I have a weird confession to make.
It’s going to come as a shock, so I hope you’re sitting down. You probably are, as it’s hard to walk and read at the same time.
Okay, here goes: I haven’t seen that movie.
I know, right?! Crazy. You know the one, the one with that one guy? The one where they go places and do stuff? Yeah, never seen it.
And I’m constantly, irrationally embarrassed by this fact.
You could insert any one of a thousand different popular movies from The Jazz Singer to Pretty In Pink, and the chances are strong that I’ve never watched it. I know this much: I should probably fix this issue before I fulfill my lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy!
When confronted with my cinema knowledge gap, I get a specific, familiar feeling: I’m flashing a forced, fake smile to my flushed face because I don’t understand your reference. All the while, I’m hoping my weird grin will be enough to shield me from scrutiny until the conversation moves beyond this moment. It usually works.
But when my toothy dog-smile is not an effective parry, I’m left wincing, bracing for the inevitable, accusatory, “WHAT?! You’ve never seen that? How on earth have you never seen it?”
It’s not intentional, like I skipped seeing Harry Potter And The Seventeen Sequels because I think I’m too sophisticated for kids’ movies. I’m well known to be immature. Or I boycotted the release of Titanic because I’m secretly an iceberg rights advocate. No, there’s much more to my knowledge deficit lurking just below the surface.
See, everyone is betting on GameStop, but iceberg jokes are the next big thing.
Let’s All Go To The Movies And Hand Out Gospel Tracts
Let me set the scene: I grew up at the crossroads of Evangelical Christianity and quasi-poverty, both conveniently passing through the middle of nowhere.
Evangelical Christianity, in theory, is redundant. The tenets of the religion require evangelism. But in America, or more to the point, in the South, “Evangelical” means something altogether different than simply “spreading the Gospel.” It’s an entire culture.
It’s important you understand the movement’s deep connection between fear and salvation. It’s not as simple as “you’ll go to Hell if you aren’t a Christian.” That’s present in all of Christianity, technically if not functionally. No, the Evangelical spiritual death threat is different.
Evangelicalism is a frothy mix of several American traditions. It’s a dash of QAnon-level conspiracy theories, a pinch of Bobby Boucher’s momma’s existential fear. Throw in plenty of Southern resentment, a cup of Trump-style grift, and a heaping spoonful of guilt. Oh, and a sprinkle of spiritual sadism for good measure.
Wait, strike that. “Sprinkling” isn’t sufficient in Evangelicalism. It has to be immersion or God won’t recognize it. Better dunk it all to be safe.
Now, before we go any further, brothers and sisters, are you certain that if you die while reading this essay, you won’t burn in the Lake of Fire, tortured for all eternity?
Odd question? Not for Evangelicals. Respected authority figures ask them some version of that question multiple times a week.
Sure, tactics like “putting a gun to someone’s head” might invalidate earthly contracts, but it’s a vital tactic in expanding Jesus’s flock in the South. And yeah, it’s emotionally scarring, but that’s what makes it so especially effective on children. God loves you, after all, but he won’t hesitate to personally watch you burn alive if you reject His unconditional love.
If you’re not saved, you better get right and do it now. Everything is God’s will, and God might will a truck into your lane on the way home from this Sunday night praise service. He’s known for His sense of irony and timing.
All of these fun “hey kids, you’re going to die unexpectedly any minute and then burn in Hell” ideas float above an interesting, if not surprising, subtheme: Satan himself is trying desperately to wrest the rural kids of America away from salvation.
Sales tip: if you’re selling invisible shields, it helps to have an invisible goat-demon looming over the buyer. And it doesn’t get much more invisible or goat-demonic than Lucifer himself. The Devil’s primary job, apparently, is to trick unsuspecting youthful rubes into accidentally un-saving themselves at the most inopportune times.
And boy, he’s got a lot of ways to get ‘em.
Idle Hands, And Everything Else, Are The Devil’s Playthings
He’s sneaking into their earholes through subliminal messages in rock and roll songs. Everyone knows Satan speaks English, just backwards. And your 12-year-old brain is bound to translate it on a subconscious level while it’s buried twenty-three tracks deep on that Pour Some Sugar On Me single.
That is, of course, when he’s not tricking kids into haphazardly summoning demons through role-playing games. Sure, go ahead, pretend you’re a wizard and roll three sixes, but don’t come crying to God when you’re being ripped apart in Hades.
Sometimes Satan dupes the kids into opening the portal to Hell through “occult” practices like reading horoscopes, meditating, or failing to say “IN JESUS’S NAME” at the end of the invocation before the Friday night football game. What, you didn’t want to offend the nonbelievers? You’ll be singing a different tune when you’re answering to God for why you let your friends all go to Hell by not forcing your religion upon them.
You know, you’d think for such a powerful being, Satan could come up with some easier methods for wooing FFA members to his fold.
But there is one lesser-known way for Beelzebub to eat your soul: getting you to watch the wrong movies.
Satan loves making you question things, and movies are his rhetorical tool of choice.
If you were to, let’s say, watch a movie about aliens, doesn’t that open the door to the idea that humans aren’t the only intelligent beings God created?
Superhero movies? What, Jesus isn’t “super” enough for you? He could walk on water and be in multiple places at once. Never saw Batman do that. What’s that? Superman did that, too? Sounds like the Antichrist if you ask me.
Or, help me Lord, a horror flick? Movies about the supernatural, gore, and murder? Are you crazy? Are you just trying to invite the Devil into your soul?
Okay, wait. Those ideas might run counter to by-the-book Christianity, but they don’t sound Satanic, right?
WRONG. The greatest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing people he doesn’t exist. Every time something innocuous makes you think in any way other than the preordained fashion, that’s Satan.
Side note: That’s why higher education is suspect amongst the truly faithful. The more you know, the more likely you are to go straight to Hell. Staying ignorant is a surefire way to stay in God’s grace.
Side note 2: The second greatest trick Satan ever pulled was when he replaced Jesus’s shampoo with creamy Italian dressing, way back when they were roommates. That Satan, what a rascal!
With all that in mind, it’s easy to understand that “going to the movies” wasn’t on the list of youth-group-approved activities. And while my family lightened up a bit on the zealotry over time, once I missed the first-runs of countless films, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
But on a positive note, I didn’t go to Hell.
Simple Country Life, Unplugged
“Couldn’t you just watch them on video, or maybe catch them on cable a few years later?”
That’s where the “quasi-poverty” and “middle of nowhere” parts of my upbringing came into play to quash such possibilities.
We weren’t poor. I never missed a meal, a Christmas present, or a doctor’s visit. We were solidly lower-middle class, though. And we lived seven miles from the nearest town, which at the time had 1,492 residents.
Mom and Dad made enough money to pay an ever-rotating six out of the eight bills any given month. “She’s not here right now, can I take a message?” were my actual first words. And VCRs cost about $400, which might as well have been $4000.
Remember the good old days, growing up watching Nickelodeon, MTV, and Fraggle Rock?
I don’t, namely because “cable” TV used to refer to the fact that it was literally emanating from an actual cable. And that cable didn’t reach us. Not that my parents would have paid for TV when the antenna picks up three perfectly good channels. Heck, it’ll get four if you go out and physically rotate it to aim north!
That is to say, we didn’t have a means of watching movies at home.
Instead, every few weeks my mom would take us to the public library. It was roughly fourteen miles from our house. For perspective, imagine you’re traveling to a library one mile from your house, with nothing but corn and cows between you and your destination. Now multiply that by fourteen.
At this library, in addition to a few books, my mom would check out a VCR. Let me say that again, more slowly: this library loaned actual videocassette recorder machines to anyone with a library card. It was free, which was coincidentally the exact price we could afford.
My sister and I would each pick out one movie from the library. The selection was what you might expect from a place giving out free movies: The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Gnomemobile, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, some westerns, and a couple of how-to videos.
Eventually, a video rental store opened between my house and the far-flung library.
That store thankfully rented VCRs in addition to VHS tapes. Sometimes, we’d stop there and Mom would shell out the $3.99 to rent the machine for the weekend. The movie selection was much greater than the library, but so was the chance for Satan to sneak into our rented VCR and, thusly, into our eyeballs.
I’ve always been a bit of skeptic, but it was around this time I started questioning the basic premise of my inherited religious beliefs.
“You know, we’re pretty broke. Seems Satan could tempt us a lot more effectively with money than these convoluted, vague cameos in shitty ‘80s movies.” Seeing Wishmaster wasn’t likely to sway my white trash soul to the dark side, but a fat stack of cash might have. Just saying.
I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but the price of VCRs fell a bit at the same time my parents found a few extra bucks. At long last, they broke down and bought a VCR! We were thrilled. I think the first movie I picked was Rad, followed by UHF. Satan indeed works in mysterious ways.
It was such a happy two weeks.
Two weeks was the amount of time between the moment we set up the VCR and the day burglars broke in and stole the fucking VCR. Typical Wishmaster move from the Prince of Darkness. We said we wanted a VCR, but we didn’t say how long we wanted to keep it. Such a trickster, that Satan.
Of course, I’m an adult now, allegedly. I have access to probably every movie ever created. All in hi-def, streaming right to my living room. Catching up would be easy, I suppose. The Breakfast Club. The Outsiders. Friday The 13th. Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Just a click away.
The guilt I would have felt in 1989 is long gone; if God’s going to send me to Hell, I’ve given Him plenty of reasons to choose from besides my movie viewing habits.
I’d like to think God has bigger fish to fry, what with famine and war and such. And Satan seems to be occupied with his political fortunes lately, and less interested in the goings-on of dirt farmers’ children. The GOP isn’t going to run itself, after all.
Maybe I find myself subconsciously avoiding filling in my pop culture gaps out of fealty to my roots.
Maybe I’m shying away from sanding down an idiosyncratic anomaly that makes me “me.” I’m awkward and missing a few pieces, but who among us isn’t? Besides, that’s half my charm, according to my therapist and my mother.
Or maybe the Devil is tricking me into missing out on St. Elmo’s Fire so I’ll lose on Jeopardy! someday.
I’ll have no choice but to grit my teeth in a tortured TV smile while my Final Jeopardy question “What is ‘hi Mom, hi Dad, hi Lemmy!’” is revealed, and I embarrassingly lose the game to a stay-at-home mom from Utah.
She didn’t know either, but she wagered $0. Betting is against her religion.
Typical Satan. What a scamp.
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2 thoughts on “Be Kind, Rewind”
I can relate to a lot of this, having grown up quasi-poor in rural Arkansas. We were 10 miles from a town of 6,000. Substitute “fervent Catholicism” for “Evangelical Christian” and the same movies were off-limits. No VCR… and we actually only got NBC and CBS in the days when Fonzie was jumping his motorcycle over garbage cans at Arnold’s on ABC, so I know full well the shame of “haven’t seen it.” Great post!
Thank you! Glad it resonated. It’s odd that on the music front, I quickly recovered and expanded my playlist well beyond the bounds of “acceptable” tunes. Metal, rap, anything at all. Probably because songs are three minutes long instead of two hours…easier to rock out in small doses than to commit to watching verboten films.