A Step Toward Regaining Innocence
by L. Brent Bozell III
I was in a Blockbuster video rental shop the other day and
as I made my way to the counter to pay for my video I happened to walk by the
"Classic Movies" section. Though virtually all the films selected as
"classics" were box office successes, this isn't a qualifier; you
won't find "Jaws" or "Jurassic Park" here. What you'll
find is what the film industry considers its tours de force, from "Ben
Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia" to "Casablanca" and
"The Longest Day."
The walk down the "Classic Movies" section is a
stroll down memory lane, back to a time when Hollywood's product was far
different from today's controversial fare. Moviegoing then was a family event.
It was innocent, clean, wholesome -- and produced with the family, as a unit,
in mind. Growing up in the '60s, the Sunday afternoon matinee was a family
event; so innocent was moviegoing in those days that films were preceded not
with endless trailers for upcoming releases, or admonitions to the audience to
stop talking (which no one today pays attention to anyway), but with cartoons,
featuring Bugs Bunny, or Tom and Jerry, or the Road Runner. Think about Bugs
Bunny and "Lawrence of Arabia" on the same program. What a very
different world it was just 35 years ago.
All that changed with the arrival of "Easy Rider,"
"Midnight Cowboy," "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"
and the like in the late '60s. (For the record, I'm awaiting the '90s remake
of that last movie: "Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice.")
Hollywood ceased, for all intents and purposes, catering to the family.
Children were given the animated movies; teens the PG fare that included just
enough, but not too much violence, sexual innuendo and the like. Adults in
time got just about anything. Lost in the upheaval was that introductory Bugs
Bunny cartoon; perhaps symptomatic of the new era's loss of innocence, it
simply disappeared from the silver screen.
There is an effort underway in Hollywood to once again
produce family films that will be attractive to both youngsters and adults.
The move is market-oriented in that clearly these movies sell, but it also
says something about society's rejection of the Anything Goes mentality. Even
so, the acceptability fulcrum has shifted in today's permissive society, and
the true innocence of yesteryear is gone. The new rules of engagement call for
the industry to deliver movies with just enough violence, just enough
obscenities, just enough sexual content to attract adults, but not so much of
any of these things to make them unacceptable for children. Thus there is the
gratuitous violence, gratuitous swearing, gratuitous sexual innuendo in
otherwise innocent, fine movies like "Independence Day," "Men
in Black," and "Forrest Gump."
On prime time television there's a similar phenomenon taking
place today. Interestingly enough, we're seeing the rebirth of the cartoon as
an entertainment form, but like the movies, the rules have changed as well.
Fox Television's "The Simpsons" blazed this trail several years ago,
and, last winter, came "King of the Hill."
"King" focuses on Hank Hill, a fortyish propane
salesman living in Arlen, Texas, his wife Peggy, and their adolescent son,
Bobby. Despite their insecurities, the Hills know, even if they forget
sometimes, that family is their foundation. Hank is a prime time rarity in
that he's outspokenly Republican. (After a day of fishing, for example, he
exults, "I caught more fish today than I
did in the '80s, and those were the Reagan years.") The
show parodies everyone's politics, but usually liberals come off worse.
Environmentalists are portrayed as drug-taking hippie throwbacks;
bleeding-heart liberal bureaucrats are ridiculed; academic elites are scorned.
"King of the Hill" in a sense is Middle America's revenge.
It's good clean fun (for conservatives, anyway) - but only
to a point, unfortunately. Here again the rules of engagement have changed in
the popular culture. Rough language ("kick your ass" and the like
are commonplace) is used in the majority of episodes. So, too, are the
gratuitous sexual references. Remove the cursing and sex from "King of
the Hill" and you'd lose nothing of substance. But it's there nonetheless
because, as with the movies, the industry feels it's essential in order to
engage an older audience.
There's a body of evidence that indicates there's a certain
truth to this, and if so, it's a testimony to our troubled times. But wouldn't
it be wonderful if just one major movie studio, just one major television
network were to reject popular opinion and re-dedicate itself to the pursuit
Voice Your Opinion!
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