Pop Culture by Daniel Blackaby June 29, 2021
Resisting Hollywood’s Sexual Gospel
These days, everything comes down to sex.
Fictional characters like Marvel’s Loki are coming out as queer or bisexual not because the story demands it but because people do. Whether or not SpongeBob SquarePants is a gay icon should be irrelevant considering the simple fact that he’s a yellow sea sponge cartoon character. I recently stumbled across an interview with an iconic actress (now approaching 70 years old) with a clickbait headline promising answers to questions about her sex life. Despite the countless industry insights or enlightening stories an accomplished Hollywood veteran could share, people just want to talk about sex…sex…sex.
Carl R. Trueman, in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (2020), traces this sex-obsessed mindset to influential neurologist Sigmund Freud. While few (if any) of Freud’s theories are still embraced today, his insistence on making everything—even childhood—about sex remains deeply imbedded in the cultural consciousness. A frequently asked question is, “Why do people care so much about what other people do in their bedroom?” The answer is that sex is no longer just a private activity restricted to the bedroom; it is the dominating theme of our entertainment and cultural conversations.
Sex Sells. Sex Defines.
Popular shows like Game of Thrones and Bridgerton demonstrate the lucrative marketability of sex. Despite platitudes about “artistic vulnerability” and “what the story demands,” the reality is that having a gorgeous actress drop her clothes onscreen attracts lustful male eyes like a moth to a lamp. In fact, several of the actors have later spoken out against the sexual material in their shows. Sex was an effective springboard to elevate the show’s popularity and the actors’ star power.
Sex sells, so it is unsurprising that it is constantly available for consumption in our market economy. At the same time, the prevalence of sexuality in the entertainment industry goes beyond mere marketability. Hollywood is intent on sexualizing culture, but culture is also fixated on sexualizing everything in Hollywood. Nowhere is this tendency more apparent—or tragic—than in children’s entertainment.
In Neil Postman’s prophetic book The Disappearance of Childhood, he pinpointed television as the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Whereas sex was once a form of “secret knowledge” for adults, television made it available to all. Entertainment does not just feed carnal lust and desire; it also sexualizes consumers.
Take Pixar’s latest film Luca—a personal tale inspired by the director’s fond memories of growing up with his best friend, a celebration of the “pre-romance” innocence of childhood. Yet, once released into the culture, the film was instantly sexualized. Here is a sampling of news headlines:
“Why Luca is a Gay Story (Despite What Pixar Says)” — Screen Rant
“I’m Sorry, But ‘Luca’ Is Totally a Gay Movie” — BuzzFeed
“Is Luca Pixar’s First Gay Movie? Maybe” — Vanity Fair
“Pixar Says Luca Isn’t Gay, But the Movie Speaks for Itself” — Fanbyte
“How Gay is Pixar’s Luca?” — Slate
To be fair, Christians have been ignoring the original intent of directors or authors for years and finding in their stories unintended theological symbolism and imagery. If viewers interpret Luca as a gay allegory, that is their prerogative. The eye-opening part of the cultural discussion surrounding Luca is not that some people choose to perceive LGBTQ undertones in the film; it’s how rapidly an animated film was sexualized. The fact that a movie about two male characters cannot be convincing without a sexual element is a testament to how central sex is to today’s culture.
The sexualization of childhood is perhaps most apparent during Pride Month. The problem is not just that LGBTQ sexuality is being pushed; it’s that children’s entertainment is pushing sexuality at all. The entertainment industry has a sexual message to preach, but first it must create an audience. The blatant sexual agenda is less concerned with helping children navigate problems than with normalizing the ideology that everything—including their identity— comes down to sex.
How Should the Church Respond?
Perhaps children and young adults are experiencing confusion and insecurities about their sexuality not because they lack information or “guidance” but because they are bombarded with too much, too soon. Like the two boys in Pixar’s Luca, kids can no longer just be kids. They must be sexual beings. Today’s culture places enormous pressure on young people to have sex. More than that, it also indoctrinates them to view their entire identity through the lens of their sexuality.
The Church must offer an alternative to both of these agendas. But at times, Christians have focused so much on resisting the first that they’ve unintentionally reinforced the second. The rigid purity culture that developed to promote sexual abstinence often frames virginity as a (perhaps the) defining trait of the Christian identity. Homosexuality is frequently elevated as the “chief of all sins” and discussed exponentially more often than most non-sexual sins. In both cases, Christians seem unintentionally to indicate that it really is all about sex, even to God. Christian identity is reduced to a Christian sexual ethic.
To be clear, Christians should absolutely be uncompromising in affirming what the Bible reveals about God’s design for sex, sexuality, and marriage. Yet the solution is not to urge people to find their identity in heterosexuality or even in sexual abstinence but to affirm that our identity is not found in our sexuality at all. Heterosexuality and sexual abstinence are both part of God’s plan, but they do not define us. We were created as sexual beings, but we were created as far more than sexual beings. Our identity is found in Jesus Christ and nowhere else.
Today’s culture is not just obsessed with sex—it is enslaved to sex. The entertainment industry is a symptom rather than a cause. Against the backdrop of the harmful hyper-sexualization of modern culture, the Christian gospel offers a beautiful and liberating alternative. The Bible provides answers to questions about sex and sexuality. Far more importantly, it reveals that our true identity is as a child of God.