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Portrayal of Evangelicals in Media

December 8, 2011

I’m not going to pretend I don’t watch hours of television, or endlessly fill and empty my DVR. I do; I watch a LOT of television. I keep telling myself, any minute now, I’m going to turn off the television and start reading a book; after all books are far more meritorious of our time an attention, right? However, as of late I’ve been particularly sucked into the Showtime show Dexter. Lately on the show (this season to be specific) it seems the show’s title character is on a redemptive journey. This journey begins with a close friendship with a reformed criminal turned evangelical pastor and do-gooder, brother Sam. Dexter is at odds with his desire to kill, as well as live up to the ideals (christian or moral) taught by brother Sam. The other side of the season centers around the doomsday killers (no spoilers) who are murdering people and framing the reveals of these murders around scenes from the book of revelation, the last book of the evangelicals’ Bible. These killers believe themselves to be the only righteous people left in the world, and their “cleansing” will bring about the return of Christ and the post rapture apocalypse.

In new’s coverage, often networks will feature stories on a person’s faith in a negative light. Whether it is Rick Perry’s “in your face God, Guns, and Liberty faith, or whether it’s Tim Tebow giving praise to God for the ability, and opportunity to play football for a living. Sometimes, unfortunately, they just air a verbatim clip of an evangelical personality (or someone claiming to be, for that matter) saying something really, really stupid; for instance almost anything Pat Robertson has said as of late, However, the problem isn’t limited to Pat Robertson, also the Rev. Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton, etc… have also been the subject (well deserving) of scorn for certain things they’ve said.

So what is the difference between television/film portrayal of Evangelicals and NewsMedia portrayal of Evangelicals? Intentionality. Intentionality is the difference. In sitcoms and movies, each line of dialogue is scripted and crafted to have an intentional effect on the story, or the character. Good writing doesn’t use unnecessary dialogue. In the case of Dexter, for instance, the show is written in such a way that it intentionally portray’s Dexter’s reformation with morality and social good; not with an evangelical religion conversion. However, the doomsday killers are portrayed, negatively, as religious. There is never a fair shake, given that these people are “zealots” or “extremists.” In NewsMedia, there is usually a chance of rebuttal by different members of the religious community (See this ABC 20/20 on fundamentalism) notice the way it is crafted to show the extremity of this belief, that it is definitely not the mainstream view, even in this sect of evangelicalism.

The unfortunate fact  is the media doesn’t often offer favorable opinions of evangelicals/Christians in television shows. It certainly couldn’t get away with portraying Jewish people, or Muslim people the same way on television shows.

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