I’m always disappointed when writers manipulate stories to serve their agendas rather than give their audience the most authentic entertainment. Stories are powerful because they contain all the ingredients necessary for emotional manipulation. However, the core purpose of story is not to manipulate, but to communicate truth.
Sometimes this can be an emotional truth—such as letting you feel the depth of sorrow a particular character feels when they lose a loved one. Other times an intellectual or spiritual truth—such as how little we understand of the universe, or how sometimes God allows pain to draw us closer to him.
But stories are the most powerful, the most profound, when they are internally consistent. When authors manipulate a story to serve an agenda, they are damaging the story’s internal consistency in favor of manipulating the audience to see something from a perspective that the story itself wouldn’t normally show.
Example: In the children’s animated series, The Legend of Korra, the very last scene of the series was wasted on subtly implying a homosexual relationship between two of the main female characters. The problem (structurally speaking) is that nothing in the rest of the series even hinted at the possibility of this relationship. In fact, in the world in which the series takes place, there are no homosexual relationships at all. The plot twist was not evoked naturally from the story or the characters themselves. Instead, it was an imposed agenda. A series-ending political juke.
The same thing happens in certain Christian stories when bad guys convert to Christianity far too easily, quickly, and conveniently.
When a character’s actions do not evolve organically from who they are and from how they’re impacted by their environment and circumstances, the resulting falseness unravels the story. It gives us a glimpse of the proverbial wizard behind the curtain, and lets us know he’s not very good at pulling the right levers at the right times.
But what if the story is abandoned in favor of a greater truth, such as God’s love for us? Doesn’t that justify the lack of internal consistency?
First, ask yourself the following question: “Would a cross-shaped jelly pattern on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich redeem the usage of moldy bread?”
Of course not.
A lack of internal consistency is the equivalent of story mold. And a feel-good message—even one that is true or powerful—in a moldy story is no more than a moldy story with a feel-good message. It may make you smile in the short term, but in the end it’s just bad for you—not to mention disgusting.
Now for the big question: “Is a moldy story with a feel-good message morally better than an extremely well-crafted novel with a dark, or depressing, ending?”
I’ve had conversations with fellow Christians who seem to think that a depressing story is never better than a story that encourages you in your faith. That a dark, depressing story may even be morally evil.
Yikes. I couldn’t disagree more, but rather than debate it, how about we examine the idea of a well-crafted dark story a little more closely?
If a story’s main character is truly evil, and no intervening circumstances can conceivably change his or her character, then a bad ending would likely be the only option to avoid contracting story mold. We’d call that kind of main character an anti-hero, which is basically a character who resembles a villain.
Anti-hero’s are pretty common these days in secular stories, but not at all common in books for a Christian audience. Stories with negative or depressing endings are generally disliked by Christian consumers, or viewed as being inferior to stories that end positively with an admirable main character.
Still, stories with negative endings can represent powerful and important truths, such as the destructive repercussions of an evil lifestyle. Some of the stories Jesus shared, such as the rich man burning in hell, even have anti-heroes at their core, and end in a depressing way.
But the market seems to indicate that the majority of Christian consumers care more about a positive message than about quality. In fact, many Christian consumers claim that entertainment without a positive message can’t be considered Christian at all.
I’m personally embarrassed when I see Christian entertainment that’s shoddily made. The question I’d like to propose is, “Does shoddily made Christian propaganda honor God, or displease him?”
Because when we look at the Scriptures, the Psalmist seems to indicate that well-crafted art is a high honor, while poorly executed work is an embarrassment.
Should we favor a happy ending even when it makes a story moldy? Or is a happy ending not always the best option? What do you think?
Comment and share!