One of the best known episodes in The Odyssey addresses a universal truth—namely, mankind’s struggle with deadly but irresistible appeal:
“Now pay attention to what I am about to tell you—heaven itself, indeed, will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster.
Odysseus and his men proceed with their journey, taking Circe’s advice:
“I stopped the ears of all my men, and they bound me hands and feet to the mast as I stood upright on the crosspiece; but they went on rowing themselves. When we had got within earshot of the land, and the ship was going at a good rate, the Sirens saw that we were getting in shore and began with their singing.
“‘Come here,’ they sang, ‘renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song- and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world.’
“They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear them further I made by frowning to my men that they should set me free; but they quickened their stroke, and Eurylochus and Perimedes bound me with still stronger bonds till we had got out of hearing of the Sirens’ voices. Then my men took the wax from their ears and unbound me.
Fortunately for the protagonist, he survives this brush with deadly temptation and lives to fight again. But what about those of us who aren’t epic heroes with a loyal crew and helpful advice from a powerful goddess?
Like me, for example. Last February I was visiting family in Southern California. After taking in the USS Iowa, my brother and I retired to nearby Long Beach for dinner. Since we were footloose and fancy-free that night, we decided to attend the cinema. So we walked across the street to the cineplex and got in line for tickets. While waiting we scanned the movie posters. We’re a couple of fuddy-duddies who are hopelessly out of the loop. We hadn’t heard of anything, but it appeared to be the opening night for some film called Deadpool. Huh. Never heard of it. It was sold out anyway, so we ended up in some period piece with Leonardo DiCaprio dressed in a bearskin and sleeping in a horse.
A few months later on a business trip I ended up watching Deadpool. It was on a Korean Air flight, and the version I watched was compliant with Korean restrictions on broadcasting nudity. At any rate, a plumber’s crack that appeared during the flesh-tearing opening sequence was digitally blurred. I don’t know how much sex was cut out since I never saw the original cut, but there was enough foul-mouthed violence left to sear my conscience. I exited the plane a shaken man. If only there was a way a good Mormon could watch what their peers are watching while tied to a post!
Wait, there is! Er, make that was. By now I’m sure you’ve heard that a California judge has sided with Big Hollywood and issued an injunction against Provo-based
pirate streaming filtering service VidAngel. To be honest, I didn’t even know what VidAngel was or did until recently. It’s not available where I live, and it wasn’t until friends and family from back home started posting clips with that guy from Studio C on a popular social media site for middle-aged parents that I learned something was at stake–Mormon enjoyment of previously forbidden fruit!
From the comments here it’s clear that VidAngel has discovered a rich seam:
we love watching filtered movies. Without the filtering, we WILL NOT watch most of them
The world NEEDS your service.
We love the service Vid Angel provides. Without Vid Angel filtering we will not view many movies our family would enjoy.
It has opened my family up to seeing some absolutely incredible movies that have had some stuff that we just haven’t wanted to see or hear. WE LOVE AND WANT VIDANGEL TO CONTINUE
Well, you get the idea. VidAngel is offering a path to
citizenship legitimization of the taboo through filtering, and apparently there is some pent-up demand for such a service. I think I can get that. We’re social creatures, and pop culture no doubt features heavily in discussions around the water cooler. I grew up without a TV in the house, so I know what it’s like to not be able to discuss the latest The Simpson’s episode with your friends on Monday morning. Not being able to join in such discussions because of one’s religion is as awkward as showing up to after-work drinks and ordering an orange juice. So, yeah, I can see where VidAngel offers a service that opens new vistas to Mormons who take the prophet’s counsel to the young men seriously to avoid R-rated movies and entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic.
What does surprise me a little, however, are sentiments like the one expressed in the Trib’s coverage:
“Violence in a war movie doesn’t bother me,” he said, but nudity or strong language does.
Which brings me back to Deadpool. Today I came across a conversation among acquaintances in which one participant casually noted that the family had watched it on VidAngel, taking in stride the warnings that deleting certain scenes affects the plot. I must admit that I raised an eyebrow. This family may not yet have featured in the Ensign, but they probably should. They are the kind of people I aspire to become. I am a slacker who doesn’t let rating get in the way of an evening’s entertainment. And yet here they were—filtering Deadpool! A send-up of the comic book movie genre, for heaven’s sake, full of gratuitous violence! What is left that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report once it’s been scrubbed? Damning the torpedoes and (secretly) indulging in Deadpool strikes me as human enough. Filtering the same movie so your kids can watch it too strikes me as, well, bizarre, to be honest.
Setting aside the merits of a particular film, the VidAngel episode has me wondering aloud on the internet—having already outsourced our standards to an America-centric ratings board, is the Mormon embrace of filtering an indication that we’re ready to get out of the principled judgment business altogether when it comes to deciding what kind of media we will consume as a God-fearing people? At the risk of appearing to ride around on a high horse, I have to ask: Is our moral calculus really as threadbare as the simple notion that if we take out the “bosoms, blood and bad words” then what was bad becomes good? Especially if we’re basically ok with the blood?
So please school me and expand my horizons with new vistas–what am I missing about the virtues of streaming Big Hollywood through a filter into our homes as opposed to simply being selective about what is streamed unfiltered through our walls?