Hollywoood needs a dose of wholesome

Mona Charen

September 23, 1992|By Mona Charen

WE DON'T go to the movies much. It's not just that we have a 12-month-old baby -- though that's part of it. And it isn't that we don't love movies. I, for one, can recite almost every line from some of my favorites, like the comedy "Breaking Away" or the tragedy "A Man For All Seasons."

What really keeps us at home is the appalling, disgusting fare that Hollywood serves up. I am more squeamish than my husband, but neither of us considers it worthwhile to get a baby sitter, pay for parking and shell out $6.50 per ticket to see torture, mutilation and the ghastliest forms of cruelty offered as "realistic" portrayals of America.

In a recent column, I mentioned a Reader's Digest article by movie critic Michael Medved. Now, having read his important new book, "Hollywood vs. America," I feel constrained to break my usual rule about putting at least several weeks between references to the same (non-political) individual. Mr. Medved's brilliantly argued polemic makes a persuasive and heartfelt case for a "cultural environmental movement" to turn Hollywood from its current degradation.

Mr. Medved demonstrates that the entertainment industry has badly lost its way. Preoccupied with the dark side of life (particularly with what they fantastically imagine to be the dark side of America), drawn to the disgusting and perverse, and almost implacably hostile to the religious and family values most Americans cherish, Hollywood's moguls have been steadily losing their audience and cannot understand why.

At times, it seems as if the entire cultural community in America has gone mad. Recall, for example, the reception given to the film, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover." As Mr. Medved reveals, the movie begins with a scene in which a pack of stray dogs snarls over bloody chunks of rotten meat. From there, it is downhill. "Attention then focuses on a group of foppishly dressed thugs who tear the clothes off a struggling, terrified victim in order to smear his naked body with excrement. They force filth into his mouth and rub it in his eyes, then pin him to the ground while the leader of the band proceeds to urinate, gleefully, all over him." Later in the movie, "a shrieking 9-year-old boy's navel is hideously carved from his body."

Now anyone who would make such a film is clearly in need of psychiatric help. Yet, as Mr. Medved notes, many of the most important movie critics in America actually praised this grotesque offering. Caryn James of the New York Times called it "something profound and extremely rare: a work so intelligent and powerful that it evokes our best emotions." Time magazine's Richard Corliss hailed the movie as "exemplary, exciting . . . splendid."

The creative community is trapped within its own prejudices -- blind even to its own self-interest. The anti-religious, violent, perverse and sexually explicit films and television Hollywood produces perform poorly at the box office while PG-rated films do better. The three entertainment networks on TV have lost a third of their audience in the past 15 years. Yet the moguls of Hollywood, who Mr. Medved believes make entertainment to please one another rather than the audience, continue to serve up "Cape Fear," "Married With Children" and "The Rapture."

Mr. Medved is aware that in writing this book, he is likely to make himself "the most hated man in Hollywood." But he accepts that risk, not just, as he writes, for his children, but for his country and himself. "No matter how sophisticated we believe we are, or how determined our best efforts to counteract their influence, the poisons of the popular culture seep into our very souls."

Exactly. This issue is far more important than finding something to do on Saturday night. Culture has consequences. The way we amuse ourselves helps to determine who we are. Hollywood needs to rediscover the wholesome, the uplifting -- even the sublime. If the movie-makers won't do it for the nation's spiritual health, they should do it for their own financial health.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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