For that matter, how could any conservative not be appalled by his analysis of the problem itself? Since when, for example, have the media become “the primary educational force in the country”? In educating the young, the primary force is and always has been the family. That’s almost the primary principle of conservative politics itself.
It’s also the only explanation for the fact that the same “violent” TV shows and movies are seen in America’s inner cities and middle class suburbs. Yet homicide is the number one killer of young males in the first and barely a factor in youth mortality statistics in the other.
Despite the claims of academic pseudoscience, normal individuals are not “desensitized” by fantasy acts of violence and transformed into homicidal maniacs. It is only sociopaths who confuse fantasy violence with reality. Are we now going to define the parameters of American freedom by the standard of the sociopaths among us? Now that is a truly liberal idea.
When all is said and done, the very image of Hollywood that governs the analyses of the would-be censors is itself a fantasy. Here’s Lowenthal:
Is fanning the flames of selfish and irresponsible lust, as obscenity does, not dangerous to our society? How can we expect the sexes to treat each other with decency and respect, the very young to forbear from sexual intercourse, and the family to remain stable in mutual devotion if sex detached from any sense of responsibility and even from love is touted daily in theaters and on television screens?
This is not only a false analysis of what we see and hear in theaters and on our television screens. It is ludicrous. Most prime-time television hours produced by the seven networks are filled with sitcoms, whose invariable themes are celebrations of love, family, friendship, tolerance, loyalty, respect and other timeless conservative virtues. (The PAX and Family networks are even exclusively devoted to family friendly programming.)
Outside the news shows, rare incidents on late-night law-and-order series and the occasional feature film, there is virtually no violence to speak of on network television.
On the other hand, there are more than a dozen cable channels that children could be put in front of all day and all night, every day and every night, and receive a decent, even quality education. As for feature films shown in theaters — do we really need to remind ourselves of this obvious fact? — these are seen only as the result of individual choices. A ticket purchase is required for entry. Do Americans really need censors to tell them what to choose?
Are there any films and shows at all that approximate Lowenthal’s fevered description? Well, I’m sure there are. But do they have the effect that Lowenthal imputes to them? Bill Bennett is the only contributor to the symposium who even bothers to mention anything so concrete as an actual offending artifact. He says that the Motion Picture Association has been criticized for using the threat of NC-17 ratings to censor “Eyes Wide Shut” and “South Park.” He believes that “far more” movies should be so threatened.
I haven’t seen “Eyes Wide Shut,” but I seriously doubt that — censored or uncensored — it would affect my ability to treat the opposite sex decently and with respect.
I have seen “South Park” and I found its anti-censorship message morally refreshing (it is beyond my ken that any conservative could find this film offensive on conservative grounds). What are the implications of Bennett’s argument, except that he considers it worth delivering our right to choose what we can see and know to the tender mercies of film censors in order to protect ourselves from the possibility that a cartoon would morally corrupt us? Get real, Bill.
There is a deeper and more troubling flaw in the social model that inspires these modern Savanarolas, however. It is a misconception that again contradicts a cornerstone of conservative thought. If the tobacco, gun and film industries are giant enterprises in a free market system, it means that vast numbers of people want the products they are offering. In a democracy, the people are sovereign. That’s the contract we’ve all signed onto.
If enough people find cigarettes, guns and bad Hollywood pictures morally repulsive, these products will cease to be produced. That’s the remedy the old-fashioned way. Conservatives, more than anyone else, should know (and believe) this. What is truly obscene is that a magazine calling itself conservative would even argue “The Case for Censorship.” Just because liberals do it doesn’t make it right.
Elites of all political persuasions may find democracy offensive to their own sensibilities and ideas. Sometimes, they may even make common cause with their ideological enemies to force on everybody else their ideas of what’s best. But, for the sake of our democracy and ourselves, the rest of us better not humor them.