Christian Identity

Popular Culture Mirror Essay

Rachael Woolley

            Christians have a lot of interesting stereotypes that are exploited in the media. There are multiple television shows, movies, and books that include a Christian character that is an exaggeration of one or more stereotypes related to Christians. Season 17 of The Bachelor (Fliess, 2013) was an example of the Christian who was abstaining from sex before marriage. In the popular television show that aired from 2000-2007, Gilmore Girls (Sherman-Palladino) has a recurring character that is an extreme version of a Christian who is legalistic and mean, forbidding her child of listening to any music besides Christian. Thirdly, Easy A (Gluck, 2010) was a movie loosely based on The Scarlett Letter with a main character portraying the extreme and offensive Christian who tells others they are going to hell. All three of these artifacts include a character that exhibits melodramatic characteristics of Christian stereotypes.

            The Bachelor (Fliess, 2013) is a show that stars a single man who is looking for a wife. Women across the nation audition for one of the 20 spots who, over multiple weeks, compete for a love connection with the bachelor. In season 17 of the show, Sean Lowe received the role of the bachelor and for a few months dated multiple women at a time in order to find his wife. As the show progresses, women are eliminated until the final episode when there is usually a proposal to one of two women left. A few weeks before that, when there are three women left, there is an episode called the “fantasy suite” week. This is where the bachelor gets to spend three consecutive nights with each one of the women left with no cameras around or anyone else with them. In every season before this one, the men ask the women if they each would accept a night in the fantasy suite with them and most have said yes. During Sean’s season, when it came to the fantasy suit week, he did not invite the girls to stay the night with him. This got a lot of attention from the media because it had never happened before.

            This portrayal of innocence was really interesting because Sean said nothing during any of the other weeks about his faith except for that particular week. Sean was mostly quiet about his faith, whether that was his decision or created through editing, until the week where he is “allowed” to sleep with the women. Once that week comes up, he begins saying that he will not sleep with the women because of personal beliefs. This order of events places a huge emphasis on only one aspect of the Christian faith. All of media was talking about how unusual it was that Sean was the first “virgin bachelor” and that was all they focused on.

            In 2000, an incredibly popular television show about a mother-daughter relationship began airing. Gilmore Girls (Sherman-Palladina, 2000) focuses around a young teenage girl named Rory and her journey through high school, with one of the main characters being her best friend, Lane Kim. Lane’s mother, Mrs. Kim is a very intense and strict Christian woman who only lets Lane out of her sight to go to school. She controls what music she listens to, what friends she has, what boys she talks to, and what extracurricular actives she can partake in.

            Mrs. Kim fits the very old stereotype of the legalistic Christian who is afraid of anything that does not explicitly relate to the Christian faith. Although the show follows Rory pretty closely, it also follows Lane and how her mother’s parenting affects her life. Gilmore Girls (Sherman-Palladino, 2000) shows scenes of Lane hiding her records in her floorboards and hiding her boyfriends from her mother. There is an episode where Mrs. Kim finds out about Lane’s boyfriend and she approaches him on the street telling him he is going to hell. Throughout the seasons we see Mrs. Kim’s anger and intensity create a divide in her relationship with her daughter. By the series finale she has moved in with two boys from her rock band and is married and pregnant with twins without any real restitution with her mother.

            Mrs. Kim is an illustration of the legalistic, strict without reason, angry Christian. She goes around telling anyone who believes different than her that they are going to hell and doesn’t apologize for any of it. She represses all of her daughter’s interests because she believes they are of the devil. This makes it so she never actually gets to know her daughter and have a healthy relationship with her. This stereotype is very familiar with most Americans because they have interacted with this type of Christian. It is interesting that the writer decided for the show to end with little restitution between the mother and daughter.

            Another piece of the Christian stereotypes that exist is the Christian who is very rude and tries to force her beliefs on to others. She pities those who do not believe and tells them they are going to hell. One of the characters in Easy A (Gluck, 2010) is a high school Christian who spends most of the movie rebuking other students in a very unloving way. She is portrayed as brainwashed and incredibly judgmental. A lot of the songs they sing during their morning Bible study are not real songs but were written for the movie. This character is the antagonist throughout the whole film. Easy A (Gluch, 2010) ends with the Christian character’s boyfriend contracting an STD from sleeping with the school counselor. This perpetuates two different stereotypes. The first is that Christians are judgmental and angry, with their only goal being to convert others and make them feel bad. The second is that most Christians end up “messing up” and it gets revealed.

            In 2014, Relevant magazine posted an article on how Christians are portrayed in television. The article talks about many of the points touched on above and agrees there are many Christian stereotypes exploited on television. This article talks about how these characters probably exist and are accepted because there are real life Christians out there who mirror these characters. I would agree with this statement. As much as I think all of these examples are very hyperbolic, I know that people like them really do exist. I go to a church in West Linn where I do not interact with many people like this. These characters are a jarring to me because I do not know any Christians in my life who are like this. However, I do know they exist.

            This analysis really helped me wrestle with and better understand my frustration at the portrayal of Christians in media and television. There are many other examples in other shows and movies where different stereotypes are focused on and blown up in order to make good tv. Looking at my all of my different artifacts really help break down the different stereotypes I was noticing and made me think about why that might be. The Relevant article I read was another great insight in to why these characters exist. Writing this paper helped me better understand my identity. It helped me think about what areas of Christian culture do I accept and find reasonable and what areas do I think this identity as a whole needs to grow in.

Bibliography

Easy A [Motion picture on DVD]. (2010). United States: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions. (2000). [Television series]. In Gilmore Girls.

Copeland, C. (2014, January 10). So you don’t like the way Christians are portrayed in                                    television? Relevant.

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5 thoughts on “Christian Identity

  1. Rachael,
    I really enjoyed reading your essay. These are all shows that I have watched and recognized these characters. Growing up without Christianity, then taking an interest in it around the age of 17, I found your essay to bring up many great points in how media portrays Christians. I think you do a great job in explaining how media has worked to focus on the “few rotten eggs that spoil the whole bunch.” My favorite example of yours was the strict Christian mother in Gilmore Girls. I loved this show growing up, and think that its curious how its displays the negative effects of having a strict mother (no records, no boyfriends, ect.) it presents the lack of her religion leading her to an early marriage and pregnancy. Great job on your essay!
    -Reanna

  2. I am a Christian as well and I see all the stereotypes that you mention. Christians are often shown to be either the villains or just very demeaning. I would have liked to look at Lane’s mother closer. She is that typical Christian mom for quite a bit of the show so it would have been nice to talk to her a bit more. I highly enjoyed your essay and now I am going to hope that someday the stereotypes for Christians will change.

  3. Hi Rachael,
    Great job on the paper! I really enjoyed reading it, and feel that the topic is one that many people can relate with. I agree that these stereotypes of Christians is found many different sources in modern media. I feel that like some other identities they are extremely exaggerated and are not accurate. Overall I really liked you paper, good job!

  4. Hi Rachael!
    Wonderful job on this essay, I loved reading it. It was nice to get the opportunity to read how the negativity revolving around a religion is viewed by the people within it. Christianity isn’t always viewed in the best light because the extremists take control of what people see, therefore it makes it difficult for people to get past that impression. I see this literally every week in the park blocks. There is a religious speaker that stands on the stage and yells at people saying that the things they enjoy are wrong and that they are going to hell. People have trouble getting past that impression of something when it strikes them personally like that and they often close themselves off to learning about all the positive things included in the religion. I loved your Bachelor example and how his faith and unwillingness to sleep with the women were what the network chose to focus on because it sparked turmoil amongst the viewers. Great job!

  5. Rachel,
    I enjoyed this analysis of Christians in the media. I’m not religious myself personally, but early in the class, on one of the blog prompts, I wrote about how I felt Christians are portrayed unfairly in the media. I feel like it’s unusual to see a Christian character in almost any type of media that isn’t grossly overdramatized, and their faith is always prominent. In real life though, I rarely know someone is a Christian unless they decide to say so.

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