One Saturday afternoon when I was around seventeen, I was watching a movie with my mom (and folding laundry probably, her part of the “let’s watch a movie in the middle of the afternoon” deal). The film was Thelma and Louise, and as Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon sped down a southwestern highway in a green T-bird, I turned to my mother and said, “These women have killed a man, robbed a convenience store, destroyed personal property, and locked a cop in a trunk. And we want so badly for them to get away with it.” Then my mother—my Sunday-school teaching, missionary-work-day running, drive-fifty-five-even-when-she-is-in-a-hurry mother—said, “You’re right, we do! Why?”
That question has driven me my entire adult life. I have always been fascinated by stories. Particularly, performed stories on stage and screen. As an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Media and a director for the SAU Drama program, my life’s work is about storytelling. As a Christian, I believe we have important, powerful stories to tell. The most important, of course, is the Gospel (which is why I loved so much directing last year’s production of Godspell, staged in White Auditorium by the Music and Drama programs).
Stories can move us, change us, help us to understand, and teach us to listen. We are all exposed to stories on a regular basis. Movies and television shows remain a staple in our daily lives. But do we really understand what we are watching? We understand the story, sure, but do we understand the messages these programs send us? Do we see what they tell us is right or normal or good?
The awful truth is, we often don’t. That’s the impetus behind the text I wrote, Remote Virtue: A Christian guide to intentional media viewing. Remote Virtue is intended to give readers the tools to discern what effects movies and shows may have on them, to take into perspective what a redemptive narrative might mean, and to highlight the important and often-confused differences between moving images and reality. It is my hope that every viewer becomes a conscientious and informed one.
Movies and TV shows are powerful. They can move us in ways we don’t understand. But with a little insight and effort, we can discern the powerful messages and meanings and become more virtuous viewers.
Jennifer Letherer is the author of Remote Virtue: A Christian Guide to Intentional Media Viewing and The New Female Archetypes: rethinking women's roles in groups through television. She teaches film studies, theater, and writing for the Department of Communication and Media at Spring Arbor University.