By: Shane James O’Neill
In talking about the way our culture lives, Joseph Gordon-Levitt remarks that we’re actually objectifying ourselves. This strikes me as insightful, because I’m so often told that pornography objectifies other people. I don’t often consider that treating other people as objects, means I’m treating myself as an object, as well.
But what does objectify even mean? Great question! (I use it quite often and still had to look it up.) To objectify is to live life on the surface, to value what feels good over everything else, to live for pleasure, and to judge the things around us by their appearance. In short, to objectify is to treat someone as an object — with porn, that means an object of pleasure.
Many would argue, that to objectify people is to de-humanize them — by treating them as less than human we’re treating them as something other than human.
Heavy, yea? I think that’s what has me so interested in Levitt talking about it. And he has quite a lot to say!
Porn and Objectification
Levitt sees objectification as broader than just porn.
He would say we live lives of objectification — whether it’s the significance we place on nice and new things (cars, watches, phones, houses, etc.), the cultural importance we place on money, the way we evaluate women and men that we meet, even our own families when we say we have a relationship with them but don’t let them into our lives. Basically, anytime we stay on the surface, anytime we deny our souls, we’re merely living an objectified life, and we aren’t just objectifying others, we’re objectifying ourselves.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has spoken out against this kind of world-view. A worldview of materialism, of objectification. A house is more than a place to hold our stuff, it can be a home, a haven; a family isn’t just made up of people you have to see, but people who will never leave you; acquaintances can be more than people you hang out with when you’re bored, they can be friends — people your explore life with.
There’s always the surface, but then there’s more.
These are Levitt’s points, mind you. And here’s how he narrow’s it down to porn.
Levitt About Porn
Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a movie (wrote, directed, and starred in) about objectification: “I wanted to tell a story about how people objectify each other and how media often contributes to that, especially when it comes to love and sex.” He goes on to say: “We learn a lot of expectations from movies, or TV shows, or commercials, or magazines, or pornography, and those expectations are unrealistic and maybe not so healthy. And if we’re busy comparing our own lives and our partners to those expectations, we’re doomed.”
Strong words from one of Hollywood’s heart-throbs. And maybe the words all the more valuable because of it. This isn’t a natural view for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s had to fight to see people, to care about women who don’t look like super models, to be kind because everyone has value, regardless of appearance. And that’s how he fights to see his own value.
Because of his status, Levitt doesn’t only have to fight to see the value of other people, beyond appearance, he has to fight to see his own value.
Levitt and Jesus
I love what Joseph Gordon-Levitt is saying for so many reasons. I love it because it’s real, because it requires integrity to treat people with dignity, especially when it’s the kind of work to not merely dignify people in person, but also in our imagination. I can treat people kindly in person all day long, especially someone I find attractive. But to honor them in my mind, in private, alone, that’s a whole different level of integrity.
I also love what Levitt is saying and fighting for because of how very Christian it is. Our King tells us we can’t give what we do not have. If we’re objectifying ourselves, then we’re objectify others. If we only follow our passions, giving ourselves to what we want, then we’re treating ourselves quite poorly. Not to mention the people we’re using for that pleasure. The very Fruits of the Spirit, if practiced, compel us to treat people better than they appear. To treat them with a love and honor that they haven’t earned.
Lastly, I love this because I can’t help but marvel when I see Jesus reflected back to me in culture.
Jesus in Culture
One of my favorite things when I watch movie or read a book is to ask myself what moved me. What made me angry? What made me feel confusion, or compassion, or hope? When I ask myself those questions, I find that Jesus is always right underneath the answer. I love sacrifice, I love humility, and mystery. I love when someone is treated with more value than they deserve, when someone’s value is seen despite their weaknesses and failures. That is to say, I love Jesus’ story. When I engage other stories, all I ever have to do is scratch at it some and all of a sudden, I understand my own fascination and longings for Jesus so much better.
Why did I weep when Samwise Gamgee ran into the water to follow Frodo, even though he couldn’t swim? even if it meant death? Because that’s the kind of loyalty Jesus shows me every day. He makes my burdens His own and risked certain death just so that He could walk my story with me, and give me a better story to live.
That’s what happens to me when I look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s story. I’m not sure if he’d say he’s religious or otherwise. All I know is that he sees the world and people with more nuance and value than any secular worldview has resources to account for. And that’s actually ok, even if he were atheist. That would actually cause us to marvel all the more. Because it helps us to see that the world was made by God, that humans are valuable because they have God’s image upon them, and that all of creation is longing for Jesus — whether we know it or not. All you have to do is scratch as Levitt’s life to see that what stirs you is Jesus underneath.
With all my heart, I hope Joseph Gordon-Levitt knows Jesus. That would be rad beyond words. Yet, at the very least, we can look at Levitt and see a value system, an ethic of dignity, that is true and real and beautiful. It’s an ethic that dignifies people, even in private. It’s a way of living that values people from the inside-out, instead of judging people from the outside-in. And it’s the value system God made the cosmos with, and it’s the value system that Levitt is testifying to, even if he doesn’t know its origin. And that’s the kind stuff that should cause Christians to marvel and worship, just as it should humble us to see those who don’t follow Jesus live with greater Godlike integrity than we might.
Looking and following
Levitt’s actions testify to the one true God, even if some of his other actions might not. But then I suppose that’s similar to how Christians testify to God, even when our actions don’t. I’m first in that line. It’s quite possible that Levitt lives with more integrity than I do.
So, here’s the challenge, let’s look for Jesus in beautiful things and then let Him use those beautiful things to disciple us and humble us. Allow Him to disciple us by helping us to know his Way better, and humble us by being honest enough to see that there are those who don’t follow Him who live with greater integrity than we who do follow Him. A disciple observes their Master and follows His ways.
… I suppose that’s two challenges (looking, then following), but it from a single thing (Levitt’s story). Does that count? Arguably, it’s all discipleship at the end of the day. Look for Jesus around you and follow where He goes.
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Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.