Variety is a Hollywood trade publication, but it can be hard to figure out where the entertainment industry ends and the industry’s journalistic apple-polishers begin. Exhibit A is a commentary by Brian Lowry trying to compare the news media’s current hate objects — the tea party tax protesters — with the entertainment media’s hate objects, the activists opposing Hollywood-distributed vulgarity.
Lowry dismisses both movements as hopelessly lost in the past, insisting the tea parties “sound strangely familiar, mirroring increasingly futile attempts to arrest changes and recapture simpler times in television — an ongoing Tea Party on the tube. In spirit and tone, these criticisms in the political arena sound very much like those leveled against network television by the Parents Television Council and other lobbying groups pushing back against a perceived erosion of broadcast standards.”
A “perceived” erosion in TV standards? Is there anyone on Planet Earth — or on Planet Hollywood — willing to argue that standards of decency haven’t eroded? Even Lowry cannot avoid the truth. “There’s no question,” he admits, “that networks and movies have become more permissive through the years.” But he mocks any criticism of this as a negative development. “This powerful nostalgia for a family hearth and a return to ‘Bonanza’ tends to ignore the difficulty squeezing a genie back into the bottle.”
Elites like Lowry simply ignore facts. What endless polling data showing vast majorities of the public calling for a restoration of decency? What endless evidence showing how family-themed entertainment (especially movies) consistently stomps raunchy fare at the box office?
Parents today shouldn’t allow themselves to be cartooned as vainly wanting TV to be frozen permanently in 1965. Is it ridiculous and futile to insist that network executives shouldn’t be so enthusiastic in offering teenaged orgies, vomitously graphic violence, “wardrobe malfunctions” and unbleeped profanities during live shows?
Perhaps TV critic Lowry doesn’t watch much television. On March 22, the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” made oversexualized, amoral monkeys out of both its lead characters. The “good” one, Jon Cryer’s character, starts taking money for giving sexually gratifying massages to a female patient in his chiropractor’s office until he gets sexually involved with the patient. Viewers repeatedly hear orgasms through the door. The bad one, Charlie Sheen’s character, mends a relationship with his girlfriend over the phone — in between cheating episodes with a different woman, who urges him to ignore the phone call “for another hour.”
Or take the show “Supernatural” on the CW network. On March 25, they aired an ultraviolent episode with zombies being shot in the head, with blood splattering the ceiling, and if (since?) that isn’t enough, zombie brains even “artfully” glop on the camera. Then there’s the scene involving the sheriff’s young son, recently resurrected from the grave. His mother is on the phone with the doctor when she hears a commotion in the other room. She enters to find her zombie son hovering over her slaughtered husband. Blood is everywhere. The son’s mouth is covered in his father’s guts.
Just how far from “Bonanza” do we need to go?
Somehow, there is never a need for a limit to new lows, not even a slight tap on the brakes. To do so is to interfere with the march of progress. Lowry falls back on the usual pro-Hollywood platitudes about how the fuddy-duddies are losing because of the “considerable demand for Hollywood’s product in the U.S. and abroad,” and any kind of advocacy for restraining extreme content is an “impotent process” due to rapidly evolving entertainment technologies. In other words, let it be.
Lowry’s only new argument is a truly bizarre one. He suggests the massive box-office success of the movie “Avatar” shows the people’s opposition to tea party conservatives. (“Kids, I can’t stand Sarah Palin! Let’s go see ‘Avatar’!”)
Lowry urges these two social movements he doesn’t like to just wave the white flag and surrender: “In either case, wishing and hoping isn’t enough to hold back the flood waters. Although history indicates that opponents can erect the occasional breakwater, it never holds for very long.”
Lowry even argues nothing really important is lost when Hollywood sleaze is inevitably triumphant. Like their loser compatriots in the tea party movement, he guesses Hollywood critics must recognize in their “private moments” that “there’s little use in crying over spilt tea.”
At least the political opponents of the tea parties can argue there is something constructive in their spending schemes — insuring the uninsured, correcting global warming, and the like. Hollywood sleaze merchants have nothing constructive to offer in their attempts to shock and titillate. They promise only to corrupt the uncorrupted.