One Critic's War Michael Medved attacks Hollywood's 'assault' on traditional values

December 06, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

For Michael Medved, the film that broke the critic's back was "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," a Peter Greenaway movie he screened in the spring of 1990.

It wasn't just the variety of disgusting actions that appear in the film -- all cataloged in Mr. Medved's book "Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values" (HarperCollins, 1992) -- it was that his fellow critics lauded it with words like "splendid" and "profound."

Mr. Medved, who gives his critiques on PBS' "Sneak Previews," thought it was time to say that the emperor had no clothes. In his view, his fellow critics were rallying around "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" because it had been threatened with an X-rating and the de facto censorship that brings.

What they missed, or at least were afraid to admit seeing, was a revolting assault on the senses. Indeed, Mr. Medved contends that critics and Hollywood continue to miss the entertainment industry's assault on religion, family, morality, fatherhood, parenthood, good language, America, and, indeed, beauty itself.

That's the position he takes in "Hollywood vs. America," and he's not at all surprised at the controversy it has caused.

"It's a polemic, not a carefully phrased argument" he said during a Washington stop on his book tour. "It was meant to hit Hollywood in the face with a two-by-four."

To make his case, in his book Mr. Medved welcomes as bedfellows everyone from fundamentalist Christian the Rev. Donald Wildmon, famed for his attacks on the TV networks, to rogue intellectual Allan Bloom, whose book "The Closing of the American Mind" argues for a strict hierarchy of culture, putting such popular genres as rock music down at the bottom.

As such, many in the entertainment world have dismissed Mr. Medved as just another one of "them," the would-be censors who seek to impose their narrow-minded views of correctness on the public.

No conspiracy theory

"A lot of what I said has been misinterpreted," Mr. Medved says. "Politically, I consider myself a liberal Democrat. I go to great lengths in the book to distance myself from those who say a homosexual or Jewish conspiracy is responsible for these films. And, I'm not saying no R-rated films should be made, I'm just saying that they shouldn't dominate all releases the way they do now."

He claims, for instance, that the first paragraph of his book has been misquoted in reviews. "What I've read is that I say that the entertainment industry is 'an all-powerful industry, an alien force that assaults our most cherished values and corrupts our children.' But if you read the paragraph, what it actually says is that 'Tens of millions of Americans now see the entertainment industry' as that. And I don't think anyone can argue with that."

In the book's chapters on Hollywood's assault on religion, when Mr. Medved takes on Martin Scorcese's controversial 1988 movie of Nikos Kazantzakis' book "The Last Temptation of Christ" -- which Mr. Medved says he has read and admires -- he says it is not the movie he is attacking, but the response of the entertainment community to criticism of the film, its failure to take seriously the objections of religious groups, to give the millions that they represent the same credence it would give to dozens of others who protest movie contents though their constituencies are much smaller.

Mr. Medved does, however, give his fellow critics a shot for their good reviews of the movie which, he claims, many found boring and silly but praised lest they be lumped with those who demonstrated against the film.

Such circling-of-the-wagons mentality is what Mr. Medved says constantly goes on in Hollywood, ironically -- and stupidly, he argues -- to the industry's detriment. In the book's most persuasive sections, he demonstrates that box office receipts have plummeted since the late '60s as the films have gotten more violent, more profane, sexier and, as the euphemism goes, more adult-oriented, as the Oscars started honoring "Midnight Cowboy" instead of "The Sound of Music."

"I used to think that money was the only thing that counted in the entertainment industry until I researched this book," Mr. Medved says. "I think the real problem is that Hollywood is just cut off

from most of society.

"For example, I conducted my own experiment, back when I used to get invited to Hollywood parties. I would ask people in the industry what percentage of people in the country attended church or synagogue regularly.

"Invariably -- and I did this about a dozen times -- I would get an answer of about 5, or at most, 10 percent. When I told them that polls showed that 45 to 50 percent of people said that they attended regularly, the reaction was always that those polls must be wrong, there was no way that could be true.

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