Upon doing research on how Christianity is portrayed through the media, I found a few interesting sources that depict such a negative perception on how Christians behave and communicate their faith in public. The primary sources that illustrate such strong characterizations of Christians were narrowed down to the movie Easy A, a YouTube video of a Christian woman interrupting a Muslim ceremony, and an interview of the Westboro Baptist Church members on the Tyra Banks show. After analyzing various popular culture artifacts, it seems that Christians are generally portrayed as aggressive, narrow-minded hypocrites. To be more specific, I will focus on the portrayal of Christian women that are depicted in the media. The common representation of Christians acting out in hostility and being prejudiced sets a stereotype among all Christians which makes many of them feel reluctant to express their identity for the fear of being attacked verbally or physically by others.
I grew up in a Wesleyan based Christian church. Many of its core values revolved around giving authority to biblical teachings, beliefs, and priorities, as well as spreading these components of Christianity. I was brought up to believe that people from all backgrounds are welcomed to learn more about Christ and to be respectful of other people’s decisions no matter how much I disagree with them. Our church is big on fellowship and acceptance of one another. It has always been a focus to spread love and compassion towards people despite their differences. Belittling or attacking other people’s beliefs is never encouraged and that’s not how situations are dealt with when conversing with someone that has opposing views. We have grown as a church with the understanding that we are not perfect individuals and we don’t always have life all figured out. As a Christian woman, I see myself as just another human being struggling through life like anyone else. Just because I believe something so strongly doesn’t mean I will go out of my way to put myself above others and rebuke their opinions. People should have the choice to believe and do what they want, and I may not always agree with it, but I will respect it. A few of the popular culture sources I analyzed conveyed Christianity on extreme levels of hate and condemnation; these common portrayals are what commonly lead people to jump to conclusions about the Christian identity.
In the movie Easy A, Olive (Emma Stone) lives her high school days going unnoticed. She is a straight A student that stays out of trouble. One day, Olive tells her best friend a small white lie about losing her virginity to a fictional college boy. The perfectly dressed and “innocent” Christian girl Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears this conversation and rumors flood the school campus about Olive being an adulterer. Olive gains a reputation as this girl who sleeps around as she continues to start more rumors about herself to help the males in the high school look “cool”. During this time, Olive is also studying the novel The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Olive relates her situation to the main character Hester Prynne, who is also ridiculed by the act of adultery by the Puritans. Throughout the movie, Olive is verbally harassed by Marianne and her Christian group of friends. Marianne and her friends carried on with these persecutions due to hearing the rumors that circulated the school, but never went straight to Olive to hear her full story. Olive described Marianne and her Christian friends as a group that liked to “shove their religion down people’s throats”. Marianne also carries herself with superiority and talks to Olive in a condescending manner. She is quick to point fingers and express disgust towards someone she knows nothing about. Re-watching this movie, it made me think that non-Christians may generalize all Christian women to be arrogant and seek out to make secular individuals look bad in order to make them look better. Christians can often be perceived as people who jump to conclusions right off that bat and make immediate accusations towards people, when this is not always the case. This movie expressed a relevant theme that if you believe everything you hear, you are bound to make snap judgements about the things you know very little about.
The next artifact I analyzed was a video from the FOX 7 Austin YouTube channel titled “Texas Muslim Capitol Day Interrupted by Christine Weick”. The video clip shows a Muslim woman speaking on a podium about celebrating the Texas Muslim Capitol Day. A few sentences into her speech a woman protester approaches the podium from behind, aggressively snatches the microphone, and shouts “I proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus Christ over the capital of Texas. I stand against Islam and the false prophet Mohammad. Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God it will not dominate Texas!” After releasing the microphone to join the rest of the protestors she continues to shout “Mohammed is dead!”. So much for spreading love and acceptance to all people, right? Herein, is another very negative representation of a Christian woman. I imagine secular viewers watching this on the news and being influenced to think that Christian women are wildly barbaric, disrespectful, and bigoted. It is obvious that Christian values do not always coalesce with those of other religions, cultures, and political views. I just find it bothersome that the Christian groups that are frequently portrayed on the media are organizations that are quite extreme and exhibit so much hatred. Many people may not understand that there a number of different Christian organizations and groups to be involved in. Various organizations have their own preferences on how they decide to minister their faith, but if majority of what is being seen on the news are malicious Christians bashing on other religions, then it may lead people to think there is only one type of Christian.
My last primary source was the most interesting to analyze. A mother and her two daughters were interviewed on the Tyra Banks show. The women that were interviewed are members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The Westboro Baptist Church is known for their hate or large disapproval of the LGBT community, and anyone who disagrees with their belief system and way of thinking. This group pickets in a number of cities throughout the year to express their belief on how God hates just about anyone outside of their organization. Throughout the interview Tyra Banks and Shirley Phelps-Roper (mother of two girls) are having more of an argument than a discussion. Shirley constantly interrupts Tyra and makes snide remarks about everyone going to hell. There is a clip that also shows Shirley talking about how the Westboro Baptist Church gets harassed by many people. Their homes have been damaged, they have been shot at, etc. She goes on to talk about how she doesn’t understand why people do this and says “I thought this was the do your own thing generation, tolerance, loving-where is that? Where is your diversity?” I found it interesting for her to ask such a question while she claims herself to be a Christian leader while participating in so much hate crime. A lot of hypocrisy was depicted in this interview. Tyra Banks has a fairly large following, therefore there is no doubt that this interview put Christians in bad light. It was very evident of who came off as the “bad guy” while watching this video clip, and as a Christian woman myself, it makes me feel as if the mere mention of claiming a Christian identity already sets me into the image of being this horrible person that attacks other people’s beliefs and values. This also ties back to the concept that there are so many organizations that minister their faith in different ways. Some people choose to minister in hate and others with compassion and respect. However, the sweet and gentle is not always publicized. People are more triggered and attentive when they view something controversial and chaotic because it’s more interesting.
A journal article I looked into discussed a study on how Christian adolescents between the ages of eleven to nineteen in England were treated when others knew about their faith. There were reports of slurs, mocking, labeling, stereotypes and bullying towards the Christian adolescents. (Moulin 2016) Individuals even mentioned how depiction of Christians in the media were misleading and how it led many of their non-religious peers to make assumptions about their character. Accusations of Christians being the teacher’s pet or a know-it-all were common reports from the younger adolescents. This goes to show how the media does have an influence on its viewer’s perception of people. The study claims that adolescents felt afraid to admit that they were Christian. I find it unsettling that starting at such a young age, people are so hesitant and ashamed to claim who they are and the things that are important to them. It’s unfortunate that there are so many exaggerated and contradictory representations of Christianity spread throughout the media. It is pretty rare to see a Christian act on a more genuine and normal scale, rather than trying to act perfectly innocent or extremely aggressive and hateful. The depictions of a Christian that are not portrayed as extreme are seen in movies that are produced by Christians; God Is Not Dead and October Baby are some examples of this. God Is Not Dead is about an evangelical male college student who is challenged by his philosophy professor to prove to that God is not dead to his. He uses no aggressive language or behavior when addressing the class, he doesn’t force people to side with his opinion, and he even claims himself everyone has a choice in life. October Baby is a movie about a young college girl who goes on a trip to discover where she truly came from. The Christian characters played in the movie were conveyed as gentle and empathizing mentors.
Above all, the portrayal of Christian women in popular culture media is depicted with a lot of negativity. This was shown in the movie Easy A, FOX News YouTube clip of the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, and a YouTube video of Tyra Banks interviewing members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Each Christian woman represented in these movies or videos was labeled to be hypocritical, crazy, and narrow-minded. This has a major influence in the media in stereotyping Christians to be arrogant, fake, and hostile people; these pre-set labels may cause Christians, who do not behave this way, to live in fear of being harassed or criticized. It’s unfortunate that the media is fond of publicizing crazy, triggering, and exaggerated content of Christians because it generalizes all Christians to come off as devaluing individuals, when there are Christians that are capable of being respectful and cordial towards people who disagree with them.
One learning moment I was able to take away from this class was going through the process of analyzing primary sources for my identity project. Reviewing each source multiple times allowed me to dig deeper into why viewers may perceive an identity to be generalized a certain way. Some components of the content were highlighted more to create emphasis. Analyzing films, I was able to carefully observe the way actors wanted to convey a certain identity. It was very interesting to examine the different techniques that were used to convince the viewer to look at the character in a particular way. The Analysis Move videos from the course texts were helpful in paying attention to certain details. Another learning moment that was very helpful to me was the thesis grilling activity. I thought it was insightful to hear different people’s feedback on my thesis. Video chatting on Google Hangouts was a new experience for me, so it was interesting to be involved in an activity like this.
Moulin, Daniel. “Reported Experiences of Anti-Christian Prejudice among Christian Adolescents in England”. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 06 May 2016. Web
Gluck, Will., Devine, Zanne. Prods. Easy A. 17, September 2010. Movies
Fox 7 Austin. 06, February 2015. “Texas Muslim Capitol Day Interrupted by Christine Weick” YouTube.
Burns, Steve. 19, April, 2011. “Crazy Baptist Lady On Tyra Bank’s Show Part 2” Youtube.
Easy A 17, September 2010 Google images. http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lonhtg2IiW1qdqlhzo1_r1_500.gif
Christine Weick Interrupts Muslim Capitol Day. Google images.
Shirley Rogers on Tyra Banks Show. Google Images.