. The new moralism separates people, atomizes them. It creates the kind of individualism that enables abuse.

Don’t Expect Too Much

Let’s be happy that Hollywood is waking up to new standards of behavior. But don’t expect too much of it. Hollywood isn’t exactly famous for its commitment to authenticity, and they haven’t landed on it this time, either.

The worst thing that could happen to Christians is that with the rest of society we begin to think the new moralism is the real thing. That’s the world’s morality. All we have to do to live moral lives is “Just say no.”

God tells us to say yes. The real thing is found in the loving friendships, marriages and families of real men and women who’ve built their lives on a principle of love, not avoidance; relationships, not rules; morality, not moralism.

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