Recently, I watched a few episodes of Yellowstone, the hit television show starring Kevin Costner, Luke Grimes, Kelly Reilly, and Cole Hauser. This award-winning, modern-Western drama is set amongst the stunning mountain vistas of Montana.
The first thing I noticed — If I had a nickel for every f-word uttered, I could buy a ranch in Montana. I would not recommend Yellowstone as a primer for the English language.
It’s not a morality play, either. The show revolves around the fictional Dutton family, owners of an 800,000-acre Montana ranch, and their constant battle to protect it — by any means necessary. Revenge, unforgiveness, and bitter sibling rivalries are the show’s hallmark themes, viewed most often through the lens of alcohol abuse, sexual situations, and a host of violent acts.
What is the guiding principle of the Dutton family? They subscribe to the existential philosophy of Nietzsche — there’s no such thing as right or wrong, good or evil, only “in destroying anything that wants to kill what you love.” And they do that very effectively. In their own way, they are following their hearts, a generational commitment to protect the land — and keep it in the Dutton family forever.
It reminded me of a western version of The Godfather.
But what has Yellowstone got to do with Hallmark movies? Surprisingly, more than you think.
Years ago, I confess to finding a quiet refuge watching a Hallmark channel movie. Rejecting the violence and sexualized cinema productions that had become all too common, I found solace in seemingly innocent Hallmark movies. These sweet romantic comedies relied on predictable, formulaic love stories emphasizing small-town values, successful women, and finding your soul mate in under two weeks. All you had to do was “follow your heart.” And every movie always ended with a kiss.
Follow your heart. Has an appealing ring to it, doesn’t it? Other modern-day ideologies such as “You do you,” “Your heart will tell you what to do,” or “If it feels good, do it” carry a similar allure. But following one’s heart puts emotion in the driver’s seat of one’s life choices. This impulsive approach often fails to weigh the consequences of decisions and tends to focus on immediate gratification. Besides, emotions can change. And then what?”
The modern-day philosopher/filmmaker Woody Allen once said, “The heart wants what it wants.” Sounds like another version of the Follow-Your-Heart creed. You may not remember that Woody said those words to defend his sexual relationship with his 35-years-younger stepdaughter.
Such a declaration by Allen should give us pause in adopting a follow-your-heart philosophy that focuses more on what we want instead of what is true, worthy, or right.
The Gospel of Yellowstone preaches a follow-your-heart mantra as well.
In Hallmark movies, you are pulling for the girl to follow her heart and fall in love with the right guy. In Yellowstone, one moment, you love the characters, but then, one scene later, you despise them for their cruel actions. Beth Dutton, played so well by Kelly Reilly, is one evil character. Her love story with Rip Wheeler could be a Hallmark classic, except that the sole purpose of her life is to destroy anyone who is a threat to her family’s ranch. Let’s just say that if you encounter a woman wearing a hat that says, “Beth Dutton State of Mind,” you better run. And if she has a boyfriend named Rip, be sure your Last Will and Testament is up to date.
The real question is, if you follow your heart, who owns it? If your heart is only focused on what you want, Self sits on your heart’s throne. And Self is a selfish ruler. It wants what it wants.
If not Self, who should sit on the throne of our heart? If I don’t follow my heart, who or what should I follow?
God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah (Chapter 24, verse 7), “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Jeremiah also reminds us (Chapter 17, verse 9) “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” In Matthew 15:19, Jesus lists the fruit of a diseased heart: “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
The heart is not a moral compass always pointing to true north. An unredeemed heart tells us what we want, not what we need. Its focus is on fulfilling one’s own self-interests. Life becomes pragmatic, and morals are not absolute.
John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center, put it this way, “Rather than looking outward from ourselves and upward to the Source of truth, identity, and purpose, the modern world is trapped looking inward to self and downward to stuff, as if the God-shaped hole in our hearts can be filled by something other than Him. This is what happens in a culture that, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once bluntly stated, has forgotten God.”
St. Augustine had a more succinct observation about the human heart. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Life is a series of choices. The entertainment industry excels at depicting the restlessness of the human heart and its never-ending search to fill it with something — other than God.
And no shows illustrate this better than Hallmark movies and Yellowstone.
Author’s Note: Entertainment today often does more than entertain. Movies and television shows all have a message. Their worldview may be obvious or subtle. The purpose of this post is simply to remind us all, to be mindful of the underlying philosophies and worldviews that saturate our souls via the media.
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