MennoNerds Vlog: Movies and TV

Civil War shows several of the Avengers characters, divided by sidesOver on the MennoNerds vlog, I introduced a new topic about movies and TV. My script is below, or go and watch it on YouTube:


Hi MennoNerds vloggers,

Way back when we started this vlog, we talked about the value of stories, as well as more specifically about books. Stating propositions is rarely as effective as helping people relate through stories. The Bible is a great example of this. That doesn’t mean there aren’t facts involved in the Bible, but it isn’t a systematic theology textbook. It’s a story of God and God’s people told by particular authors, in particular locations and particular times, dealing with particular social issues, with particular theologies, and so on.

When the Bible was written, stories were most commonly spoken, not written down. Now again in more recent history, books are not the most common way we tell stories in our culture anymore. Whether that shift is good, bad, or neutral, that role of shared cultural stories now most often comes through the medium of video with movies and TV.

So my next question for the vloggers: what are your favourite movies or TV shows, and why? I invite the vloggers to go deeper if they’d like, but I’ll run through a few of mine quickly.

Jane the Virgin: I just started watching this after it came to Netflix Canada recently. It is very well written and well acted, both funny and dramatic. There’s a pretty realistic portrayal of the role of religion for the average American family, too. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is bad.

That’s like the whole show, really, which can probably best be described as messy humanity. They’re all fundamentally human; they all make mistakes and hurt each other sometimes. It’s over the top and unrealistic, of course, like any good TV, but somehow all the characters remain relatable through it all.

Game of Thrones: This might seem like a weird one for a pacifist to name, but one of the things I like about it is that the excessive violence very rarely works out well for anybody. A lot of people have died on that show, and a lot of them probably didn’t have to. But usually the characters who are excessively violent end up with the consequences of those actions coming back to harm them later. It’s a perfect example of how “an eye for an eye” does not work.

There’s lots more in there, too. Season 5 had a couple of great story arcs illustrating the problems of state religion working too closely together, which again, usually doesn’t turn out well for anybody. Season 6 really ramped up the deep female characters, which is rare in a lot of TV but especially in fantasy. It’s very politically complicated and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, which makes it a really good thing to become really invested in.

Superhero stories: I’ll watch pretty much anything involving superheroes. In the last year, we went to theatres to see Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad from the DC Universe, and X-Men Apocalypse and Deadpool from the Fox universe. Plus on the TV side, I’ve watched Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. It’s kind of the jackpot right now for superhero content.

But what is it that I like about them? There’s the classic good vs evil, although in modern superhero stories they often do a better job of conveying the grey areas that exist in real human life. There’s usually some good political themes loosely behind them as well. Captain America Civil War captures this well. The real villain is paper thin, but you get where both positions within the Avengers are coming from. Team Iron Man wants more control over people with superpowers. This could be seen like those calling for more accountability on police who are typically trying to do good but often end up harming the most vulnerable instead. Team Captain America doesn’t want to register with potentially-corrupt governments, which doesn’t sound too far off of some other real life examples like Nazi Germany registering Jews or Donald Trump’s desire to register Muslims. When those kind of realistic issues are presented in such an unrealistic way, it makes it a lot easier to understand where the other is coming from.

Some other quick ones: Black Mirror does a great job looking at ways in which technology is changing culture and how that could do a lot of harm. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is hilarious and captures trying to reclaim hope and joy after traumatic experiences. Sense8 is a very high production quality sci fi that has a great message of being intricately connected with others all over the world, with some of the best diversity in characters available in a TV show. And 3% is a Brazilian dystopia that is a bit different than a lot of dystopias as it also unpacks the idea of a meritocracy.

That’s a lot and this is longer than my usual intro vlog video, but now it’s your turn, vloggers: what are some of your favourites and why?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.