“The average child throughout the Americas by the age of six has spent more time watching his father in a lifetime than he spends at his job.” According to Medved, Americans watch 26 hours of television a week and Canadians, 23 hours.
Medved is the chief film critic for the New York Post and co-host of the PBS program, Sneak Previews, which is broadcasted weekly on 200 television stations. Michael is also the author of the recent best seller, Hollywood v. America.
Michael and his wife, Dr. Diane Medved, spoke at the Second Pan-American Conference on Family and Education held in Toronto, May 26-30. Diane is a clinical psychologist and the author of several books including The Case against Divorce. The Medveds addressed “the four big lies” Hollywood and network television tell us.
- 1. It’s just harmless entertainment that doesn’t influence anyone
“Television imagery does not impact real behavior” said one vice-president of CBS, flatly contradicting hundreds of studies to the contrary. One movie mogul cited a three-second scene in Lethal Weapon III, in which stars Danny Glover and Mel Gibson fasten their seat belts, as “socially constructive behavior.”
“Advertising is counting on television imagery to influence behavior all the time. Why then would 30 or 60 second ads influence behavior, but 30 or 60 minute programs would not?” Medved asked.
Forty years ago Leonard Eron of the University of Michigan uncovered the link between aggressive behavior in children and the amount of violence they viewed on television. Eron estimates that 10 per cent of youth violence can be attributed to TV violence.
Some claim, “It may influence some people, but it doesn’t influence me.” If only one in 1,000 is influenced, Medved believes, “that will have a devastating impact on society. The problem with violence is that enough people do it repeatedly. The mass media has redefined what is acceptable, desirable and expected.”
- 2. It just reflects the world as it is; it presents a vision of reality
Paul Verhoeven, director of Robocop, Show Girls, and Basic Instinct, was quoted by Medved as saying, “We are artists. We just hold up a mirror to reality. You don’t break the mirror.” “Whose reality?” counters Medved. “The most violent ghetto isn’t south-central Los Angeles but Hollywood. Every night an American could see at least 300 characters on prime time television of which seven are murdered. If that is reality,” challenged Medved, “the murder rate would be such that within 50 days everyone would be dead.”
There is also an over-emphasis on males. The Screen Actors Guild found that 64 percent of all speaking roles on the screen are male. On TV, 75 per cent of all starring roles are male. Yet half of civilization is female.
A Planned Parenthood survey found that every year on network TV there are 30,000 depictions of or references to sexual intercourse. The ratio of these incidents outside of marriage to those within marriage was 13:1. Yet the highly acclaimed and comprehensive Sex in America survey in 1994 by the University of Chicago found that sexual intercourse occurs far more frequently inside marriage than outside, and that there is more sexual satisfaction inside marriage than outside.
“Five times as many (North American) people go to church or synagogue as got to movies each week,” Medved said. “Forty to 45 per cent of Americans go to church or synagogue every week.”
Despite a strong religious reality in North America, Medved said religion gets no coverage in film today except to be ridiculed. Medved wrote in Focus on the Family magazine, 1993, “In Hollywood, hostility towards religious believers is not only accepted, it is expected.” Medved and his wife are observant Jews.
Five Catholic priests are depicted in Priest, every one of them embittered. Yet in a recent survey of 300 occupations, Medved noted that the Catholic priesthood was listed as the highest in job satisfaction.
Certainly the films made during the darkest days of the Depression and World War II bent reality too. But, claims Medved, they were “redemptive, hopeful. Today we encourage an epidemic of whining, a culture of self-pity, a cry-baby culture.”
- 3. We are just giving the public what it wants
Some assign a greed motive to Hollywood, and see it as a “capitalist candy machine.” Yet the marketplace does not support the R-rated bloodbaths. Medved wrote in Focus on the Family magazine, 1993, “In recent years more than 60 per cent of all movie releases have been rated R (no children admitted without an accompanying adult) even though PG movies (representing less than 20 per cent of total releases) have performed consistently better at the box office.”
Neither Priest nor The Last Temptation of Christ were box office successes. In 1994 Babe, Apollo 13, Pocahontas, Toy Story, Ace Ventura and Casper were all in the top ten. PG outperformed R rated films 2:1. Even top 1995 film, Batman Forever, was the softest of the Batman trilogy
So why doesn’t Hollywood get the message? “Hollywood directors desperately crave the respect of their peers. They assume they can only be taken seriously if their films are dark, deviant and depressing.” No one seems to remember who the directors of Babe or Lion King were, but everyone knows who directed Pulp Fiction which was far less popular. “Society does not give recognition to children’s entertainment.”
- 4. If you don’t like it, just turn it off
Medved compares this to, “’If you don’t like the smog, just stop breathing.’ It seeps into our souls and the souls of our children. Madonna is part of our consciousness. You can’t avoid this woman.” He has written, “[we should] demand that our huge entertainment conglomerates demonstrate a new accountability for their pollution of the cultural atmosphere we all breathe.
“Messages matter. No art is morally neutral. All art is going to impact you. No moment of our lives is morally neutral. Everything we take into our souls has a moral impact.”
Is it art inspired by humans, “touched with a spark of the divine” or are the artists “just animals”? Is it art that I inspires us with the orderly origins of the universe or just assumes life is random? Medved noted that all 1,400 Bach’s surviving works were inscribed, Soli Deo Gloria – To the Glory of God.
Diane Medved recommended some solutions. “It is not just the explicit sex and gratuitous violence on TV, there is just too much TV period. We can give our kids a reality that contradicts the media. Take meals together. Take your Shabbat or Sabbath seriously (no TV or movies). Keep a schedule of what is worth watching. Keep a diary. Value the family and devalue media. Enjoy less TV and more real life.” In America, November 23 is National Turn Off TV week.
On the positive side, industry people themselves have formed three strong religious organizations in Hollywood to monitor religious treatment in the modern media: Hollywood- Entertainment Fellowship; InterMission; and the Civic Jewish Centre.
Medved hopes such groups will positively influence Hollywood from the inside.