Good For You vs. Just Plain Good

I hope everyone’s seen this excellent piece by Emily Stimpson—and not only because she appears to have hated There Be Dragons as much as I did.

Stimpson investigates why Catholic media, especially entertainment, stinks so bad, and what can be done about it.  Among the problems is a fundamental (and fairly recent) misunderstanding of what can reasonably be achieved, quoting Dominic Iocco, provost of a Catholic university for communication arts:

[Catholic moviemakers] want every film to be ‘The Passion [of the Christ]’ and expect people to walk out of the theater converted,” Iocco told OSV. “But we’ve already had ‘The Passion’ and the whole world hasn’t converted. Nor are they going to because of a film. That’s not what films do. A film is successful if it gets people to ask a question they might not have asked before.”

There are also misunderstandings about what ought to be achieved:

Likewise, when it comes to the Internet and social media, [professor and screenwriter Barbara] Nicolosi believes too many Catholics see and use it as a tool for catechesis rather than evangelization.

“It’s lots of inside baseball,” she said. “If you’re already in the program, it’s good stuff. But most people aren’t in the program. Right now 90 percent of what we do is geared toward catechesis and 10 percent to evangelization. It needs to be the other way around.”

and worst of all, misunderstandings about how to achieve it:

Nicolosi also believes that if Catholics want to give an effective witness through the media, they need to let go of the idea that every film or endeavor has to be catechetical.

“First, we need to bring back the beautiful — that which has wholeness, harmony and radiance,” she said. “We also need to give back classical storytelling. We are a people of the book, the parable, and we can teach Hollywood to tell a good yarn. That’s something much of Hollywood has forgotten how to do.

Bingo.  I’ll watch something if it looks like it’s going to be good, not if it looks like it’s supposed to be good for me. 

We recently watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre again.  I love this movie—so straightforward, but so mesmerizing, even when you know exactly what’s going to happen.

Dobbs and Curtin, two down-and-outers, are discussing a conversation they had with Howard, an experienced prospector, who warned them, ‘I know what gold does to men’s souls!”

Dobbs: Do you believe what that old man who was doin’ all the talkin’ at the Oso Negro said the other night about gold changin’ a man’s soul so that he ain’t the same kind of a guy that he was before findin’ it?

Curtin: Guess that all depends on the man.

Dobbs: That’s exactly what I say. Gold don’t carry any curse with it. It all depends on whether or not the guy who finds it is the right guy. The way I see it, gold can be as much of a blessing as a curse.

And of course Dobbs turns out the be the wrong kind of guy.  We saw it from the beginning, when he’s begging for money, and a man snaps,

Such impudence never came my way. Early this afternoon I gave you money. When I was having my shoes polished, I gave you more money. Now you put the bite on me again. Do me a favor, will ya? Go occasionally to somebody else. It’s beginning to get tiresome.

and Dobbs responds:

Oh, excuse me, mister. I never knowed it was you. I never looked at your face. I just looked at your hands and the money you gave me.

That’s the kind of guy he is:  he keeps coming back and coming back.  He can’t let go.  Contrast this foreshadowing of his fatal flaw with the final scene, in which Dobbs and Curtain laugh hysterically as tens of thousands of dollars worth of gold dust go swirling away on the wind, back to the mountain.

This, my friends, is what we call “detachment”—a fine Christian virtue, and one worth instilling.  Can’t teach it any better than that—but of course teaching isn’t what John Huston set out to do.  He set out to tell a story.

Can you imagine if a typical earnestly gooey Christian producer wanted to send a message about greed and corruption and detachment?  I suppose there have been plenty of these types of movies, probably mostly around Christmas time:  “. . And now I’ve learned that what I really wanted most of all was right here, all along.” 

This is sort of what Curtin learns, except that director John Huston made sure someone had to get shot before those peach groves and their faithful mistress became available for Curtin to pursue.  Because when someone gets shot, it makes a better story; and when you tell a better story, people listen to what you have to say.