Vice-Presidential candidate and Senator, Joe Leiberman, who has earned the approbation of the Nation’s political class for personal integrity, is currently leading a crusade holding Hollywood responsible for what he perceives to be a national epidemic of social violence and irresponsible sexuality. As a member of the film industry, I realize that I may appear partisan and so would like to note my own disaffection with much current Hollywood fare. While I might agree with Mr. Lieberman in matters of taste, I disagree with his analysis and think that his perceptions have been misled by the reflection of the moon in a puddle and not the moon itself.
Film executives and producers are guided by the same instincts as any other businessman. If they make horrific films, they do so because they think their audience wants them. Film studios are not charged with upholding the public good any more than a chemical company which pollutes the air and water pursuing returns to stockholders. If Mr. Lieberman would like to investigate the social responsibilities which should be mandated in corporate charters, I will be his ally and supporter, particularly in regard to the measurable harm done to the planetary commons by the oil and energy industries, the chemical industries and agro-industries. Holding Hollywood responsible for social problems seems a deft way of deflecting attention away from the deeper issues, which might include investigations into the manner in which a militarized culture can desensitize its population to violence, or if allowing corporations to own the political sector degrades public life and public policy.
The question Mr. Lieberman and his ayatollahs might ask is why the public seems to be demanding treacle, mayhem, and sex, and have apparently forsaken the high-style, sparkling wit, and literacy which used to be the hallmark of American films. I single out Mr. Lieberman because he has appointed himself the Carrie Nation-in-drag of this issue, however I am also well aware that Americans kill each other routinely with weapons which are ridiculously easy to procure; obliterate our consciousness with drugs; oppress Native American and Black communities and our poor and their children in a host of visible and invisible ways. As a nation imprison six times more people per hundred thousand than Russia, China, or Iraq. Family unity is shredding as both parents now must work longer hours just to stay afloat. I’m sure the good Senator is aware that forty million Americans work fulltime and cannot feed themselves. When I search for answers to these very problems, Hollywood does not emerge as the chief culprit. Indeed, it is barely on the radar.
Some arenas of violence more immediate and consequential to many Americans than anything encountered in the movies might be poverty and the social disruption that that implies. When our Nation actively undermines and overthrows governments or trains and hires proxies to murder foreign nationals locked in struggles for basic human rights, what lessons might this transmit to our children and citizens about our real commitment to law, democracy and freedom; about the real sanctity of human life? Might not what we see in our films and television have been ignited in the imagination of authors by the very real events of the world they live in? Is it the reflection or the moon itself we should be examining?
We did fail to honor our unappreciated Vietnam veterans, but David Harris reminds us in his fine book, Our War, that our invasion killed three million people in Vietnam and Cambodia, committed ecocide and biocide to insure that development models in Southeast Asia be capitalistic. More recently, consider the tons of radioactive uranium armaments we’ve left toxifying the air, soil and water of Bosnia and Iraq, making cancer among children and the civilian populations there epidemic, wounding our own troops with unexplainable phenomena we label “the Gulf War Syndrome.”. What happens to our national fantasy life when we ponder such horrors? What images and impulses are produced, and if they are expressed physically by our national government, how can we not expect them to be replicated somehow in our streets, videos, films, and lyrics of popular song?
23 million American farms have been obliterated by the unchecked violence of the free-market economy. Once self-reliant farmer families have been forced into the cities to drive down wages and bring them more in line with those in the impoverished countries to which we are out-sourcing American jobs. We know how at least two of them felt about it, because both Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh, convicted for the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, were farm-boys, responding with violence to the violence imposed on them and theirs by the rural sacrifices to agri-business and corporate profits.
To what degree is the rage endemic in our nation a by-product of the increasing feeling of disenfranchisement of the citizen from any affect on his government? The corporations which extincted the farmer, have co-opted the political class to the degree that fifty-percent of our voters perceive this and critique the system by staying home. Make no mistake about it, Senator, they are angry. The “chattering class” (David Corn’s great name for pundits) assures us that Americans are fat, happy, and complacent, but happy people do not kill one another, imprison each other, obliterate their senses with drugs, and arm themselves like warlords.
The longer time goes on without acknowledgement of policies which victimize our own citizens or force them to victimize others, the deadlier the schism between our public image and our real life becomes. It is psychic violence of the worst sort, disparaging and wounding our highest ideals and the more we bleed psychically, and the more we are forced to exagerrate our own virtues and ignore our own failings, the more these wounds stain our public life.
I would ask Mr. Lieberman what he thinks might be the consequences on the psyches of children who grow up colonized by sexuality in advertising; repeatedly assured that if they appear (or are) sexually available and buy certain products they’ll laugh a lot, be popular, have great clothes, and the best-looking sex-partners. When the Nation’s economic engine is linked to such biologically wired sexual attraction, what chance do parents have preaching abstinence or self-respect? I am waiting to hear the clarion call from Washington demanding investigations into corporate America’s use of the “smack look”, and the “hooker look” to sell products, and its universal propaganda suggesting that sexuality and attractiveness are of paramount importance and can be enhanced by the purchase of products.
A culture is shaped by its underlying values. Unfortunately, ours has elevated economic transactions to highest priority with grave consequences, for common decency, integrity, self-restraint and a host of other non-economic values which have been discarded, along with toxic industrial wastes, into the public commons. Culture penetrates the inner life of our artists, writers, musicians, and directors as it does the ordinary citizen. If that culture has pathologies, those who may not be artistically gifted will express them on the streets. Those who are gifted with the talent of expression will place them on the nation’s televisions, movie-screens, and airwaves. Public media is the projection of inner life. If you don’t like the reflection Mr. Lieberman, strain the mud from your puddle. Please don’t blame the moon.
Causes Peter Coyote Supports
The Global Security Institute, Native Sovereignty Issues, Wild Earth( Natural Corridors Program),