Monday, May 11, 2009

The Trouble with Quibbles

I just read an essay by Hank Stuever from The Washington Post called "The Trouble With Quibbles With Films Like 'Star Trek,' Overzealous Fans Exert an Unhealthy Pressure on Moviemakers."  As you can tell from the title, the essay deals with the extreme pressure put on movie makers by fans.  When books are turned into movies, when sequels are made and when legacy series are continued, there is a level of expectation from the fans that the production be "done right" and a sense of betrayal when the film does not do justice to the original.

This pressure was especially apparent during the release of the new Star Trek movie.  Trekkies lined up, not just to enjoy the new movie, but to put their "Trek" stamp of approval on it and quibble over anything that had been done wrong.  Stuever points out that this is about more than  Star Trek, this seems now to be part of our culture.  "We criticize films even as they play before us, tweeting our observations from the theater. Many people watch "Lost" each week at a keyboard, hitting send at each commercial break."  Stuever continues,

Without holding a single document of copyright entitlement, you and thousands (millions!) like you nevertheless experience a chronic fear of violation: Your beloved boob-tube rerun is being made into a big-budget movie. The book you read eight times in fourth grade is getting adapted to the screen. The cartoon character that was on your favorite lunchbox is going to be revivified by sexy actors. They screwed up "Speed Racer." They got Spider-Man right and then ruined Daredevil. You brace yourself for the worst, because the worst happens so often.

When I got to that paragraph, I started thinking, "this sounds familiar."  The same critical ownership reaction happens every week in the life of the church.  Let me be very clear about one difference.  Christians do have a certain amount of ownership in the worship life of the church.  We are not disconnected consumers of religious entertainment.  However, the reaction can feel the same.  Over and over, at all three churches I have served, I have heard the phrase, "I can't believe you changed ___________."  The church had altered the script, strayed from the original and a major injustice had been done.  

"We used to read prayer concerns aloud."

"The sermon used to be at the end of the service."

"We always used to do the creed at the beginning of the service."

"We never used to sing music like this."

It is funny.  As I started to compare the church to the movie world, the author began to related the movie world to the church.

All the church words and metaphors people come up with to describe blockbusters and devoted fandom apply: Is it faithful? Will I feel betrayed? Is it canon? Will I still believe? Summertime filmmaking is church now. Pity the producers, directors, screenwriters and actors who take on a science-fiction or fantasy project and must first make an appearance at Comic-Con or some such convention-center cathedral gathering, so as to genuflect before fans of the older version, the classiccomic or the original TV show. 

Stuever thinks this bad for movies.   He believes that the pressure boxes writers, actors, directors and producers into a corner.  In that corner, greatness can be missed.  "Quibbling does not produce a Heath Ledger-style Joker; that is the result of an actor and a writer and a director coming unhinged from the original material."

I won't go that far for the life of worship in the church.  As I said, Christians do have some amount of ownership in the worship life of the church.  We worship together.  And we hold each other accountable that worship is real, sacred, and true to our faith.  We don't want to become "unhinged from the original material."  If by the original material, we are talking about the Gospel.  But I do wonder if our quibbling can keep it from being all that it can be - for God and for each other.  If we are designing our time in worship through the lens of not offending, if we are trying to keep people from quibbling, or we also creating something of lowest common denominator quality?  If we are focusing only on the past are we missing a chance for worship to be dynamic, life-changing and revolutionary?

"Quibblers would have kept "Star Trek" more like its old self. Quibblers inhibit revolution Quibblers would deny the basic law of forward motion in pop culture:  If you love something, they will remake it. But if you really love it, you will set it free, and let them."



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