Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Challenge of Christian Music Videos
As we've considered which song from The Attributes of God to push as a radio single, the idea of doing a music video has come up. Those who are familiar with my music know that I've never done a music video up to this point. It hasn't been for lack of opportunity, but because of an internal wrestle I've had about the idea. Now, some people might think, "What are you talking about? How could there possibly be anything wrong with doing a music video"? Well, I know it's often assumed that music videos are something we should do because they're popular in our culture and it's standard protocol for the (secular) music industry. However, I don't want to take my cues for the rightness or wrongness of something from our culture or the music industry, but from God's Word. So let me share two challenges I see with music videos done by artists with explicit Christian content. One challenge is artistic, the other is biblical.
1. The Artistic Challenge
Simply put, I never want to do a music video if I can't do it skillfully and creatively. I go into some reasons for this in a recent post that you can find here. I have a background in professional acting and theater production, which has given me a sense of how some things work behind the scenes. Video can be a very challenging medium. It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to do it well. This is why the music videos of popular secular artists can cost tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. It makes sense if you think about it. If you're going to do a video that doesn't look like it was shot on a camera phone by your cousin in your backyard, you're going to need at least the following things:
1. An excellent camera (Ideally a number of excellent cameras to do multiple angles)
2. A skilled director
3. A skilled writer to storyboard the shoot
3. Quality lighting
4 A skilled editor(s)
5. Skilled actors
7. Skilled make-up artists
8. Skilled wardrobe artists
9. Skilled set designers
10. A skilled crew to do all the necessary handiwork the day of the shoot
These are just the first ten things that come to mind. There are many more things that I could have mentioned. It can get really expensive when you start putting dollar figures on each of those things. One high quality camera alone can cost thousands of dollars! Even if you can get a bunch of volunteers to do as many things as possible, it can still be costly and you run the risk of producing a video that looks like it was shot and edited by a bunch of volunteers, rather than paid professionals. Over the years, it has become a lot easier to produce quality music videos for cheaper than what they used to cost, but it's still a challenge.
Also, from a creative standpoint, I was never interested in doing a video with me simply looking into the camera and rapping one of my songs. In my opinion, 1) That's not very creative and 2) Most of my songs are about infinitely big ideas (God, the gospel, eternal destinies, etc.) that I'm afraid will immediately become diminished if dwindled down to a guy rapping into a camera. I always wanted the medium to do justice to whatever is being communicated in the song, and if that wasn't happening, I didn't want to do it at all.
With all that said, the artistic challenge hasn't been my main concern with music videos. My main concern is a biblical one.
2. The Biblical Challenge
The biblical challenge with music videos is that it is a visual medium; that is, a medium of images. The Scriptures have a lot to say about the dangers of images. The second commandment says:
"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God..." Exodus 20:4-5
I know that this verse was written during a time when pagan idolatry was prevalent and people actually worshiped statues. However, I don't think that bowing down to a statue is the only way to break this commandment. What this commandment is forbidding is elevating any created thing to the place that should only be reserved for God. For some reason, images make it easier for us to do this. I suppose that it's because images enter our hearts through our eyes. As it says in Proverbs 27:20,
"Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man."
There is a very real biblical category called "the desires of the eyes" (1 John 2:16). The very first sin committed in the Garden of Eden was connected to the "delight of the eyes" (Gen. 3:6) and the millions of clicks onto pornographic sites each day is just one proof that the connection between the eyes, images and idolatry is alive and well today. Check out the following verses, which make this connection explicit.
Numbers 15:39, Ezekiel 6:9 and 20:24
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that music videos are inherently sinful. Not at all. I believe that like every medium (and everything else in the world), video exists to bring glory to God and show off His creative genius at work in His creation. What I am saying is that music videos are an image-based medium and that any image-based medium should at least make Christians cautious in light of the many warnings in the Bible about images. While images themselves aren't necessarily sinful, images can (and often do) tempt the human heart to idolatry in a way that other things don't.
The secular music industry is very much aware of this and is very intentional in using music videos to make idols out of the artists they promote. What we see in music videos is not real. It's actors playing a role. It's 4 minutes of scenes slickly edited and crafted to make us see what they want us to see (and only what they want us to see). It is an idealized (usually either hyper-sexualized or hyper-dramatized), airbrushed, strategically postured, surgically enhanced image designed to capture our hearts through our eyes. Stadiums filled with thousands of people screaming, hyper-ventilating and fainting during secular concerts that are nothing less than worship events demonstrate powerfully that the idol-crafting, superstar-making formula employed by secular record companies is working.
When record labels do this, they are simply capitalizing off of a truth that was communicated in Scripture thousands of years ago: Within each fallen human heart, there is an idolatrous tendency to make idols out of images. We're being naive at best and negligent at worst if we don't acknowledge this tendency. When we fail to see this, what we'll inevitably see (and are seeing now) is the rise of the "Christian Superstar", which should be an oxymoron. There shouldn't be any room for a "superstar" in a universe that also has Jesus in it. However, we shouldn't be surprised if we use an image-based medium in the same way that "superstar-makers" use it and we end up with a Christianized version of the same thing, no matter how pure our intentions.
In addition to the idolatry factor, we have to consider that both words and images speak. An argument can be made that images speak more loudly. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Music videos for Christian artists become challenging when what we see on the screen is at odds with whatever the song is about. So, for example, I may be saying in my song "Glory to God alone!" while the image on the video has me jumping out of a limousine, flashing money at the camera and looking like a rock star. It's an extreme example, but the problem here is that there is a disconnect between the words and the image. This is an easy error to make and I see it happen a lot (to varying degrees) with music videos by Christian artists. I don't want to make that error.
Well, this post is longer than I intended, so I should end it here. I haven't ruled out doing a music video, but if I do, those are some of the things that I would want to address with the director to make sure we're on the same page. And if I never do a music video, I'm OK with that as well. I'm still working through some of these things, so if you have any wisdom or resources to point me to, I'm open to that. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
grace and peace,