Will there ever be a TV show that portrays Christians as normal, decent, struggling and complicated human beings? Certainly not in ABC’s new line-up. Reviewing the premiere of “GCB” for the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety describes what passes today for serious, empathetic programming about people of faith:
After mom Amanda Vaughn loses her Ponzi-scheming husband in a sexual rendezvous-induced car accident, the former “mean girl” moves with her two children from California to her “God-often-speaks-to-me-through-Gucci” mother’s house in Dallas…[The show] is one part Church Lady, one part Desperate Dallas Housewives.Carlene Cockburn, played by Kristin Chenoweth, is Vaughn’s high school nemesis and the show’s faith-filled antagonist, delivering witty one-liners…and Dallas diva-ness in a series that alludes to the excesses of Christian culture and depicts how religion is used, at least in some circles, to justify immoral behavior.
Any racial or ethnic group in this country as negatively portrayed on primetime TV would be up in arms–and rightly so. To be clear, Via Meadia does not object to the depiction of religious hypocrisy, an all-too-common phenomenon that is certainly worthy of dramatic treatment. Rather, we take exception to the fact that Christians in the media are almost uniformly shown as hypocrites, idiots, bigots and so on. As Tenety rightly asks of “GCB” (by now, you can guess the acronym), “where is the Christian love?”Contemporary television and film producers go out of their way to paint moving, sympathetic portraits of everyone from bullied gay teenagers to sex addicts and Mafia wives, but somehow run up a massive empathy deficit when it comes to men and women of faith. And the occasional show that attempts to seriously grapple with religious themes, like NBC’s excellent “Kings” — which brilliantly retold the biblical story of King David in a modern setting — are poorly promoted and quickly canceled.Christians, like other groups, will have to organize and work to get fair treatment from the media. Respect isn’t something they give you out of pity or a sense of justice. It is something you earn by thoughtful and effective organization and action, both political and cultural.And if you want something done right, it’s often best to do it yourself. Christians and other faith groups maligned by the entertainment industry might look to the example of Israeli productions like Srugim. The show, a dramedy which realistically and sympathetically portrayed the lives of young religious Jews, was produced by filmmakers trained in the religious Ma’aleh film school and won the Israeli equivalent of the Emmys.The vicious denigration of people of faith by so many cheap television programs and cheesy films is not and should not be something religious people take for granted or ignore. Other groups have changed the way they are portrayed in the media by a combination of shrewdly applied pressure and by promoting and developing talent within the community that can replace prejudice and schlock with compelling drama and true to life work.If Christians don’t do this for ourselves, nobody will do it for us. It is time to stand up.