As the Awards season has ended, in the worlds of movies, television and music, I find myself reflecting on modern entertainment and feeling more and more concerned about its impact on my boys and myself, as well as our society at large. I was the rare character in Hollywood that actually cared, during my 25-year showbiz career, about what the content and impact of my work was having on the world. Would my parents be proud of what I made? Would my kids even be allowed to watch it or understand it?
Now, ten years after leaving that world behind, I find the output more and more unsettling. I go less and less and find myself retreating to books, Elvis, Sinatra and the occasional TCM movie or older rented DVD. My wife and I watched a restored edition of “My Fair Lady” the other evening and though she rolled her eyes incessantly while I got up and sang with “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and my favorite, “On The Street Where You Live”, the beauty and joy of the movie couldn’t be denied.
I believe the turning point occurred a couple years back when two of the best-reviewed movies convinced me, once and for all, that most reviewers and Hollywood live on a different planet than I…and I’d rather not visit theirs. Both of these movies, you would think from the reviews, were of the caliber of “Gone With The Wind”, “The Godfather”, “Casablanca”, and “Mash” (to include a comedy). On opposite sides of the content spectrum, both connected with reviewers and a sizeable audience.
“The Departed” actually won the Oscar for Best Picture Of The Year. For me, on walking out of “The Departed”, I felt like I needed a complete scrubbing down, as the amount of relentless bloodletting was overwhelming and left me feeling sad to be a human being. Moreover, I wondered was this really the best we can get from the upper tier of Hollywood? There was truly no purpose whatsoever to this movie; no redeeming characters; no one you rooted for; nothing but meanness, and gratuitous violence! Ironically, the only scene in which there was any sort of restraint was the one “sex” scene. What this raises in my mind, yet again, is what kind of society and culture are our kids growing up with and in! Will they have any understanding or compassion for human suffering or pain? Will the deluge of violence they see from video games, television, and film just dull their empathy toward real suffering, pain, and violence? Who are their heroes? Are there any villains?
With “Borat”, I had to wonder if there are any taboos, anything sacred left for Hollywood to leave alone or is everything ripe to skewer and portray? While I respected some of the humor, some of the inanity, was it really necessary to be as graphic as the scene of the men wrestling in the hotel room and outside? Were the comedies that I grew up with not funny, without having every taboo lampooned and filmed? I laughed myself silly at The Three Stooges, early Woody Allen, and the aforementioned “Mash”, where I had to return to the theatre to see it again due to all the lines I missed from the audience’s non-stop and very loud laughter.
My two boys love video games and I feel as if I’m depriving them of a “basic necessity” if I don’t allow them to indulge. They are not allowed to play “M” games (for Mature, equivalent to “R” rated movies) yet the violence they see in most of their games is non-stop. Thankfully, there are some car-racing games (though the “M” game Grand Theft Auto is unapologetically immoral and violent, evidently!), games like Mario and various sports games, that don’t idolize and celebrate shooting and fighting. Nonetheless, what value are they getting from popular culture?
This column isn’t even addressing the content of music nowadays! I think the upshot is that our job, today, raising kids involves a degree of policing and supervision that my parents and all previous generations didn’t require. I must be aware of what they read, what’s on the “screens” they watch, where they go, where they “surf” and I’m not referring to the size of the waves, and even what is taught in their classes. My values, my religion, are subject to the political and otherwise politically correct choices of educators nowadays, when in the past such “lessons” were left to the families. Do I really want my 3rd grader getting any form of sexual education? Do I want the schools to “teach” what a family is and isn’t? I won’t even go to what is happening at most “elite” universities when it comes to anything resembling traditional family and patriotic values.
The upshot, for me, after seeing “The Departed” and “Borat”, was one in which I began monitoring what I watch much more thoughtfully and carefully and, without hesitation, limit my boys’ access to all forms of media. I felt debased, demoralized, and frankly depressed after watching those movies, so it did me no good. What might it do to my sons? Funny thing though, the babysitter that watched the boys the night I saw “The Departed”, a 20-year-old young man, thought it was the “coolest” movie of the year! Till the next one…