The theater does not impress me, because I have long since progressed past the admiration of people for talent alone; if someone can play ridiculously fast guitar passages, or memorize lines and act them out, or balance upon a tightrope above Central Park — all of these things are simply exhibitions of freakishness. The amazed crowd claps because they are impressed that anyone could do such things; however, they are not impressed with the value of these actions. They do not clap because they are rejoicing in the truth, as Augustine said was one of the highest goods; they would clap the same for a man who ate bicycle parts or someone who performed an amazing sexual act. The spectacle compels them, not valuation.
Thus, I was not impressed with a recent performance of a musical, although the acting, the lighting, the music, and the props were all first rate. I did not come to see an exhibition of talent. I came to see and hear a story, and the story was an odious one.
I blame first and foremost the scriptwriter. He or she wrote the play in crayon with all the maturity and depth one could expect from a sixth grader. The view of the time period was though this writer had just made it through sixth-grade history and then returned later to finish the work after being impressed by Booker T. Washington. Far too much time was spent telling the audience what was happening instead of showing them; virtually no characters were developed; one or two were relatable; the conflicts were dramatic for no reason, and the songs were used indiscriminately and to excess. Why bother with acting when you can throw in a song and have the actor or actress sing instead? Plot threads went nowhere; the amount of extraneous material was off the chart.
All this, and yet people cried before me and to the side of me. I was flabbergasted. For the first time in my life, I felt like laughing at someone else’s tears, though not to impugn their misery, but rather astonishedly, so surprised was I that this cartoon of the 1920’s would move anyone in any way except out of the theater. All this showed me was that you can serve up any lie, any pastiche, any half-witted slipshod work, and if you include meaningless conflicts and songs, then people will FEEL SOMETHING. This is a lesson that the stage and Hollywood have learned well — if people are not discerning, the play or the movie will own them in two hours or less. Then they will walk out from the darkened sanctuary into the world to persuade others of the glory of the ritual and of its accuracy in describing reality.
Someone will ask, “Oh, why can’t you just enjoy it for what it is!” We no longer have the luxury of being undiscerning, because the hour is late. Just how long do you suppose the arts have been used to smuggle lies and distortions into human hearts? It happens all around us, and really, no-one should expect such a thing as a value-free or a neutral work of art. Are we not ourselves compelled to spread the truth however we can? Do you not suppose that the enemy is doing likewise, or is he asleep, ceding the field to us? I am no killjoy, but I will not stand for being lied to. The sad thing is that so many Christians not only stand being lied to, but actively give up caring once they enter the theater or the movie theater or go online or play a game. And how do you think the world has become so dark?
Too long has the church been manipulated through motion and sound, because its members wanted only to be entertained.