I sometimes find it amusing, and at other times rather irksome, the speed at which many Christians are able to pass negative judgment on secular art and culture; especially when these judgments are blatantly based more on a personal distaste than anything religious. Often, I end up running into passionate by-the book-when-convenient Christians, who are continually successful in undoing any sort of progress our religion as a whole has made towards healing tensions between the unnecessary dualism of holy and profane. Case in point:
I recently saw a production of the musical RENT with a group of students who largely share a similar conservative Christian high school and college background. While reactions were as varied in number as there were students, a few were so typical of the image I earlier described, they are worth pointing out and perhaps even getting a little upset about.
But before I get ahead of myself, I should probably first give you a run down of what RENT’s thematic content is.
RENT is a theatrical rock opera much in the same tradition as productions such as Bye Bye Birdie, Grease, and Hair. It uses modern day musical scores while also opting for stories and themes that are very much contemporary in nature and relevant in more recent times. The musical itself is closely based on an original opera from the 1800s called La Boheme, which chronicled the experiences of a young group of poor Parisian artists living out their lives while struggling with the existential realities of tuberculosis. RENT takes this story and puts it within the context of the late 1980s, replacing the plague of the time with AIDS and changing the setting from Paris to New York City’s East Village.
Naturally, given the change in context, and the new disease addressed being HIV-AIDS, sexuality has a very strong presence in the newer adaptation; and lovers who may have once been heterosexual are now homosexual. This of course happens to be an aspect of the musical which most church going folk would rather do without; and for every homoerotic scene (no matter how tame) acted out by the performers, and with every obscure reference made to a same sex love affair, one could almost hear a certain section of the audience cringe.
But you know what? As sad as that fact may be, it isn’t something which really upsets me. People are different and have varying thresh-holds. Some can watch two men kissing, while being largely comfortable in their own skin, while others can’t. No problem. What I can’t stand is a largely negative and judgmental attitude completely birthed out of personal preference, but announced under the guise of theologically grounded frustration.
There was one specific student I remember talking to who walked out of the theatre as soon as the first act was finished. The whole time, in true fifth grade fashion, this gentleman had his eyes closed during every scene which may have even bordered on resulting in some sort of homoerotic exchange; and yet somehow was able to complain about the outrageous gay love scenes he “saw” in the musical.
“I just don’t like the way they’re making all that stuff out to seem okay”, the young gentleman said.
In other words, his dislike of the production was based on the assumption that the musical was really just a glorification of homosexuality, and its agenda was simply to that end; making his query with RENT more a matter of its disregard for good Christian morals than his own disgust with same sex (more specifically “male” same sex of course) relationships.
Well, obviously he didn’t know anything about La Boheme, otherwise he would understand that RENT was more than an homage to the homosexual lifestyle (even though this could be drawn from the fact that other characters in the musical were in heterosexual relationships). But even with him being oblivious to this fact, I could still hear a sense of deception in his statement which he himself probably didn’t pick up on.
This same gentleman not too long before seeing RENT, had watched the movies Knocked Up, Good Luck Chuck, and Role Models.
In Knocked Up the two main characters are a young man and woman who meet for the first time in a dance club, have sex and face the realities of having a baby together. His reaction, “Haha! That was a really funny movie!”
In Good Luck Chuck, the main character played by Dane Cook, has well over 10 documented sexual encounters in order to break a curse, that once dispelled, will allow him to have “proper” sex with the woman he really has fallen for. His reaction, “Yeah, that was pretty good movie.”
As for the film Role Models, the two child actors and their adult contemporaries share enough lurid and vulgar dialogue to make even the most foul mouthed sailor blush.
The gentleman in question who hated RENT, was the person who recommended this movie for me to watch.
There is something very wrong with this picture.
If the problem with RENT is one of morals, shouldn’t have this angry young man been equally as upset with Knocked Up, Good Luck Chuck, and Role Models? After all, last time I checked, the church’s stance of blatant promiscuity and encouraging young children to engage in premarital sex when they get older is all rather negative.
Clearly there is a double standard. And because most Christians it seems would rather die than admit that they hold to such practice, it looks like it’ll be a problem we’ll all have to deal with time and time again; concerning issues that span far beyond the scope of sexuality.
So why is this incident worth getting upset about? It really has nothing to do with RENT or the loaded issues of morality which accompany it. That’s a discussion for another day. What it has everything to do with is the popular stereotype of the Christian conservative, and how our private high schools and colleges seem to be doing a bang up job of meeting that stereotype in full.
One of the main criticisms we Christians tend to have of our secular counterparts is that they live their lives selfishly and solely according to rules that they have created for themselves. Meanwhile, as this case clearly points out, it would seem the same could easily be said of us. That’s hypocrisy. And the fact that we may be breeding yet another generation of Christians who fit the mold, is a good enough reason to make anyone upset.