Entertainment and the Value of Human Life

I remember taking an American Literature class my senior year of high school. I really enjoyed it, and not just because I love reading and I love history (especially American history). I found it fascinating, because it showed me how entertainment not only reflects culture, but also influences it. When I looked at the various time periods, I saw how the books, poems, and short stories written expressed how people felt at that time. I witnessed how society viewed God, morality, science, technology, government, etc.

We oftentimes dismiss entertainment as just that. Entertainment. Movies, books, and songs make us laugh, stir our emotions, and provide a brief respite from the reality of life.

But there is something deeper to entertainment that we often fail to realize.

Books, movies, and songs reveal something about their creator’s worldview. They reveal what the creator thinks about God, morality, science, technology, government…and ultimately, what our society thinks about those things.

When almost everything these days promotes homosexuality, pre-marital sex, abortion, evolution, and relativism–yeah, I think that shows something startling about our culture.

It shows that sin is now the norm.

One of the scariest things I’ve seen is that our society is expressing a serious disinterest in the sanctity of human life. Violence is a harsh reality when we turn on the news. Learning about events where dozens of people lost their lives is becoming…commonplace. I think it says a lot when a ranger at a national park freaks out because you might be stepping on the crypto-biotic crust (true story), but abortion, the destruction of innocent human life, isn’t treated with such seriousness.

I think this is the result of how our American culture is turning away from God and toward a relativistic view (which is a result of the widespread belief in evolution, by the way. Another thing I learned in American Lit). We believe human life has no purpose. But the Bible makes it clear that we’re special to God.

A lack of respect for human life is so obvious in our entertainment  these days. We watch movies and read books where the main characters shoot and slash at enemies without thought. We crave for the moment where the villain finally gets what he deserves. The violence is just normal. It’s exciting. We wish we were like the character whose main attribute is his/her fighting abilities.

People die, and no thought is given to this.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m working on my current novel (the second book in a dystopian trilogy). As I’ve been writing, this topic has developed into one of the main themes: what happens in a society that treats human life as expendable? This has also manifested as my protagonist asks herself questions like Is it okay to sacrifice a few lives if it’s for the greater good?  

The question “do the ends justify the means” comes up in a lot of YA novels, especially in dystopian and fantasy. Is it right to assassinate a cruel leader if it means keeping him from harming innocent lives? Should the hero/heroine determine who lives and dies based on how useful they are to the cause (I’ve seriously seen this in books)? Sadly, oftentimes, the novel does actually seem to promote the view that the ends do justify the means.

We were made in God’s image, a concept I’ve been really learning a lot about in some of my Bible college classes. This phrase comes from Genesis 1:26-27, where it specifically says that man and woman were made in His image. How cool is that? God made us in His image and breathed life into us. We’re pretty special to Him. Do you think He views the death of one of His “image-bearers” lightly? I don’t think so. And neither should we. We should see everyone in this light, as one of God’s children.

I’m not saying books and movies should never portray a character death or that anytime a character does die the story must take on a depressing tone. Not at all. But I do think these scenes are glossed over too often and not given enough thought. I want to see characters wrestle with this issue. Not to make every story heavy or anything like that, but to show that human life has value.

We are all made in the image of our Creator, after all.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think books, movies, and TV shows treat character deaths too casually? As a society, do you think we’ve become so used to seeing violence in our entertainment that we’ve become desensitized to it?

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13 Comments

  1. A topic that really does need some attention! I am always appalled at the mowing-down/killing of people right and left as the story unfolds. They might be the enemy or they might be disposable-to-the-story “good guys,” but it is so lightly done, and there is no attention to the intrinsic worth of these human beings and the families these leave behind. Entertainment — and video games included — too lightly treat death and killing as nothing. Also, the violence and cruelty to others is often exhibited as everyday-normal — not good to watch for young people who still have low discernment skills for sorting out so many varied morality situations. Thank you, Ashley, for bringing this discussion topic to the forefront here. It is an important subject, and as you proposed….perhaps as a society we may have become “so used to seeing violence in our entertainment that we’ve become desensitized to it?”
    Also as you said “Is it right to assassinate a cruel leader if it means keeping him from harming innocent lives?” Then the question might also be, should a cruel leader be locked up rather than killed, if locking him up would prevent future danger? As you said we should be aware of the seriousness of taking the “death of one of His ‘image-bearers’ lightly?” A thoughtful dissertation here.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts! I agree with you on the issue of how young kids are exposed to this as well. Like you said, a lot of them aren’t old enough to deal with “morally gray” situations.

  2. I agree – fantastic post, Ashley. Written really well and with great clarity and depth. May I share this on my blog too? 🙂
    Really enjoyed reading!

  3. Great post Ashley!

    It does seem like the violence along with foul language and sex/nudity has been overdone in movies that last five or so years. My husband and I choose not to watch R rated movies for this reason. Over the last ten years we have probably watched a handful of them, and always walk away saying ” that is why we don’t watch R rated movies”. The Bible is very clear about being careful with what you choose to fill your head with. Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8 and Mathew 6:22 are good verses to read.

    Definitely a topic that needs to be brought to the light and discussed on many levels.

    Thanks!
    Amy

  4. Thanks, Very insightful! As I’ve paid less and less attention to the latest entertainment movies and TV over the past years, when I do sit down and watch something now, I find myself appalled at the violence and lack of moral values in the “heroes” of modern stories. When we stop being shocked at the loss of human life, serious damage has been done to our psyche and moral compass.

    1. Sometimes older movies are appealing because they had exciting storylines but without all of the lack of moral values. 🙂

  5. [Hides under table] (Computer voice) Prepare for angry commenters…
    So, this is probably going to attract unwanted attention, but hey, what’s there to lose?

    To start, I do believe that violence is overrated in today’s society, but let’s face it. The Philistines and the Canaanites were human too, and they needed to be, for lack of better words, eliminated. Plenty of people needed to be removed in history, like Hitler for instance. Some people do need to be on death row because the crime they committed was too atrocious, like raping a certain someone. (I’m not going to go into too much detail on that….) Deadpool is a good example of too much violence and lack or morals.

    All in all, although there’s too much violence in today’s culture, I do think it’s necessary in certain conditions.

    [Presses button and grabs popcorn] Let the chaos commence…

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