||« Back to Does Hollywood Hurt America? main page
Does Hollywood Hurt America?
Think Tank Transcripts: Does Hollywood Hurt America?
ANNOUNCER: 'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, arecipient of the Presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen,bringing better, healthier lives to people worldwide throughbiotechnology.
Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. There is a great dealof sex and violence on television, in the movies and in our popularmusic. Does this lead to unacceptable behavior? Is this coarseningour lives? Or are sex and violence age-old staples of art andliterature? In any event, what tools are available in a free societyto change popular culture?
Joining us to sort through the conflict and the consensus are:Camille Paglia, professor of humanities at the University of the Artsin Philadelphia and author of the recently published 'Vamps andTramps'; Robert Bork, senior fellow at the American EnterpriseInstitute and author of the forthcoming book, 'Slouching TowardGomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline'; and John Leo,columnist for 'U.S. News and World Report' and author of 'Two StepsAhead of the Thought Police.'
The topic before this house: Does Hollywood Hurt America? Thisweek on 'Think Tank.'
It is one of America's great ironies. We love to watch television,to go to the movies and to listen to popular music, but when we do,many of us strongly object to what we see or hear, and we areespecially concerned about what our children see and hear.
Recently, Senate majority leader and Republican presidentialcontender Bob Dole attacked Hollywood.
SENATOR BOB DOLE (R-KS): (From videotape.) Our music, movies,television, and advertising regularly push the limits of decency, andthey bombard our children with the destructive message of casualviolence and even more casual sex.
And I concluded that we must hold Hollywood and the entireentertainment industry accountable for putting profit ahead of commondecency.
MR. WATTENBERG: Dole criticized movies like 'Natural Born Killers'and 'True Romance.' Dole and others have singled out the Time-WarnerCorporation for particular criticism.
C. DOLORES TUCKER: (From videotape.) I'm C. Dolores Tucker, chairof the National Political Congress of Black Women.
WILLIAM BENNETT: (From videotape.) I'm Bill Bennett, co-directorof Empower America. MS. TUCKER: (From videotape.) I'm a liberalDemocrat.
MR. BENNETT: (From videotape.) And I'm a conservative Republican.
MS. TUCKER: (From videotape.) Time-Warner's music divisionpromotes music that celebrates the rape, torture and murder of women.The lyrics are both offensive and do terrible harm to our children.
MR. BENNETT: (From videotape.) Isn't anybody at Time-Warnerembarrassed by these lyrics?
MR. WATTENBERG: Time-Warner's response has been quite cautious.Quote: 'It is certainly not an easy matter to decide who the ultimatearbiter of creative content should be. We prefer to err on the sideof freedom of expression.' End quotes.
President Clinton had spoken out even earlier.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) People in the entertainmentindustry in this country, we applaud your creativity and yourworldwide success, and we support your freedom of expression. But youdo have a responsibility to assess the impact of your work and tounderstand the damage that comes from the incessant, repetitive,mindless violence and irresponsible conduct that permeates our mediaall the time. (Applause.)
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, panel, lady and gentlemen, President Clintonand Senator Dole think that sex and violence in the movies can causebad behavior.
Judge Bob Bork, do you think that there is a relationship betweenwhat we see on our television screens and hear in popular music andactual behavior?
MR. BORK: If there isn't, the advertisers are wasting billions ofdollars a year. Michael Medved cites over 3,000 studies that showthat a diet of constant violence in entertainment leads toaggressive, antisocial behavior.
As to the word sex, I think the lady who worked with the singlemothers put it best. They said, how can we stop illegitimacy? Shesaid, 'Shoot Madonna.' Now, that may be a little extreme, but you seeher point.
MR. WATTENBERG: Camille Paglia, does depraved or decadent popularculture cause depraved or decadent behavior?
MS. PAGLIA: Well, as a great fan of Madonna, I have to say that Iam more skeptical than Judge Bork of those thousands of studies,which I believe only show an anecdotal and incidental kind ofrelationship between what is seen on screen and what is done on thestreet.
I think in fact that violent fictions may provide a kind ofcathartic release for certain eternal human energies.
I mean, by this standard, we would have to look very closely at'Hamlet,' let's say, or -- which has multiple corpses on the stage atthe end. This was, in effect, the argument that the Puritans used toclose the theaters in Shakespeare's time. Or we'd have to look at'Oedipus Rex.' All of Greek drama, it seems to me, is full ofbarbarities.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. John Leo.
MR. LEO: I think it obviously does have an effect. I mean thepopular culture is the air that our kids breathe. And if you callwomen whores and bitches in a thousand songs, you shouldn't besurprised if young males start to treat them that way.
MR. WATTENBERG: How do you account for the fact -- I mean Camillealluded to it -- that in earlier times, I mean we had cartoons andWesterns and private-eye movies and monster movies and cop shows, aswell as terrible violence in Shakespeare, and Sophocles and terrible-- not terrible --interesting, amusing sexuality in Aristophanes, andso on and so forth. So why do you claim that now is different, eitherof you?
MR. LEO: Let me jump in. I think that Camille is right that thereis a cathartic aspect to it, but that works best in a stable culturewith social controls. When you have a culture that seems to bemelting down, as our does, you are going to find the next generationtaking its messages of quick solutions through violence from thescreen. It's not just that there is some violence in 'Hamlet.' It'sthat our children are watching thousands of murders and Bruce Willisis upping the body count in every 'Diehard.'
I think that gets through to kids, particularly young males, thatthat's the way to solve things and it's an okay solution.
MR. BORK: Kids watch about 20 hours of television a week. And thecount for violence and murder is very high. I forget exactly what itis, but I think that they see nine murders an evening. They don't seeShakespeare that many times. We're drenched in violence.
MR. WATTENBERG: No, but people in Shakespeare's time sawShakespeare that many times, or Sophocles in Sophocles' --
MR. BORK: I don't think anybody saw Shakespeare 20 hours a week.But be that as it may, also the violence was presented in a differentcontext there. It had a plot to it and there was a reason for it. Theviolence now, they always refer to it as senseless violence. It is.It's just for the pleasure of seeing bodies fly apart.
MS. PAGLIA: Yeah, I think there has been a terrible decline inaesthetic standards in Hollywood, but I feel this is due to thetransition from the great Hollywood studio era to the America of the1950s, when television has now kept mass audiences at home. So overthe last 30 years, I feel, there has been an evolution in the kind ofmovies being made. The only people who really go out to movies noware young people, people on dates, who like these kinds of cartoonymutilation of bodies, and so on.
There's no doubt that just in the period since I was in college,this was a great era of incredible classy, philosophical foreignfilms, art films that are completely gone now. I do -- I am concernedas a professor about the condition of America. I'm a great lover ofpopular culture, but we cannot have the young raised only on a dietof popular culture. This is why I am for also the canon of greatwriters in order to balance out this.
So as opposed to censorship, I say build up the high art and thestudy of great thinkers.
MR. WATTENBERG: But people other than teenagers, including me, dowatch movies. I happen to think movies -- I mean the ones I watch --are pretty wonderful. We have a -- it is a great American art form.It is being watched by more people these days, plus the internationalmarket. This is what is showing America's face, for good or for ill,I think mostly for good. I think many of those movies have a messageof American individualism and upward mobility. And so why are we --why are we beating up on the fact that some of it is rotten?
MR. LEO: Well, let me give you an example, I¹ll use aRepublican perpetrator, since Bob Dole didn't. I like the'Terminator' movies, but in 'Terminator 2,' Schwarzenegger comes downnaked from the future, and his first act is to walk into a poolroomand beat the living hell out of these guys who have jackets andmotorcycles that he wants.
Well, first of all, this is a typical urban crime, but secondly,it's also seen through his eyes. You walk in, you see it through hiseyes, and you're invited to enjoy the decimation of these characters-- who have done nothing. It's a pro-violence message in a way thatyou didn't used to get in American movies. You are given the tasteand feel of violence, and it's made very inviting. And you'rejustified. You're here to stop World War III, so it's okay.
MS. PAGLIA: But again, I don't feel that there's a directrelationship between such movies and such scenes and the actualviolence in the streets. For me, there are sociological factors forthe violence in the streets, and that is the utter breakdown ofcommunity life in the inner cities because of the flight of the blackmiddle class to the suburbs and the absence now of manufacturingjobs. There are a lot of unemployed black kids.
I, in point of fact, can remember stories that my relatives toldof the violence of Italian-American youth 60 years ago, let's say. Weshould really examine, you know, the level of juvenile delinquencyamong ethnics other than blacks from the early part of the century.I'm not so sure -- now they have better weapons than they did then.They used to settle problems with knives and fists, and now,unfortunately, with Uzis. MR. WATTENBERG: Haven't you written,Camille, that you think pornography is good stuff?
MS. PAGLIA: Yes. I am radically pro-porn -- I know that that is anextreme position -- because I feel that pornography shows the truthabout sexuality, the truth about our animal natures.
At the same time, I feel that it is appropriate to ask thatpornography not be displayed in public spaces, that it should beavailable for private consumption, that no one has the right tointrude into public spaces and to --
MR. WATTENBERG: Is a movie theater a public space?
MS. PAGLIA: No, not in the sense that a public square or, let'ssay, even newsstand would be. In other words, I want the pornographyavailable at the newsstand. I don't feel anyone has the right todisplay the pornography for Christian people who are wandering on thestreet.
MR. BORK: Well, the problem is that the people who enjoy thepornography change. They change themselves, and they changethemselves for the worse. On Internet right now, I've learned thatyou can get Alt sex stories, and there you can read about thecastration of a 7-year-old boy that is being shot, about the gangrape of a 6-year-old girl. You can get stories telling you when tolurk outside a girls' school, how to bundle into the van, whether totell her in advance that after you're finished with her, she's goingto be murdered. That stuff is on Internet now. Wait till GeorgeGilder's digital films from all over the world are available.
MR. WATTENBERG: And you have just repeated it on publictelevision.
MR. BORK: Not in the same loving detail.
MS. PAGLIA: Let me say about that, this proves my point that theeffort, the coalition between the religious right and the feministanti-porn wing has failed, that they thought they had finallycornered the market and limited it in the realm of pornographic filmsand videos. But look, the moment there's a new medium ofcommunication, the -- what can I say? -- the perverse human soulbubbles up everywhere.
And so to me, the presence of these horrific stories on theInternet simply proves my point, that it may be the human imaginationthat we cannot fully police.
MR. BORK: Well, we used to have restraints of various kinds, notonly law, but religion and morality, that kept these things in thecorner at best. Now it's out in the open, and it may be thetechnology is such that it will be impossible to control it.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right, well, let -- go ahead, John.
MR. LEO: Well, I was going to say that I agree with Camille thatvarious ethnic groups commit horrific violence. The Irish were verygood at it into the last century, but it usually came under controlbecause of the churches and the institutions which are now incollapse. So I think the attention to the public culture now ispartly to acknowledge that the family and the churches can't stopthis, that the public culture is the preacher now, so whatever is putinto the pot of the public culture is likely to have direct effectsthat it didn't have before.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right, let us stipulate that. You have atleast one skeptic here, me, but let us stipulate that bad culturedrives bad behavior. What are you going to do about it? You alludedfondly to censorship.
MR. BORK: Fondly -- well, yes. I think it's inevitable that we'regoing to try censorship at some stage. I didn't used to think so. Ithought that the public culture was beyond agreement on any form ofcensorship. But when you get the kind of stuff that's now onInternet, the kind of stuff I described, and when that appears indigital films you can watch on your home computer, I think we're in avery dangerous situation as we begin to appeal to perverts who couldbe triggered into action. I think we're going to have to trycensorship. Whether we can do it or not, I don't know.
MR. WATTENBERG: You would like to see it succeed?
MR. BORK: Oh, yes. I don't want that kind of stuff floating aroundin this society.
MR. WATTENBERG: Any -- I mean not even undisplayed at a publicnewsstand, the way Camille was saying? It's not out in front of you,but you can say, I want a copy of 'Hustler,' and get it.
MR. BORK: I'm worried about the fellow who wants to get storiesabout young children being raped and murdered. That is not a normalmind, and I don't want to trigger that mind.
MR. WATTENBERG: What about 'Playboy,' 'Penthouse,' getting down to'Hustler'? What about those magazines?
MR. BORK: Ohh, I haven't seen -- I'm too embarrassed in the barbershop to pick one up, so I haven't really seen one for a long time.
MR. WATTENBERG: As part of your research, you could purchase one.
MR. BORK: Yeah, that's right. (Laughter.) No, I have seen --occasionally seen them, and some of them, I think, deservecensorship.
MR. LEO: I think the real problem is --
MR. WATTENBERG: John, you're in the First Amendment business.
MR. LEO: Sure. No, I'm not for censorship, but my solution,however dreamy, is a change in consciousness. I think cultures dochange, sexual attitudes change abruptly from generation togeneration, as they have through English history quite regularly. AndI think we can change consciousness in America.
MR. WATTENBERG: Camille.
MS. PAGLIA: Well, my analysis of pornography and history has beenthat the more there is a taboo of any kind in a culture, the more youwill get imaginations that profane that sacred subject, whatever itis.
So I have the feeling that possibly the majority of these horrificfantasies of child abuse and murder, and so on, may be coming fromother forces in the culture, not because people want to enact suchfrightful scenarios.
So, and I -- again, I -- as a student of psychopathology, I amsimply doubtful of a direct correlation between people who indulge insuch fantasies and the people who actually carry them out, because wehave the example of Jules Duree (sp) and the Countess Dracula andNero. These, such examples, they did not need printed pornography orInternet in order to stimulate their acts.
MR. LEO: We don't know.
MR. BORK: No, we don't. That's right. Remember those two youngboys in England who killed the toddler?
MS. PAGLIA: Mm-hmm.
MR. BORK: It turns out that their father was an addict of snufffilms, and one of them was the precise way in which they killed thatkid.
And there were some boys who just strangled a friend from the rearseat of a car -- they strangled -- sitting in the front seat. Theygot that from 'Godfather II,' they said.
MS. PAGLIA: But it may be that -- millions and millions of peoplemay see similar scenes; only a small number may be pushed intocommitting such acts, but perhaps they would have done these thingsanyway. Are we going to close down the whole society in order toprevent such I would say sociopaths from acting who might have actedanyway?
MR. WATTENBERG: John, you have written about the role of shame toget change done. Is that what you want to do when you say you want tochange the culture?
MR. LEO: That's why I think the campaign against Time-Warner is sointeresting. What it is, it's a clear appeal to shame, and I thinkit's working. The noises I hear within the Time-Warner empire areshame noises. We can't make them do anything. It's a tiny part oftheir empire, they're a tiny part of the cultural pollution business,but they are writhing. They're stunned by this. They don't know whatto do. It's the purest leverage that shame induction has had inyears. And I think it's a good lesson.
MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, but what is the bottom line? Let us say thatyour campaign, and it's a larger campaign now, to sort of shameTime-Warner, which is one of the big guys on the block, to get rid ofthat sort of gangsta rap music --
MR. LEO: Someone else picks it up.
MR. WATTENBERG: Someone else picks it up, let's say another bigcompany, I guess Sony, whatever, and they can be shamed into it -- orshamed out of it. But then you go down the food chain to smallercompanies, or if you can shame the smaller companies that -- andthat's hard, because they don't have theme parks, they don't havebooks, they don't have a lot of other things you can boycott, butsuppose you can, then you're get new -- brand new companies puttingout gangsta rap.
MR. LEO: I don't see the shame campaign going company to company,garage to garage. I think we're trying to get a psychic movementgoing among people, and so that it really is a demand-siderevolution. You're going to have to tell people that we are allashamed of this stuff and let's not buy it. So you're not going to gocompany by company. It's not a supply-end thing. We're just trying toget the whole mechanism going in the culture.
MR. BORK: Well, what you have to do is rebuild authority in thefamily because the people who are buying this gangsta rap arepredominantly white suburban adolescents whose parents are lettingthem do it.
MR. LEO: The other thing that's happening is this is creating agreat new debate within the black community. I think black people arevery conflicted about this. They don't like to see their cultureattacked by whites. On the other hand, a lot of them are very nervousabout the image of black people that's being put out in these songs.So I think this campaign, and to the great credit of Dr. Tucker, hasgiven great leverage to people in the black community who wantchange.
MS. PAGLIA: I believe that there should be public incentives forthe great producers and the --and Time-Warner, and so on, to startfocusing on quality productions. And I don't mean Shirley Templeproductions. But I think when the momentum of the culture is todemand aesthetics in the style, again, of the old Hollywood studiosystem, where -- we look back at some of those movies, extraordinaryquality at every level, from the lighting to the makeup to narrativeto plot, and so on. And you could sit with grandparents and childrenin the same room and not be embarrassed. You could have amulti-generational experience in watching --
MR. WATTENBERG: And that all passed through the legendary Hayesoffice that was censorship. MS. PAGLIA: Well, you see, thesearguments actually were going on in early Hollywood. There wereproducers who wanted to make movies more upscale, to make them -- tobring culture to the masses; others who wanted to bring blood andguts.
After all, let's remember the great circulation wars of theWilliam Randolph Hearst era. It appears to be the case that theworking-class audiences, the popular audience really does like kindof a high level of sex and violence that may make upper-middle-classwhite people uncomfortable. So I worry about a kind of elitistattitude that perhaps has crept into some of this cultural debate.
MR. BORK: I don't know that it's a class attitude, but there aredifferences among people. And there are some people who would bebetter off if some of that material is kept out of their hands. Andit was, as Ben said, censorship agreed to by the industry through theHayes office. And the best movies --that was the golden era ofHollywood.
MS. PAGLIA: The '30s, yes. As it happens, and this is true, after-- I hate to say it because I do love lurid pornography, but afterthe Hayes rules went through, we had fantastic films of the '30s and'40s that are still studied in classrooms.
MR. WATTENBERG: Bob, you had alluded to it -- family values,religious values. Are we in for what would be what the fourth greatawakening, a turn of the cultural pendulum?
MR. BORK: Well, some people see -- for example, thispromise-keepers movement, which is men getting together, 50,000,75,000, in an auditorium where they pay money and they come and theypray and they sing hymns and they promise fidelity to their wives,and so forth -- some see that as the beginning of a religiousawakening.
But I really think the public culture could only be reformed by areligious awakening. In the regency in England at the beginning ofthe last century, it was a dissolute, corrupt culture, and it wasfollowed by the Victorian era. And the difference, apparently, wasMethodism percolating through the upper classes and upper middleclasses, and then to the working classes.
So without a religious revival, I'm not sure where we're going.
MS. PAGLIA: I have to say that I agree with what you just said,Judge Bork. I speak as a radical '60s libertarian. I think, in fact,that there is a movement back toward religious fundamentalism in theworld because of the failure of modernism, modernism which gave onlynihilism and has destroyed the education, I think, of -- you know,for the masses.
I've been warning my fellow liberals for a long time that theyhave pushed the country to the right and that I see among many youngpeople a return to traditional religion as a kind of -- a hunger forspirituality that is missing.
MR. WATTENBERG: John, do you see that going on?
MR. LEO: Oh, I think so, too. I think, just to pick up the thoughtabout liberalism, that liberalism has never really been endorsed byany major religion. Everybody feels a little uncomfortable about theemptiness of it.
And I think there is the beginning of a turn toward a religious --but I don't see any religion filling that need. You get books likeGertrude Himmelfarb calling for a return to Victorian values. Well,who's going to do that? Well, normally a church does something likethat, but no church now has that status quite, or that grasp of theAmerican imagination.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right, let's have just one final littleconversation here. Does this belong in politics? Are these politicalissues? Bob Dole was criticized, in part, for saying it: 'Oh, he'snever really paid much attention to this and now he's making a bigpolitical issue out of it.' President Clinton is apparently tellingsome of his staff aides, 'How come he's getting all the publicity? Imentioned it first.' (Laughter.)
Should this be part of this political debate?
MR. BORK: Certainly it should. A political leader is not justsomebody who talks about economics. He's also a cultural force. Andthere's no reason why that cultural force shouldn't be exerted ingood directions.
MS. PAGLIA: Well, I feel, look at the Kennedys. I mean, Mrs.Kennedy brought a distinction and a kind of feeling for high art tothe White House that I think we sorely need.
MR. LEO: I think politicians should speak out. I just don't wantWashington to do anything about it. I think they'll only screw it up.I think it belongs to the people, that we're trying to grapple with ahighly democratic, wild and raucous public culture and we have tograpple with it ourselves. Nobody is going to impose an answer tothis, and Bob Dole and President Clinton are not going to solve ourproblems.
I'm glad they're talking about it, Bill Bradley, too, but I don'twant them to solve it for us. They'll only mess it up.
MR. WATTENBERG: Do you think in this wild and raucous culturethere is also some very vibrant health? I mean, I think so. Doesanybody here --
MS. PAGLIA: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, I love America. I think America isthe healthiest place in the world.
MR. WATTENBERG: You are 'slouching toward Gomorrah' in your book.MR. BORK: But I think that's true of Western civilization in general.The industrialized countries of Western Europe are sort of heading inthe same direction we are, and the poor Arab world, the Muslim world,they're trying to keep it out. They've got the Iranian police runningaround looking for satellite dishes so they can't get Americanculture. It's ridiculous, it's dictatorial, but one does see thatthey have a certain kind of point.
MR. WATTENBERG: You're anti-censorship in Iran, but in favor of ithere? No. John --
MR. LEO: I think the good part about this cultural moment is thateverything is now on the table. Everyone has a voice, everyone's apublisher, everyone's a consumer. There's no suppressed minority.Everybody can say whatever they want. And you're getting a lot ofpain now, but I think something good could come out of it. MR.WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you, Camille Paglia, Robert Bork and JohnLeo.
And thank you. Please send your questions and comments to: NewRiver Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC, 20036.We can be reached via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And do check out ournew home page on the World Wide Web at www.thinktank.com.
For 'Think Tank,' I'm Ben Wattenberg.
This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, in associationwith New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.
'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, bringing better,healthier lives to people worldwide through biotechnology.
Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
Return toThinkTank Online Home Page
Think Tank ® is a Registered Trademark of BJW, Inc. All Content © Copyright 1995 New River Media, Inc.
Back to top
Think Tank is made possible by generous support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Dodge Jones Foundation, and Pfizer, Inc.
Think Tank. All rights reserved.
Web development by Bean Creative.