March 29, 2005


Political storm cloud hangs over Hollywood
: Since the reelection of George W. Bush last fall, cultural conservatives have been flexing their muscles on the entertainment front. (Patrick Goldstein, March 29, 2005, LA Times)

Last week the lunch chatter in Hollywood was all about William Morris chief David Wirtschafter's ill-fated New Yorker interview and Pat O'Brien's lascivious answering machine messages. As usual, Hollywood is worried about the important things in life.

What they're not paying attention to is the fact that since the reelection of George W. Bush last fall, cultural conservatives have been flexing their muscles not only in the political arena but also on the entertainment front. Earlier this month, the chairmen of the Senate and House committees overseeing the broadcast industry said they were considering action that would make cable TV outlets such as HBO or MTV subject to the same indecency rules as network broadcasters, which, if nothing else, would cut most "Deadwood" episodes to the length of a cartoon short.

More recently, the New York Times reported that a number of Imax theaters, including some in science museums, have refused to exhibit movies that mention evolution or the big-bang theory, fearing protests from religious groups who object to films that don't support biblical descriptions of the origins of Earth. One would hope that won't apply to "King Kong" when it reaches theaters later this year. An official at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History said the museum had decided against showing a science film called "Volcanoes" because members of a test audience had viewed it as "blasphemous." And, of course, all this comes in the wake of Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning "Million Dollar Baby," which was attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others as "a million-dollar euthanasia movie."

The industry response has been muted, to say the least. In Hollywood, when it's not an election year, few people worry about political storm clouds until the lightning hits their roof. But in an era in which Congress is willing to inject itself into baseball's steroid scandal or family decisions, as in the Terri Schiavo case, it would hardly be a stretch to imagine a few stray sparks setting off a political crusade against raunch and violence in Hollywood. If James Dobson can accuse SpongeBob SquarePants of being part of a pro-gay agenda, can charges of devil worship in "Bewitched" be far behind?

We'll accept any reason to get rid of drivel like Bewitched.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 29, 2005 7:47 AM

Let the marketplace decide, not congress. We still have the privelege of using the TV remote to change the channel or better still turn off the TV and we can choose the movies we want to see.

So-called family films make money and movie makers who are interested in profits know that.

No censureship please.

Theaters who do focus grouping on films about science are very foolish. I don't want congress or church groups deciding what I can see. I can do that for myself.

Posted by: erp at March 29, 2005 8:26 AM

Except that it's our culture they're degrading.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 8:34 AM

I loved Bewitched. Elizabeth Montgomery was so cute.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 29, 2005 9:15 AM

The two black and white seasons of Bewtiched were actually quite good, especially the episodes produced by Danny Arnold, who later went on to create "Barney Miller". The death of the original Gladys Kravitz, Alice Pearce, near the end of Season 2 of the show was the beginning of the shark jump.

(Though having seen a synopsis of the movie version of the show -- directed by bright light of the New York litterary pop culture mafia and embittered Carl Bernstein ex Nora Ephron -- I have to admit it sounds like two hours of pretentious dreck.)

Posted by: John at March 29, 2005 9:44 AM

Doesn't what we watch and do by definition define our culture?

Posted by: Joe at March 29, 2005 10:20 AM

erp: Why should we be at the mercy of lowest common denominator parenting?

Posted by: David Cohen at March 29, 2005 10:39 AM


States and localities had a say not too long ago. Now, it's a federal concern and the lowest common denominator has become the cultural standard.

You're all for national standards, right?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at March 29, 2005 11:22 AM

What's the phrase? "Learned victimhood?" Something like that? You're not at the mercy of the "lowest common denominator" unless you choose to be. Learn to use your TV's V-chip; that's what it's there for. Strictly limit TV hours a week. No unsupervised TV watching. And of course, recognize that you can't control every minute of every day of your child. You're going to have to let go sometime. Sooner or later, he's going to be exposed to something you don't like. Gonna pass a law against it?

Posted by: Governor Breck at March 29, 2005 11:27 AM

Decent societies needn't leave instruments of victimization in place. We close down whorehouses and shooting galleries too.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 11:33 AM


Yes. It's a simple matter of the commerce clause.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 11:34 AM

James Lileks has an excellent take on this.

I feel sorry for the poor fools who think they need help from the government in learning how to use that "Off" switch.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 29, 2005 11:34 AM

Really? I feel sorry for folks who think this garbage should be on.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 11:37 AM

You know, to use an old phrase, I'm free, white and 21 and I've never seen a single episode of Deadwood. Why? Because I don't pay for HBO! Thus, I do not receive HBO on my talking picture box. Easy-peasy-Japanesy!
Orrin, you keep saying, "Oh, what they're doing to OUR precious culture!" But you don't seem to realize that it's THEIR culture too! And how can you say that Deadwood or King Kong or Bewitched (or whatever mass media hobby horse you're currently humping) is evil when you resoundingly recommend shows like Wired? Both Deadwood and Wired are on HBO, both have cussing and nudity and other eeevil things. Bushwa!
AND another thing! Why is it that the very same Conservative parents who decry Liberal parents for overemphasizing safety and thus taking the fun out of childhood are trying to do precisely the same thing! Feh to you, sir and feh again!

Posted by: Governor Breck at March 29, 2005 11:57 AM

Gov & Jeff: It's not my kids I'm worried about.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 29, 2005 11:59 AM

Even NYTimes movie reviewers are begining to suspect that something is wrong with Hollywood

"Oldboy" is a good if trivial genre movie, no more, no less. There's no denying that Mr. Park is some kind of virtuoso, but so what? So was the last guy who directed a Gap commercial. Cinematic virtuosity for its own sake, particularly as expressed through cinematography - in loop-the-loop camera work and, increasingly, in computer-assisted ornamentation - is a modern plague that threatens to bury us in shiny, meaningless movies. Historically speaking, the most interesting thing about "Oldboy" is that like so much "product" now coming out of Hollywood, it is a B movie tricked out as an A movie. Once, a film like this, predicated on extreme violence and staying within the prison house of genre rather than transcending it, would have been shot on cardboard sets with two-bit talent. It would have had its premiere in Times Square.
The fact that "Oldboy" is embraced by some cinephiles is symptomatic of a bankrupt, reductive postmodernism: one that promotes a spurious aesthetic relativism (it's all good) and finds its crudest expression in the hermetically sealed world of fan boys. (At this point, it's perhaps worth pointing out that the head of the jury at Cannes last year was none other than Quentin Tarantino.) In this world, aesthetic and moral judgments - much less philosophical and political inquiries - are rejected in favor of a vague taxonomy of cool that principally involves ever more florid spectacles of violence. As in, "Wow, he's hammering those dudes with a knife stuck in his back - cool!" Or, "He's about to drop that guy and his dog from the roof - way cool!" Kiss-kiss, bang-bang, yawn-yawn. We are a long way from Pasolini and Peckinpah.

I know it is not moral reawaekening, but give him credit, it is a realization that something is very wrong.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 29, 2005 12:25 PM


That's the question, isn't it? Whose culture is it? I'd put money on the censorious.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 12:45 PM


No. It's a simple matter of who interprets the commerce clause. The court is a political body, our only unelected political body. Subjective opinion determines the degree of whimsy allowed our governers.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at March 29, 2005 12:56 PM


But you aren't denying there is a commerce clause, are you? So Congress does get to regulate interstate commerce, no?

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 1:02 PM

Mr. Judd;

You wrote

Really? I feel sorry for folks who think this garbage should be on.
Based on this and other similar comments, it seems that you envision only two possible attitudes concerning some activity A:

  • A is bad, the government should prohibit it
  • A is good, people should be encouraged to do A.

Is this an accurate assessment of your worldview?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 29, 2005 1:33 PM

No. Much is neither and it matters little what people do with it. That which is bad should be discouraged, that which is good encouraged. The rest doesn't matter. Almost all tv is crap, but rather little is actually harmful.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 1:38 PM

Somewhat off-topic, but it's been my contention for the past, oh, 12 years that the shows 'we' grew up with were mostly crap. 'We' being defined as the tail-end of the baby-boom generation. Ever try watching an episode of My Three Sons or The Green Hornet somewhere in syndication? They're awful.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at March 29, 2005 1:55 PM

Not to mention everything Norman Lear did. Interesting that the shows that hold up best are the American archetypes--Westerns and Private Eyes.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 2:02 PM

"Cinematic virtuosity for its own sake, particularly as expressed through cinematography - in loop-the-loop camera work and, increasingly, in computer-assisted ornamentation - is a modern plague that threatens to bury us in shiny, meaningless movies."

Threatens? Hasn't it done so already?

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at March 29, 2005 2:31 PM

erp: Why should we be at the mercy of lowest common denominator parenting?

David, we're not at anyone's mercy yet, but this kind of talk could make it so as soon as the next election. We can't go down that slippery slope of legislating morality so beloved of the left. You really don't want censorship because while we might agree completely on what should be banned, what about the next guy? He might want to ban something we really like.

That's why I say the marketplace will do the deed. If we all buy tickets for films that aren't gory and filled with expletives, more of those kind of films will be made. Same with television programming.

If you're a father, you know that you're in charge of what the kids see. It's funny my kids, now all parents of adolescents, are exercising the same controls they bitterly fought against when they were kids. It's just wonderful.

I was going to direct to that Lileks Bleat, but somebody beat me to it. If you're not a regular Lileks reader, you're in for a real treat.

Posted by: erp at March 29, 2005 6:07 PM

erp: As I said above, it is not my children that I'm worried about, it's your children -- and all the other children out there who will, in a few years, join and shape our common culture. As we've said before, there isn't much more to the US than a common culture and, as culture and virtue are not innate, they must be inculcated in the young. If we don't work to form a common culture, then all we're going to have in common is the law and government. That would be disastrous. To put it differently, there's going to be a common culture whether we choose to shape it our not, so how can we possibly justify leaving it to chance.

Now, am I sometimes going to by on the losing side of designing the common culture. Sure. But I'm not overly worried about that because (a) I'll still be able to teach my kids what I want them to know and (b) because in many ways a common culture is its own reward within a wide range of possible values. Not only should we defer to the values of the majority because they are the majority, but obviously it is easier to promote a common culture if we start with values that are important to the majority of our fellow citizens.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 29, 2005 6:59 PM

Anybody remember the Far Side cartoon about the Bewitched brainstorming session?

Writer #1: I know! We'll have Endora put some kind of crazy curse on Darrin, and nobody can figure out what's up until Samantha catches on!

Writer #2: I like it.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at March 29, 2005 10:08 PM

David -

Excellent response, and my take exactly, especially on the point that we'll end up with a common culture of some kind, so we should take an active role in choosing it.

The culture didn't used to fight parents tooth and nail, as it does today. Do we really need teen shows like "The O.C." that promote sex among kids still in high school?

TV shows, commercials, and movies used to be marketed at adults, but over the last 20-25 years teens were added to the mix, and presto, now we have all the power of Madison Ave. directed at our kids before they are adult enough to fight it off. And it simply is not possible for parents to control every aspect of a teen's life, without locking them in the house. This is how relying on the market to decide everything doesn't work: the market was never meant to include people under 18, or 21, or whatever age you want to pick.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at March 30, 2005 7:27 AM