By Audrey Stallsmith
I recently read a book on Hollywood’s unsolved murders, some of which were probably actually suicides. In most cases, neither outcome would have been surprising, considering how determinedly the victims had been flirting with disaster -- in the usual ways of overindulgence in affairs, alcohol, and/or drugs.
I’ve gotten the impression lately that many young actors and singers deliberately adopt a decadent lifestyle because they don’t want to seem boring in an industry in which everybody else is showing up in the tabloids. “Boring” is, however, doing the exact same thing that everybody else is doing, and there is definitely nothing original or fresh about scandal in Hollywood.
In fact, those youngsters shortly find themselves having to up the level of their misdeeds to get any response from the press at all -- much in the same way that they have to up the amounts of illicit sex, alcohol or drugs to get any thrill from them. By that time they may be addicted, to the fame if not to any of the other vices! As G. K. Chesterton points out in George Bernard Shaw, “The pleasures of vice were already flaunted before the playgoers. It was the perils of vice that were carefully concealed from them.”
They were carefully concealed from the actors themselves as well. Most of the performers who got trapped in their own act probably just wanted to see their names in the headlines a few times. There is, however, a major problem with that. What you act, you eventually become, if you keep it up long enough.
That’s why there are often problems with undercover cops who have been undercover too long. Unless they have some means of occasionally returning to their real lives, they begin to identify too strongly with the criminal lives they have adopted.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, you sometimes have to act as if you already have a certain virtue to acquire it. The opposite also holds true. The longer you act bad, the more truly bad you will actually become. If you are just faking it for a movie or undercover role, you can snap back into reality once that is finished. But, if your whole life is an act, how do you escape from it once the act becomes the reality?
As Chesterton asserts in “The Flying Stars,” one of his Father Brown stories, “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.” So the Robin Hood type of “good” outlaws are always more myth than reality.
Men like Butch and Sundance, for example, may have prided themselves on not taking lives during their robberies. But, as detailed in a documentary we watched the other night, they hastily dropped such standards when they were trapped.
“It is really time,” as Chesterton notes impatiently in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks, “that the absurd pretence of the vices to be romantic were given up.” The only heroism about such outlaws, after all, is the little good that still remains in them. They would be even more romantic if they had much more of it.
Unfortunately, none of us can make – or keep -- ourselves good by sheer willpower, no matter how hard we try. We need the help of God’s Spirit for that.
Of course, most of us aren’t Hollywood types. But often young people brought up in the church, who want to be in the “in” group at school or work, will act worse than they are just to be accepted. They will shortly discover that it’s a short step from acting “badder” to being “badder.” It is, after all, our choices that determine who we are.
I realize that the other course, the fighting of our natural inclination to drift downward, is much more difficult. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . .A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.” In that case, some of our stars and starlets have obviously led much too sheltered lives!
Last night, we watched the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor about five young men who were slaughtered back in 1956, while trying to carry the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Although the men had guns, they had determined in advance that they wouldn’t resist if attacked, because they knew they were ready to die but the Auca weren’t.
Later, the sister of one of those men and the wife of another were surprisingly successful in leading the Auca out of their violent ways in a relatively short space of time. Once I thought about it, though, I realized that outcome wasn’t so surprising after all. Until five young men who were much larger than they were didn’t fight back – and the relatives of those men forgave them -- the Auca had had no experience with any other ideals except those of violence and vengeance.
We may not like to admit that we are as suggestible as the people in those primitive cultures, but many psychological tests prove otherwise! So the young entertainers who have no ideals except success and fame could stand to see a better example patterned for them too.
Many of the truly “good” actors and singers keep a low profile, however, to protect themselves and their families from the tabloid culture. And perhaps from other dangers as well, since evil attacks most fiercely whatever threatens it the most. The unintended result of this reticence is that too many young entertainers aren’t seeing any other way except a downward spiral.