Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Using church bulletins to turn a profit for Disney

Christianity Today has published an article about the commercialization of the Chronicles of Narnia:
With the film release of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Chronicles of Narnia has become a blockbuster franchise with numerous products and corporate tie-ins (McDonald's, General Mills, Virgin Atlantic, Oral-B, and Kodak, to name a few).
There's even a public relations site,, "intended to mobilize the church to consume and market the movie (à la The Passion of the Christ)." Here's a quote from the Free Downloads page:
Download the official The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe promotional materials via Adobe Acrobat [PDF] to your computer, and print/use as needed. Materials include: movie posters, postcards, bulletin inserts, flyers, etc.
Note the reference to bulletin inserts. Disney is inviting your church to promote their movie when people arrive to worship. And Disney fully expects churches to leap at the opportunity.

I think you can argue this issue either way. On the one hand, the movie presents an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus Christ. (I make some of the biblical content of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe explicit here.) Churches are always seeking a bridge to the unchurched community. The Narnia movie, like The Passion of the Christ before it, can serve as just such a bridge.

But Professor E.J. Park, the author of the Christianity Today article, thinks churches should hesitate before embracing Disney's agenda:
In an age in which any notable spiritual movement immediately begets a plethora of associated products (calendars, Bible covers, journals, T-shirts), the logic and form of commercialism demand our critical attention, not merely our easy acceptance. … When is it a problem to turn certain ideas or realities into merchandise? …

The typical responses to these questions focus on the explicit messages of the products. As long as the content is deemed acceptable, merchandising is viewed as a win-win situation. …

Will our sense of Aslan change if Narnia is offered as a Happy Meal at McDonald's? Will a White Witch vanilla milkshake appropriately capture the spirit of the original work? Has hearing Aslan speak through the voice of Liam Neeson stripped the lion of his mystery?

Unsurprisingly, the primary concern for Christians has been keeping intact the notion of Aslan as a Christ-figure. Any regard for the consequences of transforming Narnia into forms of merchandise is deflected by the assurance that the message of Aslan will not be compromised.
I should make my bias clear up front. I have serious reservations about capitalism. Yes, it works better than any other economic system if your goal is to increase productivity and generate wealth. (That is the goal of an economic system, right?) But it does so by appealing to base aspects of human nature.

Materialism, acquisitiveness, greed, status symbols, conspicuous consumption, the use of means both fair and foul to advance beyond your competitors — principles such as these drive capitalism and make it a "better" economic system than socialism or communism. But surely those principles conflict with Christian values:
"Be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Jesus, Luke 12:15)

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35)
Despite my reservations about capitalism, I'm of two minds about this issue. I don't know that the commercialization of Narnia and Aslan is necessarily a bad thing. After all, in the final analysis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is just a story. And if it's a story that makes people think about spiritual things, why wouldn't Christians promote the movie?

But, like Professor Park, I am uncomfortable with the ease with which Christians slip into the commercial paradigm, like it's a comfy sweater.

Is it OK to use church bulletins to make money for Disney? Let's not duck our heads in the sand here, that's what we're being asked to do. When Professor Park speaks of a "win-win" scenario, this is what he means:  the Church "wins" by exploiting this bridge into the unchurched community, while Disney wins by turning a big fat profit on the movie and all its associated merchandise.

Surely the Church should have some qualms about this — no?

At first I intended to publish this post on Ragged Glory; but, on second thought, I wanted to invite Christians and non-Christians to engage with each other on this issue. Perhaps I'm guilty of airing the Church's dirty laundry in public, but I am greatly interested in the potential for a cross-cultural dialogue here.

(hat tip, Primal Subversion)

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. I sometimes take the liberty of inserting paragraph breaks where I deem them appropriate.


At 6:46 AM, February 02, 2006, Blogger 49erDweet said...

Q, although it doesn't really surprise me to find out about the "church resources" web site, it saddens me to realize many congregations will probably follow this suggestion. I share your concern over this approach to "sharing" the word. It doesn't.

BTW, if one were truly into using a cinematic missionary method for reaching the lost, "End of the spear" would be a much more suitable vehicle, IMHO. Its an amazing and true story, and extremely well done, without being a bit bogus or 'preachy'.

At 10:21 AM, February 03, 2006, Anonymous J said...

Ugh. I am totally against using bulletin inserts to promote movies. No matter how much of a Christian message a movie might have, people tend (and rightly so) to view movies as entertainment. The church does NOT need to be encouraging its members to go out and be entertained. Period.

The one way I could see bulletin inserts being used appropriately in relation to a movie is if they were used specifically to educate people on how to use the movie as a bridge between Christians and non-Christians. In this way, the inserts would not be encouraging people to go out and be entertained; they would be encouraging people to use a relevant aspect of pop culture in order to dialogue with non-Christians. This is very different from the purpose of the flyers, which do nothing but promote the movie.

At 12:38 PM, February 03, 2006, Blogger Sadie Lou said...

I just don't think C.S. Lewis would approve of this in any way. I'm not even sure how he would feel about the books being turned into movies--let alone the toys finding their way into Happy Meals.
It's kind of depressing.
I hate our commercialism. I really, really do. Can't we just leave things well enough alone?
On one hand, I'm glad the Chronicles have some widespread recognition and on the other hand, I don't think the Chronicles need help.
Ya know?


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