Tag Archives: culture shock

Jesus and Hollywood: What’s the Difference between Acting and Actually Doing, Especially as a Christian? (Pondering Profanity, Sexuality, and Violence)

Seems like a strange pair, but we born-again Christians love our movies and TV just as much as everyone else.  But where do we draw the line?

One of my favorite TV shows during 4th and 5th grade was surprisingly The Dick Van Dyke Show as it was featured in syndication on Nick at Nite.  It was while watching that show (I was around 9 or 10) that it occurred to me, “Dick Van Dyke is kissing Mary Tyler Moore, but in real life, they may both be married to someone else who has to watch them kiss another person.”  To me, that would just be too weird… and wrong.  As much I fantasize about being an actor in a flash-sideways version of my life in some alternate path I could have chosen for myself a decade ago, I have to acknowledge that as a born-again Christian, there would be an exhaustive list of limitations for me as a legitimate actor.  (Granted, Kirk Cameron got around the “have to kiss another woman” dilemma when he used his own wife as a stand-in at the end of the movie Fireproof.)

That’s not to say that there aren’t born-again Christians who act in mainstream media.  For example, there’s the often-mistaken-as-a-Jew-but-actually-just-Welsh-American actor Zachary Levi, who is the protagonist of the hit show Chuck.  He has been outspoken about his relationship with Jesus Christ.  Click here to see what he said in one of his interviews with Relevant magazine.  I am fascinated by his Hollywood success and his commitment to his faith.  I would love to ask him about this very topic today; specifically this question, “As a Christian, what won’t you do in a role?”  (Zachary Levi, if you’re reading this, feel free to comment and help me out.  Thanks.)

Where does a Christian draw the line when it comes to acting?  I would say kissing another person on stage is harmless except when either or both of them is married.  And what about “love scenes” (scenes that involve sexual activity, with or without nudity)? What about profanity? Are there any words you just shouldn’t say?  Personally, I could easily curse on camera before I could say, “oh my God”; because to use God’s name in vain is breaking one of the Ten Commandments, while cursing is simply a fading taboo of shifting rules set by the expectations of culture.  To me, there are plenty far more destructive ways that words can be used that go against the Kingdom of God, like gossip, malicious sarcasm, and belittling.

Here’s where it gets really tricky.  If you think it’s wrong to curse in a role or play a character who has premarital sex, how is that so different from playing a character who is a murderer?  At least by playing a killer, you’re truly just pretending to play a character who is obviously in the wrong.  But by being filmed semi-nude under covers in a bed, you’re sending a subconscious message that sex between two consenting adults doesn’t necessarily have any spiritual concerns attached to it.

So in theory, in 1983, as a born-again Christian, if given the opportunity to have Al Pacino’s lead role in Scarface, would I, should I, could I?  For it’s time, the movie Scarface contained more profanity than any other film in history.  It was originally rated NC-17 for its violent content.  But in the end, (sorry if you haven’t seen the movie but you’ve had 28 years to see it so I feel okay about giving away the ending) all of Scarface’s sins find him out.  It’s obvious that his life of violent crime led to his own demise and in the end, it wasn’t worth it. Does that mean that this movie teaches its viewers not to waste their lives in a mob, getting  involved with violence and cocaine?  In theory, yes.  In theory, it has positive, redeeming value because in the end, crime doesn’t pay.

That’s something I’ve observed about Christian culture.  It seems most Christians are okay with a character doing obviously un-Christian things if in the end they repent: Unlike the character of Stacy Hamilton, played by Jewish actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, who decides to have an abortion and seemingly goes on to live a completely normal life, never regretting her decision.  I contrast that to the song “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw, whether the 20 year-old protagonist gets his 18 year-old girlfriend pregnant and together they decide to have an abortion.

However, by the end of the song, though it’s not explicitly stated, the melancholy mood and subtle lyrics of the song itself convey the message “we can’t undo what we’ve done or beat ourselves up over it, but we do regret and it’s definitely a sad thing that happened”.  Rightly assuming that Country music fans are mostly Christians (simple demographics), they helped the song rise to the #2 position on the Country charts.

Entertain this thought: Ask yourself privately, as a Christian, whether or not you would play the role of a character in a play, musical, TV show, or movie who would do any of the following things:

-use minor profanity

-use stronger profanity including racial or gender slurs, up to the “f-word”

-use God’s name in vain, whether it’s by saying “oh my God” or “G.D.”

-play a character who has premarital sex and never encounters any real negative consequences

-play a gay character who never actually kisses another actor

-play a gay character who does kiss another person of the same gender

-play a heterosexual character who jokingly kisses a person of the same gender on the lips, which happens quite often on Saturday Night Live

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and who never curses or participates in any pre-material sexual relationship

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and but does participate in some premarital sex and who does some cursing

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and but does participate in some premarital sex and who does some cursing, but at the end accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior and from that point on lives a life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus

How is it any more wrong to play a homosexual actor than it is to play heterosexual actor who has premarital sex?  Though both situations are perceived much differently by the general population, when it comes to my understanding of the Bible’s teaching of righteousness, I don’t see how one is any different or worse than the other.  The way I understand it, Jesus died for all sin.  Sin is sin is sin.  No matter what kind it is, it separates us from God and causes every single one of us to need His grace.

Where do you draw the line as a Christian actor? Obviously to be involved in straight-up porno-graphy is out of the question for any sincere Christian.  But there are so many millionths of the scale to get to that extreme.  On the much slighter end of the scale is a man with his shirt off showing off his six-pack while he rides a horse bareback.  Further down the scale is that same man passionately kissing a woman while in a hot tub, both in their swimsuits.  Next is the same man and woman acting out a love scene in bed and though they are actually naked, they aren’t acting having sex underneath the blankets which strategically cover up certain parts of their bodies.

I remind myself that outside the culture of conservative Christianity, in reality the rest of the world behaves its own way regardless of our censorship.  To imagine a real life group of people who in their everyday lives never cursed or had premarital sex (outside of the conservative Christian world) is to me, simply unbelievable.  Taking away the elements of entertainment that are unChristian-like either makes the TV show or movie either A) unrealistic or B) a Christian movie like Facing the Giants.

I also remind myself that the Bible itself is full of violence, premarital sex, rape, and murder. There is homosexuality.  There are concubines.  There are instances were people cursed (like when Peter denied Christ).  The King James Version of the Bible even contains the words “piss” and “ass”.  If the entire Bible were made into an epic movie, could born-again Christians play every role?

But some point, acting is no longer simply just acting.  It’s doing.  So here’s my final thought about all this.  In some technical, annoying way, are we as conservative, born-again Christians actually hypocrites for being spectators of popular entertainment?

Imagine this: Instead of the majority of the cast of Friends and Seinfeld being Jewish, instead they were all born-again Christians.  Because of their faith-based convictions, none of them were willing to use any profanity or be involved in any situations that involved premarital sex.  I know how beloved these two sitcoms are among the majority of Christians I know.  But imagine a world where Ross Geller saying “We were on a break!” meant nothing to us.

Two Questions for You about This Today:

A) As much as we Christians love our sitcoms and movies, would they truly exist if we didn’t support them with our viewership because we ourselves wouldn’t be willing to play those roles the same way?

B) Where would you personally draw the line in regards to what you would or would not do for an acting role, hypothetically speaking, if you were an actor?

I sincerely would love to hear feedback from you, the invisible reader, on either or both of these proposed questions, by leaving a comment below.  You don’t have to leave your name; you can easily remain anonymous if you wish.

If you’re not a conservative, born-again Christian, still free to answer as well… and please know how aware I am that the content of this entire post probably seems a bit… out there.  For all I know, you may find it either laughable or offensive that we believe premarital sex is wrong or that kissing someone’s spouse is both weird and taboo.  But what good is a religion that has no backbone or reasonable standards, despite how counter-culture those limitations may be? Thanks for reading despite the culture shock of it.

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The Korean Sauna Experience: Friendship, Friendship

You know that dream where you’re suddenly naked in public?  I lived it.


In his final season on NBC,  Conan O’ Brien is filmed a segment where we visited a Korean sauna. After hearing his guest Eva Mendes tell him about the unusual and ancient process, he decided it would be weird enough to try out. It brought back memories for me. Below is my writing on the experience, originally posted on November 14, 2005:

Ten days after I returned from spending my second summer teaching in Thailand (August 2004), my sister and I left to go spend two weeks teaching English in a boys’ high school English camp at Meyongji University in South Korea. The city where we stayed was a place where foreigners almost never came. Many of the people I saw throughout the city had never seen a “white person” in person before.

We had two weeks of camp with one weekend in between. During that weekend my sister and I stayed with one of her student’s (Dan) family. One of the activities he planned for us was to go to a sauna. This is a very exciting and trendy thing for the youth of Korea to do. We were told that Saturday evening we would go to the sauna, and would spend the night there. That was our first clue…

We get there. It’s a really classy place. My sister goes one way with some of the girls that came with us and I went the other way with Dan and his 10 guy friends that met us there. We were all given a key and a pair of scrubs and were directed downstairs to the locker room. We then removed the clothes we were wearing and placed them in our assigned locker along with the thin baggy pants and shirt. Next we proceeded to the shower room…

There were so many different kinds of bathing taking place. A gigantic room full of naked Korean men (ages 5 to 85), and me. I was the only foreigner. The only American in the room of at least 150 men who were all Korean.

They were all curious. They had to look at me. Everyone stared at me. Old men. Little boys. Guys my age. I was like an alien stepping onboard a spaceship; I was being inspected by the entire crew.

Being that none of the students I was with really spoke decent English, I just did whatever they did and didn’t ask questions. First we all got into a large hot tub. The water was extremely hot and we couldn’t fully emerge into it at first. We slowly sank down. First, we were all just sitting along the edges of the hot tub (all eleven of us with several strangers) letting our feet get used to the water. That was pretty awkward. Everywhere I looked: to my left, to my right, 8 feet across from me is a naked stranger or new friend.

A total stranger sat down right next to me. He smiled at me, then he looked at me- all the way down. Then he looked me in the eyes, still smiling, and said to me, “Mmm…handsome.” Not just in Korea, but in many Asian countries people are extremely friendly and physical with members of the same sex. In Korea, it is not really socially acceptable to be homosexual. Therefore, there is basically no such thing as being a “homophobe”. It is completely normal for a native Korean man to compliment how another man looks, naked or not.

Eventually our bodies had adjusted to the boiling water and it was time to move over to the next tub, which was actually a cold tub. Very cold. Same process- we had to start with our feet and slowly sink down all the way into the water. The idea is that by extremely shocking the body with hot and then cold water, toxins came out of the body which is very healthy. After the cold tub was the pressure water tub.

It was about 4 feet deep and was in the shape of a rectangle. About 15 guys could fit in it at one time standing up. All along the wall were shower heads that shot out water with extremely fast current. The water came out so fast that it was supposed to remove dead skin from the body and massage sore muscles as well. So I stand with my back turned to the power-pressure shower head trying to do this thing the right way.

Right beside me were two 10 year-old boys, wrestling. In fact, many of the guys were wrestling in this tub as they tried to dunk each other underneath the water. But the two boys beside me were picking each other up from behind, in order to dunk each other. They were both laughing the whole time, having so much fun. And of course, they’re still naked.

Now that we had all detoxed our bodies in the different types of tubs, it was time to actually take showers and get clean. As we headed over to the showers I saw some massage tables where a person could pay for a massage. Yes, one man (clothed) giving another (naked) man a massage. The man getting the massage laid face-down on the table while the masseuse oiled him down. To be clear, this was not an erotic act at all.

My group and I had arrived at the showers. There were plastic stools for us to sit on while we showered. In front of each one of us was a bar of soap, a sponge, and a hybrid between a sink and a shower.

I sat down, turned on the water, and soaped up the sponge. As I started to wash myself, minding my own business, all of the sudden I felt the presence of others all around me. All of the guys I was with had gathered around me. Then I looked up at them only to hear them say to me, “friendship, friendship”. They began doing the washing for me with their own sponges. They washed my arms, my legs, my neck, down to my back, down my lower back, down as far as they could go before their sponges hit the plastic seat.

All in the name of friendship. I was relieved when that awkward event had ended. But it wasn’t over there. It was my turn to return the act of friendship. Indeed, I was given the privilege of helping to scrub down my peers. So I did.

Sure enough, after that we headed back to the locker room and put on the scrub pants and shirt we were given earlier. Ah, finally I was wearing clothes. Drafty clothes, might I add. Now that we were all clean and clothed, we met back upstairs with the girls who had just had the same experience in the female side of the building. We had finally come to the “sauna” part of the experience.

There were at least 5 different sauna rooms to go lay down in, each of a different temperature to help “sweat out” more poisons from the body. There was even a huge theatre/sauna room showing a Stephen Segal movie and a sauna/sleeping room complete with mats on the floor to take a nap on.

Most of the night reminded me of the church “lock-ins” I went to in junior high school. Pretty much, everyone was just hanging out all night. There was a restaurant, karaoke bar, and big screen TV. At one point in the night, the Korean version of “Friends” came on so my entire group gathered around the TV. There was no furniture so we were all just lying down on the floor.

The guys got really comfy. With each other. They used one other for a place to rest their heads. On each other’s laps. Some were in “spooning” positions. They were happy, comfortable, and completely platonic friends. It was hard to believe what I was seeing.

Definitely an experience I’ll never forget. It was awkward, adventurous, hilarious, strange, and dream-like. Korea is not the only country in the world with this kind of mindset. The unimaginable irony- Maybe we, the Americans, are the ones with the strange culture, not the other way around. Maybe we have unusual behavior for not reclining on each other during casual social events.

That’s why they call it “culture shock”. It’s funny how a few thousand miles and a few thousand years between the developments of two different countries can end up making them so different. Our languages are nothing alike, so it makes sense that our customs whouldn’t be remotely similar either.

The Korean hot tub experience was weird, but that was their way of showing that they cared about me and wanted me to have a good (innocent) time with them. All in the name of friendship, friendship. There’s that sporadic recurring dream most people have of being naked in public. I lived it. That dream just isn’t as weird to me anymore.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

Ten years ago when reality shows first starting becoming popular, I was the first to say they were lame.  But in the past decade, there have been a few that I have really taken interest in.  The Biggest Loser is one.  Because it doesn’t necessarily feature a bunch of type A personalities trapped in a house just for the sake of making people annoy each other.  I guess it’s that I like my reality shows to have somewhat of a meaningful people that somehow helps people.

Something I’ve learned about reality shows since 2000 is this.  Some of the best ones feature a British person.  The clever producers found a smart way invent a show that carries over the ideals of The Biggest Loser with the editing feel of Super Nanny (a show that truly annoys me) with a charming British host.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Nation wins my approval.

He goes to Huntington, West Virginia, the “most unhealthiest town” in the country, where 50% of the people are obese.  Not overweight, but obese.  Its status of unhealthiest town is based on government statistics on death.  Clearly the people of this town are doing something wrong.

The most entertaining part of this show is where we see the bass ackwards ways that the people of the town eat and what they deem as normal and acceptable.  Clearly not eating for nutrition, only for convenience and pleasure.

As Jamie visits Central City Elementary School, he discovers that pizza is being served for breakfast, along with sugary cereals that turn the milk pink.  The “mashed potatoes” are actually dehydrated potato flakes and they count as a vegetable serving.  (Potatoes are a starch, like corn.)

Jamie then takes a look in the freezer.  Mainly boxes full of processed foods that none of the lunch ladies can pronounce the ingredients.  To give them credit though, most people went being able to.  Because the ingredients are chemicals, not food.

Next Jamie visits for lunch.  Processed chicken nuggets it is.  He takes a look at the food the kids are throwing out as they leave: The vegetables and fruit.

Interestingly, it seems the only understanding Jamie receives comes from the pastor of First Baptist Church, Steve Willis.  In a clip of one of his sermons called “Culture Shock”, he tells his congregation:  “It should bother us that we’re the worst city in the worst state in the worst country.”  (For diet, that is.)

Jamie decides to check out the average home situation to see how a child’s eating habits are affecting by the parents.  He visits the Edwards family, who are all overweight to obese.  Perhaps most notable is the 12 year-old son who appears to be well in the latter 200’s.  And a 4 year-old daughter who, based on her size, I thought was 6 or 7.

Not surprisingly, the mother makes them fried doughnuts with chocolate icing every morning for breakfast.  When Jamie confronts her about this, she laughs.  He tells her that by laughing off her enablement she is using a defense mechanism.

Their freezer is full of frozen pizzas.  Or as they call them: snacks.

Jamie convinces the family they all the food they eat is the same color- golden brown.  Therefore, they bury their deep fryer in the backyard and has the mother pray over it, like a funeral.

The next day back at the school, Jamie Oliver begins his experiment. He has a week to improve the diet of what is being served in the lunchroom but at the same time staying under budget.

He learns that the lunchroom ladies are required to serve two “grain servings” each meal.  In this twisted world of reality, they serve pizza as a grain serving.  But since they have no true grains to serve, they serve two carbs in place of it.  Which both consists of white bread.

My favorite (and the most disturbing) part of the episode was when Jamie took several kids aside in a classroom to teach them what is in their beloved chicken nuggets, which they told him they often eat for dinner when they get home.

He takes a baked chicken and removes the edible parts, including the breasts and the wings.  He takes what is left and places it into a blender: the bloody leftovers and bones.  After letting the chicken’s leftovers run in the blender for a few seconds, it becomes a pink, blobby substance that he molds in to patties, sprinkles with breadcrumbs, and deep fries them.

Definitely was as disgusting as it sounded.  After he cooks the Frankenstein patties, Jamie asks the children who would like to try one.  Without much hesitation, most of the kids eagerly raise their hands.  And eat the homemade nuggets.

Jamie Oliver then explains to the camera that this was the first time anyone has ever wanted to eat the nuggets.

Another funny, yet sad, part of the episode was when he went into a classroom full of 6 year-olds to make sure they could identify fruits and vegetables in their whole form.  That didn’t go too well.  One kid thought a potato as a tomato and that was about as close as any student go to being correct.

As the episode starting winding down, Jamie took the Edwards family to the doctor for a check-up.  The father admitted that they only go to the doctor once “something gets broken”.  Surprisingly, the 12 year-old son mentioned earlier does not yet have Diabetes, but the doctor indeed classified him as “morbidly obese”, telling his parents that if he remains this way his condition will take off at least 30 years of his life.

Back at the school again the next day, Jamie decides to do an experiment for some of the parents of the schoolchildren, since his chicken nugget experience didn’t pan out so well.  Having the children hold a giant tarp, a loaded dump truck emptied a month’s worth of lard into it.  Along with hundreds of gallons of chocolate milk.

Interestingly, Jamie informed them (and us) that chocolate milk has more sugar in it than soda.  Yikes.

Jamie now has to prove he can make a healthy meal to serve that day for lunch that the children will actually eat, and still come in under budget.  He learns that the school does not have forks or knives.  The kids are so used to eating nothing but processed foods that spoons are all they need.

Along with the principal of the school, Jamie teaches the children how to use a knife and fork.  The kids don’t really like his healthy meal that much, and Jamie doubles the expenses of the budget, but because this is a contracted series, the superindendent and head nutritious agreed to give Jamie more time to change the eating habits of the school.

I have a feeling that Jamie Oliver’s Food Nation has the potential to become more than just a 6 episode mini-series.  Hopefully it will replace The Super Nanny.  Please?

Favorite Quotes:

“It sets like concrete?”  -Jamie Oliver, repeating the words of one of the lunch ladies as she described to him how they make the “mashed potatoes”

“The milk’s got crap in it.  The cereal’s got crap in it.”  -Jamie, explaining the lack of nutrition in the breakfast served at the school

“What’s right with that?”  -Jamie, answering a lunch lady who asked him, “What’s wrong with that?”, referring to a frozen solid chicken nugget Jamie took out of the freezer

“I’m here for the money, but you gotta love the kids too.”  -Alice, the head lunch lady