Missing from the Media, Part 2: Christians, or Why It’s Okay to Like Us

In my last post, I wrote about the lack of good kids in today’s mainstream media, and just overnight, I have gotten great feedback from other good kids. They agree that TV characters aren’t as responsible or well-balanced as they used to be (oh, ’90s family programming, we miss you!), and we’d like to see characters whose behaviors and life choices resemble our own.

Personally, I have chosen to be a good kid because of my Christian faith. Like most (if not all) of the people who connected with my last post, I try to abstain from certain activities, behaviors, and attitudes in order to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Bible tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). I try to glorify God by reflecting his goodness and holiness in my actions and decisions.

As I wrote yesterday’s post and thought about my reasons for being a good kid, I realized that the media also lacks positive or realistic portrayals of Christians. Whether it’s a fictional character or particular Christian individuals or groups in news coverage, Christians in media rarely provide a positive representation of Jesus-followers. If people are basing their opinions of Christians and Christianity on the media, it’s no wonder why people hate Christians.

Marguerite Perrin, known as “the God Warrior” from Trading Spouses

When people hear the word “Christian,” they might think of the Westboro Baptist Church, who tote “God Hates [fill in the blank]” signs and use tragedy as an opportunity to condemn homosexuality, Judaism, Italy, or Barack Obama. They might think of Harold Camping, who predicts the world will end on May 21, 1988 September 7, 1994 May 21, 2011 October 21, 2011. They might think of Glee‘s Quinn Fabray, the deviously vindictive head cheerleader who balanced teen pregnancy with her responsibilities as president of the Celibacy Club. Or they might think of the sheltered and naive Rod and Todd Flanders from The Simpsons. Christians in media are seen as judgmental hypocrites or just plain crazy and stupid.

Mother Teresa

But what are Christians really like? According to the old song, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” We are not out to hate the world but to love it. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Not only does God love all people, He has commanded Christians to do the same. So when the media shows people who claim to love Jesus but hate everyone else, that’s not an accurate representation of what faith in Jesus is supposed to look like.

In the area of morality, media struggles to find a balance in its characterization of Christians. Fictional Christian characters are either naive or hypocritical. On one end of the spectrum, they are goody two-shoes who have been sheltered from a world of sin. On the other end, they disapprove of others’ actions while they are up to their eyeballs in identical immorality behind a facade of innocence. Most people are somewhere in the middle. We are not perfect, nor do we pretend to be.

If I could create a Christian character, it would be someone known for loving other people – all people. Someone who wouldn’t claim to be perfect but would still strive for moral integrity. Someone who stands by his or her convictions, whether it’s a matter of religious doctrine or moral standards, and respectfully disagrees with those who believe differently. Someone who is compassionate, generous, and kind. Perhaps someone who is passionate about social justice and doing something to change the world.

Apparently, Glee creator Ryan Murphy had plans in 2010 to create a Christian character for the second season. He told TV Guide, “We’ve taken a couple jabs at the right wing this year, so what I want to do with this character is have someone who Christian kids and parents can recognize and say, ‘Oh, look—I’m represented there, too!’ If we’re trying to form a world of inclusiveness, we’ve got to include that point of view as well.” Obviously, that plan didn’t come to fruition as fans prepare for the premier of the show’s third season, but Murphy hasn’t completely canned the idea. Winner of The Glee Project, Samuel Larsen, says that Murphy is considering casting him as an indie rocker that you wouldn’t expect to be a Christian but is.

If Christian characters on TV, like the one that Ryan Murphy might create for Glee, were more like the Christians I know (or what I believe a Christian to be), then people would realize it’s okay to like Christians. And if all Christians were more like the Jesus we claim to follow, then people would realize it’s okay to like Jesus, too.

Missing from the Media, Part 1: The Good Kid, or Why I Miss Chord Overstreet

Glee is known as a show that gives a voice to the outcast and underrepresented. The gay and lesbian community often praises the show for its positive and empowering portrayal and acceptance of homosexuality, especially in a high school setting. Thanks to Glee, I’m seeing more Asians on TV than I have since Margaret Cho’s short-lived All-American Girl was on the air. The Asian community, which is generally excited whenever a fellow Asian appears in mainstream media, is proud to be represented by Jenna Ushkowitz, Harry Shum Jr., Charice, and the Filipino half of Darren Criss.

Though Glee serves as “home” for many minority groups, I identify with one group that still struggles to find a place in mainstream media – even on Glee. The good kids. Nice kids. Teens or young adults who follow the rules and obey the law. People who stand by their personal convictions and principles. Frankly, we just don’t make for good TV, because everything that today’s shows are made of are things we try to avoid. We try not to lie, cheat, or steal. We don’t like gossip or petty fighting. We don’t smoke or do drugs. We don’t have casual sex. If we drink at all, we wait until we are 21 to start and don’t drink to the point of drunkenness.

Unless they are the subject of comedic ridicule or portrayed as religious fanatics, characters like this generally don’t exist. I can’t think of a character (on any show) who successfully resisted peer pressure (and wasn’t ashamed to do so) or whose decisions were shaped by principle instead of lessons learned “the hard way.” On Glee, characters either aren’t virgins or lie about their “v-card” status because they are ashamed of their virginity. Students and teacher alike pledge not to drink (until after their big competition, of course) only after humiliating incidents taught them the social consequences of alcohol and drunkenness. Chord Overstreet’s character of Sam Evans, whose v-card status is unknown, was probably the closest to a “good kid” I’ve seen on Glee, but with Overstreet’s departure from the show, good kids may have lost their champion.

I was a good kid in high school, and I maintain the same behavior as a young adult. I know I wasn’t the only high schooler who didn’t attend weekend house parties and raid parents’ liquor cabinets; I’m not the only young adult who chooses not to drink. And I’m not the only person with my v-card in tact. So if I’m not the only one out there, why are good kids hard to find in media?

Movies and TV have this great ability to let people know they’re not alone. Shows like Glee have shown people that being different is okay, whether it’s their sexuality, size, or skin color that distinguishes them from others. So why can’t Glee let the good kids know that their lifestyle is acceptable?

In real life, people try to make me feel like an oddity or try to make me feel bad about my life choices. They tease me about drinking and make me feel obligated to consume alcohol. They insist my standards are too high. They tell me I am not normal because of the way I live my life, but maybe if the media started to portray good kids more positively and more frequently, people would realize that this behavior is more normal than they realize.

P.S. I focused a lot on Glee in this post, because that show has developed such cultural significance for minority groups, but in doing so neglected one super awesome good kid on TV. Alexis Castle (Molly Quinn) on ABC’s Castle is so perfectly good (but not in an annoying, goody-two-shoes way) that viewers and characters wonder how she turned out the way she did with a father like Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion). She is responsible, mature, intelligent, and funny. She balances out the childishness of her father with a sensibility and maturity beyond her years. She is good, though not perfect (she once jumped a subway turnstile and tearfully confessed this offense to her dad). For good kids, Alexis Castle and Molly Quinn are like breaths of fresh air in the midst of a polluted Hollywood. I’m excited to have characters like Alexis Castle on TV and to have actors like Molly Quinn, who is also mature beyond her years, making a positive impact in the entertainment industry.

Next post: Missing from the Media, Part 2