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FIRST-PERSON: Sen. McCain goes to Animal House

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A liberal feminist activist recently took on a Republican war hero on the question of Hollywood coarseness. And the feminist is right.

Commentator Susan Estrich, Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign strategist, called into question the judgment of U.S. Senator John McCain, R.-Ariz., decorated former Vietnam POW and one of the nation’s most popular political figures. At issue is Sen. McCain’s cameo appearance in “Wedding Crashers,” a movie described by critics as a “perv-fest” and “a showcase” for nude women.

Estrich wonders in her nationally syndicated column what McCain is thinking as he (as many expect) prepares to compete for the 2008 presidential nomination in a primary system dominated by social conservatives, most of whom are not happy with the idea of Hollywood blockbusters featuring a parade of topless women and simulated sex. Moreover, Estrich and others ponder how McCain could appear in this film, given the fact that he has joined with others, such as Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, to criticize Hollywood for contributing to the coarseness of American culture. Indeed, McCain even held hearings to probe whether the film industry markets R-rated movies to teenagers.

Estrich ties McCain’s judgment in “Wedding Crashers” to previous gaffes, such as his breathtakingly cruel public joke about the physical appearance of Chelsea Clinton, then the teenaged daughter of the president of the United States. McCain later apologized to President Clinton for the joke.

Susan Estrich is coming at this from two vantage points: that of the political professional who knows how to size up a constituency and that of a feminist deeply concerned about the oppression of women by men. Let me say that I consider feminism one of the most dangerous, utopian, and ultimately hopeless causes of the 21st century world. Even so, feminists occasionally point out legitimate problems, even when they are wrong-headed on the solution. This is one of those times.

It would be easy for evangelical Christians and other social conservatives to be outraged by Sen. McCain for appearing in a film that doesn’t reflect biblical morality. That outrage is not unwarranted. But we shouldn’t allow that to obscure that there are bigger issues here than whether a presidential candidate is courting “values voters” or whether Hollywood is antagonistic to “traditional family values.” More central is McCain’s professed reason for appearing in the film: “It impressed my kids.”

Too often our churches have engaged popular culture simply by counting exposed flesh and exclaimed profanities. Rarely have we asked why movies such as “Wedding Crashers” and “American Pie” and a thousand others like them make so much money at the box office. These movies are geared to appeal to teenage boys and their emotional peers. They do so with scads of scatological humor and sexual innuendo. More significantly, they do so by appealing to the teenage male fantasy of women as sexual playthings to be consumed and tossed aside.

There is a reason why women, such as Estrich, are uncomfortable when political statesmen laugh off such movies. It is not just that they see hypocrisy. It is that they fear a culture in which the dignity of women is so expendable. The same is true with non-Christians in our communities. They may laugh uproariously at a movie that mocks any woman who desires a commitment that lasts longer than a sexual encounter.

But, deep within, the people in our neighborhood theaters are created in the image of God, and they long for the joyful complementary male-female communion that existed in Eden, before a cosmic Fall sundered us into competing camps (Genesis 3:16). When Adam took of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, an immediate result was the shame with which men and women beheld each other’s nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Since that time, predatory men have used the nakedness of women, other men’s wives and daughters, to shame the women, to turn them into an object to be used.

Sen. McCain is not an anomaly, which is why evangelicals and other so-called “traditionalists” must hold very tenuously our alliances with political systems and figures. Many conservatives value capitalism and commerce more than the permanent things, such as the way our society views women and children and families. This is the reason why some “conservative” multinational corporations can sell us Bibles and Christian music, while they sell soft-core pornography one division over.

The alternative to Hollywood obscenity is not simply to point out what such films do to our culture and to our homes, although we must do that. The alternative is for churches to raise up boys who know how to honor women, and to raise up girls who know the glory of womanhood so well that the “attractive” ones among them would never take off their blouses to fill some corporation’s box office coffers, and so well that the “unattractive” ones among them will know better than to have themselves labeled “unattractive” by the glossy magazines and music videos of consumer culture.

Right now one of the most counter-cultural things a teenage boy can see is a 60-year-old man holding hands with a 60 year-old woman in a church service. One of the most startling things an emotionally calloused man can hear is a pastor commending women, not for how they look or how they can bring in revenue, but for how they build up the body of Christ with “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:4). One of the most revolutionary things a student ministry can do, in an era when teenage girls wear bikinis on the side of the road to drum up business for youth group car wash fundraisers, is to equip girls to be mentors and Bible teachers of the next generation of women (Titus 2:4-5).

These kinds of churches might not bring the hormonal rush of nude women on the big screen. But they will showcase something far better: the restoration of all things through the Christ who reverses the curse of Adam. This will resonate in the hearts of those who find emptiness once the closing credits have filed by.
This was adapted from Moore’s weblog, online at www.henryinstitute.org. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of the new book, “The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective” (Crossway), which can be ordered at www.lifewaystores.com.

    About the Author

  • Russell D. Moore