Trends & Truth Online with Mika Nappa: Talking The Hobbit with Dr. Timothy Paul Jones

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Dr. Timothy Paul Jones is a distinguished theologian, a professor at The Southern Baptist Seminary, and editor of the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry. Oh, he’s also a pop culture savant and expert on J.R.R. Tolkien. We recently got him talking about The Hobbit movie―care to listen in?

T&TO: What should every parent know about The Hobbit?

Jones: The Hobbit will span three films: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and There and Back Again (2014). The films are based on a book from J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote the book for children, although the book’s readership has long since transcended any age limitation.

Even though The Hobbit will hit theaters a decade after The Lord of the Rings films, this reversed order wasn’t the case when it comes to the books. The first version of The Hobbit book was published in 1937, several years prior to the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

If The Hobbit films follow Tolkien’s text, there will be a lot of wizardry and a bit of burglary, a couple of quite violent conflicts, and plenty of puffing on pipe-weed. The Hobbit films are likely to provide foundations for fruitful family discussions about magic and morals, wealth and war, and more.

 

T&TO: The Hobbit is overwhelmingly favored by Christian groups, but some parents warn that kind of blanket endorsement is potentially harmful. Your thoughts?

Jones: Part of this favor in the Christian community stems from the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings originated within a Christian worldview. In fact, Tolkien took the very term “Middle-earth” from an Old English poem about Christ’s ascension! Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and God used Tolkien to bring C.S. Lewis to faith in Jesus Christ.

When asked about the religious perspective of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien described the trilogy as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

I would suggest that this is no less true of The Hobbit. Although the work is certainly no allegory—Tolkien despised allegories—the characters are deeply symbolic, representing humanity’s deep sense of exile as well as our struggle not to center our lives on the pursuit of earthly wealth or power.

Despite the origins of The Hobbit in a Christian worldview, I would agree that a blanket endorsement is undeserved—and I’d say the same about any other work of popular art and culture. Here’s why: Such endorsements can unintentionally provide parents with a false comfort, the idea that they can place this book or movie or digital download in front of their children without having to engage in critique or conversation about it.

Visit Dr. Jones online at: www.TimothyPaulJones.com.

Will you and/or your kids go see The Hobbit movie? It releases December 14th, this Friday.

Should Smoking Be Rated R? Trends & Truth Online with Mike Nappa

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If James Sargent, M.D., of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, had his way, cigarette smoking in any movie would automatically earn an “R” rating. Same for films with cigars, pipes, and the like. Here’s why:

When young kids see people smoking onscreen, that becomes something of a “product placement” advertisement that’s repeated and reinforced through frequent viewings—and which might influence kids’ attitudes toward the habit. Dr. Sargent and his colleagues conducted a study of 6522 preteens and early teens, trying to measure scientifically the impact smoking in movies may or may not have on children. According to Everydayhealth.com, Sargent’s research suggests that, “Kids 10 to 14 years old were 49 percent more likely to have tried a cigarette for every 500 they saw smoked on the screen in PG-13 movies.”

“It is the movie smoking that prompts adolescents to smoke,” Sargent’s team emphasized in their report, “not other characteristics of R-rated movies or adolescents drawn to them.”

In response to these findings, the study’s originators have a simple recommendation: Give all movie smoking an “R” rating.

The thinking is that an “R” rating would make it harder for preteens and young teens to see repeated product placement of cigarettes in movies. In the researchers’ opinion, that would reduce underage smoking by at least 18%—a significant number in today’s American society.

According to the Surgeon General’s office, the smoking habit almost always begins in adolescence. About 2400 youth and young adults become regular smokers each day, with about 90% trying their first cigarette before the age of 18. What’s more, cigarette-sized cigars are so popular in youth culture today that one in five high school males smoke cigars.

A strategy that would help postpone the onset of adolescent smoking would drastically reduce adult smoking (and smoking-related illnesses) in years to come. Why? Because, according to the Surgeon General, “Almost no one starts smoking after age 25.”

This is why Dr. Sargent calls for an “R” rating on movies that contain smoking. Refusing a PG-13 (or less) rating for tobacco-fueled films would, in theory at least, keep anyone under 17 from being exposed (without parental consent) to the negative influence of onscreen smoking. If Dr. Sargent is correct, that in turn would measurably reduce the prevalence of underage smoking in America.

And so now the question is out there:

Should smoking be rated “R” in movies?

Or does that take social censorship too far, paving the way for “R” ratings for films that feature other bad health habits, such as eating fatty foods or drinking coffee and soda?

And how does an “R” rating criteria in cinema impact smoking and other bad habits displayed on television?

What do you think, ParentLife families? Take time to talk about it in your home this week.

 

Have a pop culture question for Trends & Truths? Email it to parentlife@lifeway.com!

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Mike Nappa is a bestselling author, a noted commentator on pop culture, and founder of the website for parents, FamilyFans.com.