The Great and Powerful Franco

What mark are teen idols like James Franco leaving? Will kids remember him as OZ: The Great and Powerful, or as Saul, one of the pothead leads from the 2008 film Pineapple Express… or maybe as the drug and arms dealer in the new and very R-rated film Spring Breakers, where, among other escapades, he does a threesome with Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson?

Just how great and powerful is the influence of the highly gifted James Franco to young people today?

Millennials might even remember a young James as Daniel in the cult classic TV series, Freaks and Geeks. But most probably first saw him as Peter Parker’s friend Harry in the Spiderman trilogy (Franco is real life friends with Toby McGuire). Franco has played a myriad of roles since then, sawing his own arm off (okay, not really, but the real dude did) in the Oscar nominated 127 Hours, and creating super-intelligent chimps in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, both great films.

But I think I remember him best as a guest on the 2008 MTV Awards with his good buddy Seth Rogan (also of Freaks and Geeks and Pineapple Express fame), in one of the most blatant promotions for marijuana I have ever seen. The two joked about smoking pot and lit up a big fatty joint in front of literally millions of fans.

In Hollywood Franco has the reputation of being brilliant (he has degrees from UCLA, Columbia and NYU), hard working, and charitable (he’s received the spirit of Elysium award for his work with kids with serious medical conditions). Franco’s performance as the great OZ proved not only powerful, but vulnerable and admirable. I think he’s an incredible young actor.

But what are young people really gleaning from this young thespian? I mean… seriously. How much effect does it have on young people today when their heroes joke about weed as if it’s harmless?

I wish young people weren’t getting that message, but the fact is, kids are noticing. Since 2008, 19 percent of high school students grade 9-12 reported past-month usage of marijuana, and by 2011, that number grew to 27 percent. The numbers of students lighting up 20 or more times a month almost doubled as well. Maybe this wouldn’t be so scary if we didn’t see so much research about the consequences of this kind of use of cannabis.

So are role models like Franco to blame?

I think today’s role models should think seriously about what kind of imitatable behavior they are conveying in their roles.

I say “imitateable” behavior simply because, that’s often what happens. A film like Spring Breakers, which might fully intend on unveiling shifting gender roles in the millennial generation, actually misses that target, because the message will go over the heads of the audiences who came out to see the eye candy, as baited so by the marketing campaigns. The question is, how many young people really are soaking in the deeper message vs. “Bikinis! Guns! Money! A Lamborghini! Cool!”

Perhaps the artists behind the film need to think past the intended “artistic” message of the film and consider the messages being absorbed.

Take Vanessa Hudgens, Franco’s costar in the new Spring Breakers. Her fame began with the High School Musical films. She began making strides to shed the mouse ears, as so many of her predecessors have done… and she ended up shedding a lot more than that. MTV describes Spring Breakers as a sex and drug fueled vacation romp. In an interview about the film, Hudgens described her nudity and sex scene as “beautiful and artistic.” These young actresses from the film are being interviewed recurrently since the film’s release two weeks ago. Everyone wants to know their dirty little secrets. Franco and Hudgen’s co-star Selena Gomez told Chelsea Handler, on her late night show, that her dad used to bring her to Hooters as bait for dates. The crowd laughed. All harmless fun… or is it?

Ann Hatheway made similar strides. After Princess Diaries, she began showing up to award shows in see-through dresses, doing sex and nudity scenes… all to show what a serious young actress she was.

And our kids are taking note.

So what are our young people learning from all of this? Are they gleaning the artistic message… or something else. A recent study in The Journal Psychological Science concluded,

“Young teens who viewed movies with sexual content were profoundly influenced by what they watched. They initiated sexual behavior earlier than their peers who had viewed less sexual content, and they tended to imitate the on-screen sexual behaviors they saw — which included casual sex, having multiple partners and high-risk behaviors.”

Or how about the message of choices and their consequences… or lack there of. Like in the end of Spring Breakers, where Hudgens’ character Candy (SPOILER ALERT) steps over the dead body of drug lord Alien (Franco) to take over where he left off, driving off in the sunset in his Lamborghini. What message does that communicate to young people?

I love James Franco’s acting ability. And Anne Hatheway is no joke. Her last two films were amazing. And Hudgens… she’ll always be Vanessa Hudgens. But have they forgotten they are role models?

Have they forgotten their Disney audiences are still watching?

Hmmmm….

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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13 Responses to The Great and Powerful Franco

  1. Sean says:

    Yeah Jon I’m pretty sure James Franco isn’t the reason kids smoke pot. And it seems this article could have been made about any film actor since the time film began, but poor Franco got the target. Shame on you Jon. Reading this makes me almost wish there were no role models. Better yet, maybe actors and actresses should just come out and say they are NOT role models when their career begins so that way they can make the artistic choices they want withoug having Christians breath done their throat. Art is subjective. Nor am I one to think you are knowledgable in what makes flm ART or not. Should Robocop have been family friendly? Would that have gotten the point across of Alex Murphy living in a screwed up city run by violence? You are also targeting a movie MOST KIDS can’t or haven’t seen. Can’t, because it’s RATED R. Hudgens is doing her best to break AWAY from her Disney image. Why? because she is not a profitable actress anymore, and therefore needs to take on edgier roles to get noticed. She is an Actress and a human being. You call her a Role Model, you apply that term to her. If she was to choose roles based off being a role model then what’s the point of being an actress? You won’t be able to do new things, take on darker or edgier roles.Is she supposed to PG movies for the rest of her career? Let me also add that neither James Franco or Hudgens are as popular as you might think. Look at their box office numbers for proof there. OZ made money because of it being a family friendly tale that looked interesting enough to buy. Not because of James Franco being the Wizard. Very few people see movies for actors or actresses anymore. George Clooney hasn’t had a profitable movie since Oceans 11. The review for LINCOLN on this site was praise worthy. Daniel Day Lewis played a kind hearted and loving President in Lincoln. He also played Bill the Butcher and Daniel Plainview. Do an article on him. What about Ryan Gosling. He gave us the love story Notebook and he also gave us DRIVE.

    As for Weed. Don’t knock it till you try it.

    Maybe you should stick to bashing music, you have more of an arguement there. With film…not so much.

    • Sean, thanks once again for your kind remarks. 🙂 (Sean loves to show up and “shame” me in my comments sessions.)

      I’ll give you props for a few things. Music has waaaaaaaaay more effect on kids right now because kids spend about 2 and half hours a day listening to music and less than 30 minutes a day watching movies. But that doesn’t mean movies don’t have influence (note the study mentioned above). Kids still see these R-rated films, especially once they’re out of the theater because their parents have HBO and Cinamax, and the guy at Blockbuster doesn’t really check ID. But you’re right Sean, it’s hard to look at an issue like this with any consistency… it’s messy. Why is Spring Breakers worse than Drive, or Pulp Fiction for that matter. Don’t all of these glorify crime and violence? My attempt in this post was to address one thing: imitatable behavior. I think parents need to regularly engage in conversations with their kids about these issues, because much of entertainment media can be misleading, making evil look good, and choices appear void of consequences. Franco isn’t my scapegoat. Some of these role choices of his are just examples.

      As you can tell from my praise of his ability in the article, I’m not down on Franco. My point was simply this: Actors like Franco, Hatheway and Hudgens need to remember they are a role model, whether they want to be or not. Yes, you’re right, I think many actors and actresses would like to state, “I’m not a role model” at the beginning of their careers. I think it was Bruno Mars who, when interviewed, said, “I’m not a role model, I’m a f**king musician.” I guess that sort of says it all.

  2. Clay says:

    I think the question you lead with is really important: What legacy do these big-name actors want to leave for the next generation? Of course the excuse I always seem to hear as they promote drug and alcohol use, extramarital sex, and foul language is that they are just reflecting what is going on right now in our society. While I know that to a certain degree this is true, and while sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, Hollywood should admit that by showing these destructive behaviors on the big screen that they are in actuality reinforcing and promoting such behaviors. Studies have clearly shown that children are far more likely to practice a behavior they have witnessed, including on TV or in a movie. So Jonathan is justified in terming this “imitatable behavior” (though “imitable” would be better 😉 And I think for the same reason Christian parents and adults should be more concerned and outraged by the pervasive displays of senseless violence on the screen, especially as we so recently remembered our Lord who did not raise the sword but rather chose to suffer as a victim of violence for us.

    Of course we can’t put the increased pot use squarely on the shoulders of Hollywood as more and more states legalize “medical” marijuana in the hopes of bolstering tax revenue. We need to pose these same questions for our elected officials: What are you telling our children about things that can harm them through the laws you are passing? What legacy are you leaving for the next generation?

  3. Sean says:

    Which is my point in that YOU apply the term Role Model. You almost prove that the concept doesn’t even exist, because if I go by your article then nobody is a role model. If I go by your article then every actress needs to make movies that are PG and family friendly that all have Christian themes and don’t show the real world in any way shape or form. Even what makes a good Role Model is subjective.

    You also didn’t bring up the fact that your targeting actors and actresses who aren’t as popular as you think. IF Spring Breakers was a block buster hit, you’ve got something. Unfortunatly it wasn’t. A high Majority of kids will NEVER see it. Franco and Hudgens are just actors. Nothing more. You think they should do movies that everyone can watch. Maybe if the world was the Christian fantasy land you’d have that, but this is the real one. I like this one more because it has a lot more variety. People are just people. You can apply the term role model to them as if they HAVE to be one, but it’s not true.

    The point your trying to make seems to be all over the place,IMO. It’s not realistic.

  4. Sean says:

    “Of course the excuse I always seem to hear as they promote drug and alcohol use, extramarital sex, and foul language is that they are just reflecting what is going on right now in our society. While I know that to a certain degree this is true, and while sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, Hollywood should admit that by showing these destructive behaviors on the big screen that they are in actuality reinforcing and promoting such behaviors”

    WUT? So what are they supposed to do, make up a fantasy land where everything is nice?

    That’s an interesting concept. You have a movie that goes out of it’s way to show a realistic portrayal of something like violence or sex. All the movie is doing is showing a truth. It’s not promoting…Hell with it. Why do I even bother?

    • Clay says:

      “So what are they supposed to do, make up a fantasy land where everything is nice?”

      Well, that’s one of the brilliant things about movies – you can make things happen that can’t possibly happen in real life. People often go to movies to escape and to visit imaginary worlds; it’s the same with reading. I’m not saying it has to be nice – the essential ingredient of any story is conflict. But drugs / sex / profanity are not necessary to produce conflict or a great story.

      “You have a movie that goes out of it’s way to show a realistic portrayal of something like violence or sex.”

      Is that what they are really trying to do in most movies? Surely there are some great films like “Traffic” that try to show the complicated reality of illegal drugs, or “Saving Private Ryan” that goes the extra mile to accurately depict violence and aim to get you to feel real-life terror of war. “Juno” did a great job of illuminating the difficult decisions that face a pregnant teenager. But more often than not, violence and sex are marketing tools, candy that appeals to our primitive desires in order to part us with our money. They are portrayed without real-life consequences. A real-life portrayal of a promiscuous lifestyle would also show contraceptive use, the paranoia of being pregnant, and the doctor visits to check for STDs. They would show the children who get caught in the crossfire of a firefight, the family and friends mourning the loss of every death, and the increased taxes and insurance premiums resulting from property damage. But that would interfere with the storyline, and it’s kind of a downer, so leave it on the cutting room floor.

      “All the movie is doing is showing a truth. It’s not promoting”

      If a movie is really showing truth, sort of like a documentary or a news report, I would agree with you. “Saving Private Ryan” was not promoting war, it was attempting to give future generations a taste of what the WWII generation experienced. But the movies that use sex, drugs, and violence as marketing tools to get you to the theater – and they are the majority of what makes it to mass market theaters – are glorifying irresponsible and destructive behavior, giving them publicity and star-power without depicting the real-life damage to health and relationships that actually accompanies such activity. That’s promotion.

      All that being said, I haven’t seen this particular movie, so I don’t really know to what extent “Spring Breakers” is reflecting real-life. Maybe this particular movie really is doing us a service by “unveiling shifting gender roles in the millennial generation.” But on the surface – the actors they have chosen, the promise of seeing Vanessa Hudgens nude, and the trailer they produced to drum up interest all taken together indicate that the purpose of this movie is really to unveil your money from your wallet.

      • Sean says:

        Okay, but Sex,Drugs, and violence are also apart of life don’t you agree. And if a movie is representing them, then wouldn’t they only be showing a reality. Would you rather them not show drugs and sex and violence and istead replace the Drugs with a magic pixie dust? And you may watch a movie for an escape many other people see movies for different reasons. I shudder at would happen if Christians ran Hollywood.

        Anyway, what would you rather see Hollywood do? Especially with stories that might have Drugs,Sex, and Violence? Stories that are clearly made for Adults with adult issues, that show adult realities. I’d like to know your opinion.

        • Sean says:

          Forgive the bad grammer and what looks missing words. I’m writing frantically and am quite red faced right now.

  5. Micah says:

    Hey Sean,

    I really like that you’re getting involved in the discussion, and I think you bring up some good points.

    Let me throw something out there that may help though:

    Role Model
    noun
    a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/role+model

    The term is inherently neutral, indicating every single person IS a role model, whether they want to be or not, ANYTIME someone looks at them and has to decide “Is that someone I want to be like or not?” (My caps are only for emphasis)

    Everybody makes value judgments/decisions about who they think are good role models and who are bad role models. Or if you want it in real world terms, better or worse role models.

    We live in a world where you can decide to do anything you want, but actions carry consequences (some consequences are automatic, some are according to chance, and some are from other people/social). Jon is merely pointing out one way in which visual media may be irresponsibly visualizing some of those choices while not really showing the consequences. People in general, not to mention youth, usually look for sign posts about what they can and can’t do (not necessarily asking what the should/shouldn’t do). So whenever there’s someone who is brilliant, like James Franco, and he makes light of marijuana and drugs and all kinds of “risky” (at minimum) behaviors, but yet he’s super successful, you can’t tell me people, and youth, don’t look at him and at least wonder, “It didn’t hurt James Franco, maybe I can do that and still be successful?”

    The reality is that for every James Franco you show me who may be considered “successful” how many people end up wasting chunks of their lives (at best) or ruining them because they considered his decisions as a model for their own? Just a thought.

    I’ll come out and say I’m a very sarcastic person, it’s my humor language, so I really do want you to know I sat here and worked hard and intend everything I said as a dialogue and respectfully adding to the thoughts of this discussion and I don’t intend any of it as an attack. I hope I was able to accomplish that goal. Peace 🙂

  6. Sean says:

    I’m not saying kids or ADULTS for that matter aren’t prone to imulate people, good or bad. And yes sometimes the consequences aren’t shown, though sometimes in the real world even the bad men live out their lives without suffering the consequences. Still a movie like SCARFACE which had violence and nudity did show the consequences, and although I have yet to see Spring Breakers(plan to), I’d say Franco’s character suffered consequences as well. And since James is probably a pot smoker, I doubt subscribes to those consequences. There are people on both sides of that debate, and just as with Gay Marriage the arguement isn’t on your side.

    I find attacking media of today to be somewhat hypocritical. It’s like everyone looks to the here and now and forgets the era’s that came before. Let me tell you this, there is no difference from the media of today compared to 100 years ago. Have you have read a Robert E. Howard Conan story. Sex, nudity, violence, all the above, and those stories were written in the 1930’s. No doubt kids would steak copies of Wierd Tales and read them under the covers at night. Jon was a 70’s kid right? Do I really need to pull out the hardcore stuff that came around that time? Look at the Bible with it’s tales of Sex and Violence. The Illiad with it’s of Sex and Violence. It’s the same as today, only difference is there are more ways to tell these stories. Was Howard supposed to be a role model and when he became famous and write PG stories, or Homer. Again not a realistic arguement.

    I came to a realisation sometime ago. The World has never changed. There are just more people in it.

    • Micah says:

      You call this attacking media, but if it were just “attacking” we would be labeling everything media as bad. This is critical thinking and discerning between good and bad, or better and best, or bad and worse.

      Just because media has always been a way to show the “real world” of all the horrible and less horrible things human beings are capable of, doesn’t mean we throw our hands up and say well it’s always been out there and we should just absorb it, or worse, tell our kids it’s ok to do/see/listen to whatever you feel like. You’re right the world hasn’t changed in the fact that media has done this since people learned to draw on cave walls. That doesn’t make it right, or good, or behavior to emulate.

      I do find it interesting you lumped the Bible in with all the other medias, and I get that because it does show a ton of immoral behavior in it. The difference is the Bible shows the consequences of the behaviors/sins. All (exception of Jesus) of the Bible’s heroes are normal (read: imperfect) human beings who sin and the Bible includes their sins and their consequences which is just one of the myriad of reasons I trust it to be telling the truth. It doesn’t sweep the nitty gritty under the rug so to speak. Check it out if you want some time and see how the Bible really shows the consequences of sins. Even such topics many people try to justify, like polygamy, the Bible without fail shows they’re not the ideal God intended for humanity and it always hurts and damages relationships. Just check out the relational turmoil the Bible shows happened to Jacob, David, Solomon, and others because they had “many wives”

      If you want reality, maybe it’s worth a shot to check it out. Peace 🙂

      • Sean says:

        I didn’t say we should just lift our hands an except things as they are. I’m just pointing out how ludicrous it is to target only James Franco and hudgens. If Jonathan wants to write an article about consequences then write one about the film business in general. You can’t go after one actor and not every other one since 1900. Especially two actors who aren’t as popular as one might think in an era where actors no longer have the glamour to sale. And to do a better job at going after role models without understanding some simple truths. Like that James Franco is an actor he does he can do pg and he can do NC17, and he doesn’t have to answer to no one. His choices are his JoB, and his film choices come from an artistic place, atleast mostly I think. Have an issue the do your best to prevent your children from looking at Franco as some one to aspire too. As for the bible. I’ve read quite a bit of it and no very well that it tells stories about people who suffer consequences for their actions. Though I wonder did lot suffer any consequences for almost allowing his daughters to be raped by a mob so his friends wouldn’t like wise get raped? In truth I get more out of the Illiad and Norse myths than the bible. Achilles knew he’d die if he went to war, but chose war anyway and died. Yet he is rememberd forever for his deeds and inspired many heros throughout history. Is he a good or bad role model? Perhaps it depends on who you ask. And I shows how subjective we are in our role models.

  7. Sean says:

    and the arguement that imulating can have good or bad consequences. Okay. That’s been true since the beginning of time. Which was longer than 6000 years.

    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂