Last summer, the Federal Communications Commission released a report that was critical of the marketing practices of the entertainment industry, accusing it of, among other things, directly targeting younger children with violent TV shows, CD’s, and movies. This report sparked a flurry of activity among policy makers, including hearings conducted by the U.S. Senate and chaired by Sen. John McCain. Some of the testimony was enlightening, none more so than from the industry representatives, who universally challenged any attempt to curtail or suppress media content as censorship. Another aspect of the dialogue that struck me was the fact that it focused almost entirely on the incidence of the portrayal of various forms of violence in the popular media, when the real problem with the products of Hollywood, in my view, is the consistent message of moral relativism. What is important about the portrayal of human foibles and the human experience is the moral context within which they are presented. The presentation of violence and sex per se is not necessarily corrupting; portrayal of these phenomena gratuitously or in a morally relative manner can be. And it is this relativism that permeates the popular culture, most of which accepts the worldview that any external moral authority is illegitimate and any interference with the individual’s self-gratification is reactionary.
So the problem is much broader and deeper, and the issue of content must be addressed. Am I suggesting the “C” word? Possibly, at least for the most explicit and gratuitous forms of violence and sex now being offered in the mainstream. After all, we had censorship in this country for most of our existence as a nation, some of it formal, some informal (remember the Hayes Office?). Actually, I prefer Lynne Cheney’s approach. The focus should be on product content, not just marketing strategy, and we should exercise moral authority and leadership from our highest elected offices in lieu of regulation. Edmund Burke made a relevant point over 200 years ago: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without.”