C. S. Lewis on media: nostalgia, romanticism, adolescence and anime!


Ella Jennings, The Horizon

The “real” world vs. true reality

Will Mundell, Guest Writer

Like a good Westmont student, I recently found myself reading C.S. Lewis’ essay “The Weight of Glory.” And, like a good Westmont student, I found myself enlightened by what I read, particularly Lewis’ quote regarding the human yearning for Heaven:

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you — the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.”

When I read that line, “calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence,” I thought of a friend whom I often chastise for her dislike of many films I enjoy and revere. I remembered all the times I had privately thought it naive of her to primarily consume “family-friendly” content. Reflecting upon this quote made me realize that I chastise because I am ashamed of my yearning.

To revise my previous views and also thank my dear friend for opening my eyes, I would like to lay out what I believe is wrong with media consumption today, identify what media consumption should look like for Christians and give a practical example of media that fits the bill for proper consumption. 

When analyzing through a Christian lens, we can find many issues with modern media consumption, but I’d like to focus specifically on how media rating systems create false perceptions of reality for viewers. Today, we use the Motion Picture Association film rating system to determine how appropriate films are for each age group.

While these ratings are meant to protect sensitive young viewers from mature themes, they have affected how we see reality. They subconsciously condition us to assume, as Lewis would say, an attitude of “shyness” towards childlike content. We are scared to confront our own yearnings for the “far off country” that we believe we must move on from childishness to more real and adult things, like movies with mature content.

I am sure that we have witnessed this phenomenon in our lives. I remember multiple times as a teenager when a group of us would laugh at a friend for not being allowed to watch R-rated movies. Modern rating systems have taught us to equate adult content with reality and childlike content with naivete. From a Christian standpoint, this is wrong because Christians hold Heaven to be more real on the basis of its eternal nature than aspects of adult content like violence, sex and corruption. 

I am by no means advocating for the abolition of a rating system or the removal of all adult content from theaters. Some stories full of mature themes are redeeming or necessary to tell for other reasons. 

However, I propose Christians pay more attention to how much space we afford adult content in our media consumption and turn toward the “family-friendly” content we have too long shunned. Christians should turn towards “Nostalgia, Romanticism, and Adolescence” rather than shy away from it, and in doing so give attention to something even more real than gore and explicit content: Heaven. 

Now the advice I am about to give comes with two important acknowledgements:

(1) Not all children’s content is free of “false reality” themes. Many American kids’ movies are tainted by this “false realism”: melodrama — think Disney’s entire subgenre of “my parents are dead” movies — violence — Marvel movies with lots of killing but no gore — or sensationalism — perfectly programmed colors of “The Emoji Movie” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

(2) This advice comes from someone with characters from Cartoon Network’s animated series “Adventure Time” tattooed on his thigh. 

Despite my obvious personal biases and the apparent state of American media, I wholeheartedly believe that all is not lost. There remains one practical solution that I offer as a cure for any ailment: watch a Studio Ghibli movie. 

Ghibli, for the uninitiated in Japanese animated motion pictures, is a production house founded by prolific animator, screenwriter and director Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki’s films are nothing short of incredible. Freed from the Western mold of children’s storytelling, Miyazaki explores profound philosophical questions through silly and fantastical characters and satisfyingly lush animation. 

His main characters — often female! — are young, brave and dynamic. His films leave plots unresolved and viewers with lingering feelings of yearning that writer Ligaya Mishan poetically calls “a yearning, faintly mournful, for an older Japan, one free of both imperialistic hubris and Western materialism.” 

Evidently, Hayao Miyazaki knows a thing or two about yearning; he even claims in his book “Starting Point” that the point of his movies is to “comfort you — to fill in the gap that might be in your heart or your everyday life.” This is the type of media that Christians should consider lending more attention to because it actively seeks to, as Lewis would say, “wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.”

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