Jesus as Product Placement

Posted: June 17, 2013 by Todd in Culture, Theology
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Man Of Steel movie on June 15Last Friday, I took our youth to see the new Man of Steel movie as part of our Lockout.  Some of our chaperones noted after the movie, as did I, that there were some rather overt Christian snapshot scenes in the movie.  Most notably, one where Clark has a brief conversation with a priest in a small church and the camera angle features a stained glass Jesus in the background.  Another was Superman falling out of a Krypton based space ship in a self-sacrificial act to save the world as his body takes the form of the cross.

I have no special insight as to the rationale for including these scenes in the movie and indeed, they could be helpful clips in talking about both the similarities and differences between Jesus and Superman and the functions they play in both the movie and gospel narratives.  But I think it is also important to be aware that this might very well be an emerging form of product placement.  My speculation is that it works a bit differently than the traditional company who pays a movie company a certain amount to insert their widget into a scene. Movie makers rely on revenue from all sorts of ancillary rights and licensing deals for a portion of their revenue.  I wonder if a growing stream of this is in the licensing of video clips to places like WingClips, word-of-mouth appeals to youth pastors, or rights for Bible studies, sermon series, etc.  It seems that the makers are taking a “leap of faith” in placing the product (Jesus Christ) in hopes that the market will respond.  They don’t get the money up front.  But I bet they are hoping it will roll in for a while.  It might have slipped my radar if their hadn’t been overt product placements for Sears and other products.  The movie has apparently already made $170 million in product placement revenue.

I certainly have made use of many of video clips and have paid to use them in bible studies.  If, however, there is a conscious effort on the part of the makers of movies to intentionally place Jesus or faith or whatever into the movie for the purpose of generating an additional revenue stream from Christians, I think it is important for us to be aware of that fact.

Here’s why.  Much of the modern church is beginning to wake up to the effectiveness of starting with “where people are” and bring them from that place to some Christian truth, even as different Christians see that truth very differently.  A generation ago, this was a less common starting point for the church.  The church starts with doctrine, the Bible, theology (rather than a movie clip) and then somehow reaches out to “where people are.”  I think there can be merit in either approach.  But a new thing may be happening in that movie makers are increasingly cognizant of the fact that a huge market segment is seeking to find meaning for their own purposes in their movies.  And so they are serving it up.  These product placements might be really thoughtful and useful.  They might play to a watered-down, simplistic understanding of the Christian faith (e.g., Jesus = Superman; not to say Man of Steel was making that equation necessarily).  It might be somewhere between.  Yet, ultimately, a product placement is about making money, not about spiritual transformation.

I think it is simply a sign of the times – movie makers seem to be proactively placing Christian images into movies to enhance their profit.  In my estimation, highlighting the existence of the product placed Jesus may have more spiritual value than a derivative lesson is likely to have.  What do you think?


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