Merrill Ring

As we all know, Senator Dole and William Bennett have been after the entertainment industry, especially Hollywood, for creating immoral products. Contemporary movies are said to be a significant cause of our current undesirable moral condition.

Again as we all know, a considerable portion of that criticism rests upon political, in the narrow sense, calculation. The aim is to gain for themselves some political advantage in search for higher office. Whether that will be a useful device for attaining that end may be doubtful. But simply because some of the aim behind the raising of the issue has a self-seeking point does not mean that the issue is not worth discussing as a political, in a broader and more respectable sense, topic.

It is not perfectly clear from the Dole and Bennett broadsides whether the suggested cure is censorship or self-denial. Certainly, censorship runs counter to the Republican ideology of the day: let's get government off our backs! To have an imposed censorship on the entertainment industry is precisely to put government on our backs, although at a point where we now have that sole Republican good, freedom. On the other hand, while a bureaucratic censorship might conflict with Republican ideology, that of course does not prevent some important Republicans and affiliated organizations from seeking such restriction of freedom.

Suppose on the contrary that what is being requested by Dole and Bennett is self-imposed censorship, that the industry acquire and internalize a set of moral guidelines which shall mean that movies and such which are contrary to that set of principles simply will not be produced. The problem here is the unlikelihood of modern capitalism acquiring any such set of principles: the market, dearly beloved of the elephants, does not encourage self-restraint. And so we are led back to censorship.

However, there is another problem, no matter whether it is urged that there be governmental censorship, self-restraint or some intermediate form such as bureaucratic censorship run by the industry but in one way or another required by the government. The history of such censorship in this country, produces two conclusions. One is that, this being a Christian country, violence will be judged more leniently than sex. More importantly, quality will be sacrificed in the interests of mechanically understood and applied standards.

The issue of quality is central to the discussion, though it is hard to discern that from the available material.

Dole and Bennett would join with their Gingrichian Republican counterparts in eliminating public support for public television and radio. What are these institutions but attempts to provide higher quality products than can be found on the free market? And is not the desire to eliminate them, by eliminating public funding, precisely contrary to the other expressed desire to improve the quality of entertainment? What we need, one thing we need, is a government supported movie studio which will produce movies of as high a quality as the products of public television and public radio. (In fact, I do not want to be committed to saying that those products are as good as they could be - we are not generous enough in providing for those public entities, as we are not generous in providing for the poor, where generosity is to be measured both in terms of financial commitment and also in terms of freedom from administrative, i.e. governmental, control.) Only when we see what can be done by a decently funded and politically independent public movie studio, i.e. a movie studio governmentally supported on the analogy of public television and public radio, will we be in a position to evaluate exactly what the moral issues are in the production of American entertainment.