Clare Sera on
Responding to the Media
HOLLYWOOD, California, 25 MARCH 25 2004 (ZENIT).
In his message for World Communications Day this May, John Paul II
stresses the importance of parents regulating their children's media
"This would include planning and scheduling media use, strictly limiting
the time children devote to media, making entertainment a family
experience, putting some media entirely off limits, and periodically
excluding all of them for the sake of other family activities," he wrote.
Clare Sera, an alumna of Act One: Writing for Hollywood who is
collaborating on the "Curious George" screenplay for Universal/Imagine,
agrees with the Pope and recognizes that media offer both a risk and a
richness. Sera shared with ZENIT how Christians can properly use the
Q: What would you say are the major areas where Hollywood has deeply
affected Christians' behavior
without them realizing it?
Sera: There was a special on the History Channel about some archaeological
dig where they had discovered sacred artifacts from one of the times the
Jews had been exiled to Babylon.
Prior to the exile these sacred objects had "purely Jewish" religious
markings, but the ones found during the exile had begun to incorporate
symbols of Babylon's culture. Babylon's culture was very "hip" and
very bohemian. But it made me sad to see the "pure" Jewish worship diluted
with nods to other gods.
Hollywood, like Babylon, is a strong, hip culture with an appealing
message. When our sacred objects are found hundreds of years from now,
what will they reveal about us?
In what ways are we being influenced by Hollywood without even realizing
it? Every way. Every movie, each TV show leaves its influence
from fashion to sexual norms
we have great power over how we allow that to influence our hearts.
The challenge for us is to remain alert to what our hearts are investing
in when we participate in this culture. Unlike many religions,
Christianity is lived by the Spirit, not the letter of the law
this is what allows us to live in crazy cultures and, hopefully, bring a
little leaven to them.
But living in the Spirit requires some tough self-discipline to ensure we
are hearing him clearly and responding courageously. The perks of living
in America today are costly to the heart.
Q: How can Christians gauge how much Hollywood influences their lives?
What are questions that people, and especially parents, can ask themselves
in order to determine its pervasiveness?
Sera: Again, ask yourself: "What is my heart investing in?" That is the
question. To truly live your life, there's a constant re-evaluation
unpleasant as it sounds
thinking that's necessary.
You have to ask, "What do I want? What does my soul ache for?" Then take
stock to see if what you say you want is lining up with what you are doing
and pursuing. And do this every night.
Ours is an inward journey and it takes vigilance to guard it. Hollywood is
most interested in the outward journey
status, looks and instant gratification. Its stories claim to take us on a
journey of the heart, but Hollywood is most often wrong about what's true
and what's good for the heart.
Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn't know any better. It thinks sex equals
intimacy and that by encouraging you to make sure you "get yours"
regard to career, status, whatever
that you're guarding your "self." Hollywood really doesn't know how wrong
But think about it
do know and we can barely believe it. Sacrifice brings joy? Intimacy means
vulnerability and honesty? That's tough stuff. That's why Christ was a
nobody likes the "s" word. Sacrifice yourself for others who aren't even
worthy of it. And of course the movies that really move us all, both
nonbelievers and believers, are the ones with a message of great
sacrifice. "Braveheart" springs immediately to mind.
So how do we guard our hearts and remain alert? You ask questions. Become
Socratic with yourself and your friends. Seek peace of heart and pursue
it. Work at it. Look for [the Holy Spirit], for his ways in the stories
you watch and hear.
You watch "Big Fish" and walk away saying, "So what is 'truth'? What's at
the heart of truth? What details are important? Why did God give us a
story of a seven-day creation, a man in the belly of a whale, a tower of
Babel? Why isn't the Bible an encyclopedia of fact?"
I found "Big Fish" to be the most exciting movie theologically that I've
seen in years
caused me to really question what's legalistic as opposed to what's true.
You watch a movie like "Love Actually" and when you walk away you say,
"OK, they represented love as a pretty and shallow experience. Do I want
to invest in that? Do I want to start fantasizing about having
relationships like that?"
If I find I am being drawn to pretty, shallow relationships, I need to run
from the theater to the cross to reindoctrinate myself to what real love
is. It requires prayerful thought in order to survive unscathed in a
culture that is this in-your-face.
By the way, a well-established, fellow screenwriter in Hollywood pointed
out to me the "truth" of the movie "Love Actually." He is a nonreligious
fellow who was sad at this movie's portrayal of love
this can't be love actually, he mourned. And it's not, actually. It's
Q: How can Christians and people of good will use the media without being
used by them?
Sera: The thing is, we should be here for Hollywood, not vice versa. We've
got something great to bring to the table. We need to be engaging
in thoughtful, insightful dialogue on why so many movies leave us feeling
empty. We need to be in excited, encouraging dialogue on the ones that
uplift and challenge and entertain us. Hollywood is truly influenced by
phone calls and letters.
Also, Hollywood is a teen-ager who immediately rebels at judgmental
finger-pointing. We can be smarter than Hollywood. If we can't, we're
really in trouble. We can influence at least some of what comes onto our
screens and support it
not go see the stuff that's bad.
That's also what's so exciting about being a Christian
about living in the Spirit. Our choices of what's a good movie will vary
tremendously among us. And we don't need to be afraid of that. We don't
need to be afraid of anything, really.
All things work together for the good of those who love and serve the
Lord. So how can anything, any movie or TV show be feared? Not to say it
shouldn't be challenged. We just don't need to raise it to a status of
more power than it actually has.
I love that some churches have movie clubs where they screen films and
then sit around and talk about them afterward. That's great. Movies are
good opportunities to bring up topics you might not think about around the
It's a great way to open conversations with your kids about why you think
such and such a movie has a bleak message, or a great message, and ask
them what they think. That's the proper use of the media. ZE04032521
Clare Sera on Ways to Combat the Media With Love
HOLLYWOOD, California, 26 MARCH 2004 (ZENIT).
John Paul II exhorts parents to be pro-active about the media in his
message for World Communications Day 2004.
"Families should be outspoken in telling producers, advertisers and public
authorities what they like and dislike," he advises.
Clare Sera, an alumna of Act One: Writing for Hollywood who is
collaborating on the "Curious George" screenplay, echoes the Pope's words.
She encourages Christians to be not afraid of engaging those who generate
Sera shared with ZENIT how Christians can use their voice and their money
to support what is uplifting and decry what is offensive in the media....
Q: Recently, a federal agency initially ruled that a particularly
offensive word is OK on TV. Is the medium getting better or worse?
Sera: It's getting worse and I don't know why those in charge are not
admitting it. I'm sure that even the hardest of TV executives does not
want his or her children watching most of what's on daytime and prime-time
I swing alternately between thinking, "Let the culture crash
Christians should turn off the TV anyway and participate in our
communities instead of sitting in front of the tube," and then thinking,
"I miss the days when my whole family could sit and laugh together at Mary
Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett."
As I mentioned earlier, writing letters to TV stations when you find the
programming offensive carries a lot of weight. Encourage them when you
like the programs, discourage them when you don't. No need to be offensive
or rude or fearful about it.
We have great strength and power, spiritually and, well, in our wallets.
And it is much more powerful to be on the offensive by writing, calling,
letting your voice be heard, supporting those who are making a difference,
whose writing or directing is uplifting or beautiful
both believers and nonbelievers in the industry.
You also can support programs such as Act One: Writing For Hollywood,
which is training Christian writers to be a part of this industry and be
In fact, I want to challenge everyone who reads this to not say another
good or bad word about a movie or TV show they've seen without doing
something about it
calling or writing the network or studio and letting them know.
Stop talking about them behind their back. Put it in writing. Good or bad.
Just a postcard
have so much power, you'd be surprised. If we all did that just once or
twice, it would make a difference. Just state your opinion.
And now you can even visit the Web sites and send an e-mail. Google up a
show or two that you find offensive and send off an e-mail. Then do the
same with a show you feel has value.
Q: Have you detected any changes in Hollywood or in how parents and
families are coping with the media?
Sera: I might say it's an exciting time for families, because unlike the
'50s, they can't pretend that the culture is just fine because it's
presented in an unthreatening package.
We used to include "inoffensive" as a Christian attribute. Not really
true, if you're living like Christ
you're going to be going against culture, which in itself is an
Today, parents have an opportunity at every turn to explain, "This is what
Christ call us to," and "This is how the culture differs from Christ's
call." And to show the difference between what looks pretty and what is
between immediate gratification and depth of soul. Between Britney Spears
and Mother Teresa. Of course, that all takes energy.
In the '50s, parents didn't have to expend that kind of energy for their
kids to live reasonably moral lives. But is that what Christ asking of us
reasonably moral life? I guess we could say the polarization of the
culture and Christianity could be an opportunity for deeper lives in him.
I don't have kids. If I did, I like to think I would be constantly
alerting them to the lies of the media, especially advertising media. Then
at least they could be aware of it. There's no escaping advertising, but
again, we don't have to fear it. We just have to be vigilant in the fight
for our hearts.
Check out the magazine Adbusters
it's pretty extreme, but it's a great eye-opener
written by current and ex-ad executives; it helps you remember just how
much lying is being hurled at you daily. And when you see it as lies, it's
easier to dismiss. We can't just sit back and pour the media down our
throats without chewing.
Q: How should Christians respond to and combat Hollywood and its films?
Sera: Let's also remember, that, like Soylent Green, Hollywood is people.
A lot of them work hard to bring movies and TV shows that are highly
entertaining, thought provoking and uplifting to America. To lump them all
into one evil pile is convenient, but just not true
dare I say, Christian.
I work in Hollywood, right there in the middle of it. I love the people I
work with. They work so hard. They believe in what they're writing about,
what they're saying, how they're saying it.
They are passionate in their pursuit of fame and fortune. They're fierce
because they know what they want. They want riches and glory. They want to
they want to be God. And they put in the hours
hours and hours
prove it. What do we do with our hours?
Hollywood is winning because it is more passionate in its pursuit of its
religion. We have so much to say, so much beauty and aching truth to bring
to the table. Where are we hiding?
I look around the table at work
those who decide which stories get the green light to get made
I don't see many passionate Christians, bleary-eyed from midnight hours of
writing or directing or working at being a studio executive. Where are we?
Combat Hollywood with love. Uphold what's good. Encourage the few
believers and nonbelievers
are struggling in the fight for true and challenging or delightful and
uplifting stories. Empower beauty. ZE04032623