Monday, April 23, 2001

Week of 04/23/2001

The Coming War on Hollywood
- by David Matthews 2

"A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom." - F.A. Hayek

A few years ago there was a movie called "South Park: Bigger, Badder, and Uncensored", based on the late-night cartoon series being seen on Comedy Central. Most parents have probably heard of either the movie or the TV show, and no doubt are sickened by it. It doesn’t exactly show small town life in a positive light. Matter of fact, it’s more like seeing the play "Still Life" with all of the performers on LSD. There is some weird stuff that happens there!

There is a song, however, that best explains the whole theme of the movie called "Blame Canada." In that song, the parents of South Park blame the people of Canada for everything that is wrong in the world. It’s a pretty corny song, but one that managed to get nominated for an Academy Award nonetheless.

Now I’m sure that there are plenty of people who were scratching their heads when they heard the news that South Park would be nominated for ANYTHING noteworthy. People questioned the minds of those in Hollywood, wondering what sort of wacky weed they were ingesting at the time. After all, we’re talking about an award that has celebrated singers and songwriters pouring their hearts out to get. But then someone pointed out the lyrics to the song, and I’ll cut right to the end of it:

"Blame Canada, Blame Canada… before someone else decides to blame us!"

One could easily see the filmmakers, actors, producers, directors, and writers replace the words "Canada" with "Hollywood". They see themselves as being constantly under attack by loud-mouthed, overweight, overbearing, self-righteous parents who would much rather try to constantly save the world than to do their jobs as parents. Their nomination of an otherwise cheesy song for an Academy Award sent a message to all of the parents: Don’t blame Hollywood for your screwed-up kids.. blame yourselves.

Of course, parents, moralists, and politicians never got that part of the message… because they were too busy rallying their armies and preparing their placards.

The entertainment world has always faced some kind of scrutiny from the self-righteous. I’m sure William Shakespeare wasn’t exactly making too many friends in the British monarchy when he wrote plays like "Hamlet" and "Macbeth." After all, those plays portrayed the leaders as petty and corrupt, willing to kill and drive others into insanity to get what they want. For all of his artistic brilliance, Michelangelo constantly butted heads with the Catholic Church over his painting of the Sistine Ceiling. After all, he not only had the audacity to paint GOD, but he painted God NAKED! That just would not do, said the cardinals. After all, what would the people think?

But today’s backlash against the creative minds have become decidedly nastier. Violent words are being used to describe their outrage. They claim that "Hollywood" (the catch-all phrase for the entertainment world) "assaults the minds" of our children, and they call for an "all-out war" on Hollywood.

Now folks, I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan or uber-moralist Joe Lieberman talk about a "cultural war", I have this picture of the rock group AC/DC rolling up to their expensive mansions in M1 tanks, getting out, ringing the doorbell, and as those self-righteous stuffy moralists stick their heads out the door, have those gun barrels lowered right at their heads and have the lead singer say "Hey! You called for a culture war?"

As ugly and unrealistic as that picture is, I happen to believe that a war of sorts is about to be waged against our more creative minds, and it is not one that the entertainment world has ever experienced.

In the past, there has always been some kind of concession made to the moralists. The usual song and dance goes something like this: The moralists complain. The politicians threaten to take action. The entertainment world promises some kind of concession to appease the politicians. The politicians then back off, and the moralists shut up for a while.

But this time, that formula is not working. Concessions have been made, but neither have the moralist shut up, nor have the politicians stop making threats.

Uber-moralist Lieberman, along with his silver-spoon buddy then-Vice-President Al Gore, believed so strongly that his party would win the 2000 presidential election, that the two of them issued an ultimatum to the entertainment world: change your ways to appease US, or, in six months, we will take steps to hurt you. Now, in all fairness, the producers and marketers of movies and television did promise some common-sense concessions. They promised not to show previews for R-rated movies in theatres showing family-rated features, and to stop using kids as focus groups in movies that are clearly designed for adults.

But six months have come and gone, and even though Lieberman is not the Vice-President (even though he pretends to be one "in exile"), and his buddy Gore has retreated to academia, the ultra-conservative from Connecticut still wants to make good on his threat to hurt the entertainment world. He’s meeting with the movers and shakers to let them know that he has not backed down from his threats, and that he does have legislation pending that would regulate how they do business.

Many people are whisking away the whole business as simply empty threats of a scorned politician. After all, who supported Gore and Lieberman the most? Producers, actors and entertainers, that’s who! They figured he would be no different than any other snarling politician on the take, just like it was with Bill Clinton. They said to themselves "Yeah, he’s a prick, but he’s OUR prick!" They figured as long as they backed him, that he’d stay quiet.. unlike the Republicans, for whom they didn’t control, and were in genuine fear of persecution.

Oh how they underestimated Lieberman!

Think for a minute who else is in Congress… conservative politicians who share in Lieberman’s disgust of Hollywood. Democrat or Republican, it really doesn’t matter to the moralists. Moralism knows no party lines. It is a non-partisan form of discrimination. All a moralist cares about is getting power, and then exercising it, and they will cross party lines to do it. Remember the treasonous Communications Decency Act? Guess which party wrote it, lobbied for it, and then signed it into law? If you said the GOP, you’re dead wrong!

Lieberman knows that even if he does not have the White House on his side, he can still rally the votes to make Hollywood suffer. After all, he not only has conservative Republicans who could back him up, but he also has his one-time Republican counterpart - former Senator John Ashcroft - as Attorney General, to serve as the instrument of his vengeance.

Some people also think that people like Lieberman are just blowing steam.. that any efforts they make will be shot down in the courts for violating the First Amendment. Even the Federal Trade Commission, which gave its scathing report about the entertainment world to Congress, warned them that any legislative attempt to fix the perceived problems would be shot down in the courts. These people really need to get their heads out of the sand on this one, because the US Congress doesn’t give one squat about the US Constitution, or its amendments. Many of those elected into office arrogantly believe that the very nature of them being able to pass any law they want to instantly makes that law constitutional. But even if the courts manage to eventually shoot those anti-American laws down - which is a crapshoot thanks to the current members of the Supreme Court - the government can still instigate a lot of damage before some judge slaps them on their wrists for being the bad little monkeys they are.

The really sad part about this is that the whole argument with Hollywood is over the role of raising kids. Moralists are under this twisted, demented, delusion that somehow it is the responsibility of the whole entertainment world to reflect their beliefs.. to serve as the propaganda machine for their values. They expect the television set and the movie theatre and the video game players and the Internet to serve as artificial babysitters. They expect to be able to sit their precious Little Johnny Dimple or Little Suzy Purebred down in front of these things and keep their little minds busy being indoctrinated, while they are off doing other things.

Look, folks, let’s get brutally honest here.. we shouldn’t be looking towards Hollywood to emulate anything, much less our values. It’s a world of fantasy and mystery and egos and a lot of what-ifs.. and, quite frankly, it’s not their job.

In fact, if you could assign a job to the entertainment world.. besides to keep the people amused.. it would be not as the champion of values, but rather as the devil’s advocate. It should question the values and standards that we treasure, not trump them.

Think about some of the big-time box office movies that really made the moralists furious. What was it about those movies that made the moralists so angry? Simple.. they dared to question the "established" standards. Never mind that at the end of the story, many of those "priceless" values are reaffirmed. They believed that those values should never be questioned in the first place! Or, if those values are questioned, they expect there to be a huge disclaimer saying "We do not advocate you do the things we show." Hey folks, the adults should be mature and knowledgeable enough to come to those conclusions on their own, and it’s the role of the parents to make sure their kids come to those conclusions as well.

There is nothing wrong with questioning morals and values. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way we can determine if those values are worth keeping.

By the way, what is so difficult for parents to not be able to understand the different parental ratings and warnings, huh? Do they somehow believe that "PG" has changed over the years from "Parental Guidance suggested" to simply "pretty good stuff"? Have the words "Explicit Lyrics" somehow changed their meaning simply because the album in question has made it to Billboard’s Top Ten list? The warnings are pretty clear for people to understand. They’re not written in some outdated third-world language.

You know, when I was growing up, there used to be a "family hour" as well.. but it wasn’t on the TV set. It was in the dining room.. and it was called "dinner". Having a TV on during dinner was a luxury only if there was nothing else to talk about in that given time… but quite often there was. If people want a so-called "family hour", they can start by having the whole family spend an hour at dinner in quiet conversation. You don’t need a TV set to do that, and you certainly don’t need some network programmer or some stick-up-the-ass moralist to do that for you.

In fact, there’s nothing in this conflict between parents and "Hollywood" that couldn’t be resolved if parents would do their part as parents. Nobody ever said it would be easy being a parent nowadays, but neither the entertainment world, nor the moralists, nor the politicians can do those things for you. They can help provide the tools, and they have.. but if you don’t use them, you have nobody to blame but yourselves.

It should be pretty clear that the only people who want a "war" against the entertainment world are the people who crave power. They’re the only ones who would profit from such a conflict, and if they lose, they risk absolutely nothing in the attempt. The price we would pay for that conflict, however, is pretty steep. The price would be the freedoms that we have taken for granted, and that our children would probably never be able to enjoy because of our self-centeredness.

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