Representing the movie industry after representing Connecticut (including now-devastated Newtown) in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, Chris Dodd gave a speech in Washington the other day, celebrating his new employer and discouraging censorship of the horrific violence the industry often purveys.
Dodd said it’s enough that movie ratings allow parents to control what their children watch.
Censorship is an evil, but then half the kids in the country hardly have parents anymore, and the theme of Dodd’s speech, “Movies Matter,” is only more apt because of that social disintegration.
“Movies stimulate, provoke, challenge, and educate,” Dodd said, adding, “The best movies elevate and enrich.” He cited current movies like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and old movies like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
But if the best movies elevate and enrich, many movies only titillate, degrade, or terrify, and they are just as capable of shaping the culture and giving people ideas — evil ideas. (Dodd somehow also managed to praise “Django Unchained,” the latest gory and appalling shoot-’em-up by Quentin Tarantino.)
Of course responsibility here is shared by movie producers and audiences. After all, can the former be blamed for making what the latter apparently want to buy? But if it’s just harder to make movies that elevate and enrich and can make money, the industry still can be blamed for not trying harder.
Whether movies are good or bad, Dodd’s greatest achievement in his two years as chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America has been to convey the stupendous impact of the entertainment industry generally — not on the country’s culture but its economy, with as many as two million direct and indirect jobs and $14 billion annually in exports. “No other major American industry,” Dodd said in that Washington speech, “has a balance of trade as positive in every nation in which it does business as the American film industry.”
That is, the United States may be less important now for exporting cars and machinery than for rock music videos featuring half-naked young women, violent video games such as those with which mass murderer Adam Lanza seems to have trained, salacious television shows like “Desperate Housewives,” and, with movies, not just Spielberg’s “Lincoln” but the “Lincoln” movie just before that, “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.”
Indeed, Dodd noted, the movies that people around the world want to see most are American, and American movies increasingly are penetrating China, which has a rapidly growing entertainment market, whose trade with the United States most needs balancing, and whose authoritarian political system most needs subversion.
Maybe that’s the consolation here. If Hollywood manages to wreck American culture, it won’t be long before it wrecks the culture everywhere else too. After all, how will China keep ’em down on the commune after they’ve seen “Les Miserables” and the latest “Die Hard”?
Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has proven that so much important but neglected history can make great and meaningful entertainment leaving viewers appreciative of the struggles of previous generations and eager to learn.
Ken Burns’ documentary series from 1990, “The Civil War,” proved not only this but also that false embellishments like the one that crept into “Lincoln” — the misrepresentation of the Connecticut congressional delegation’s vote on the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery — are really not necessary to a great story.
Especially in the current environment, comedy, satire, and romance need no special justification.
But as violence increases throughout the country, resulting from social disintegration and economic decline, those who turn violence into entertainment deserve rebuke by political and other leaders. Such rebuke would be a bargain price for coarsening the culture.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.