Will Entertainment Execs Hear Parents' Pleas?
A White House meeting challenges leaders to move away from their industry's pervasive violence, sex, misogyny, and racism
FOR millions of American parents, the most resonant moment in President Clinton's State of the Union speech last month might have been a surprising one - when he called on the media to ''create movies, CDs, and television shows you would want your own children and grandchildren to enjoy.''
As a critic of trash TV talk shows, gangsta rap music, and violent video games, I share the president's concern about the impact of the entertainment industry on America's children. He did the right thing by endorsing the ''V-chip'' to give parents more control over the kinds of programs that air on their television sets, and his call for a summit with the broadcast industry at the White House, set for Feb. 29, gives us hope for real progress in cleaning up our culture.
The fact is, those responsible for much of what passes as entertainment these days have been getting away with murder - and rape and abuse of women and exploitation of children. Millions of young people live on a daily diet of music with sexually explicit and grossly violent lyrics, video games with images of graphic savagery, and television programs that celebrate abnormal, immoral behavior.
Most American parents don't buy that kind of entertainment and do everything they can to keep their kids away from it. But the messages of the entertainment media are so pervasive that it's nearly impossible to avoid being affected by them. We have a responsibility to protect children, our culture, and our country from forces that degrade the human spirit and diminish the values we hold dear.
By bringing the network executives and other leaders of the entertainment industry into the White House, the president has an opportunity to focus their attention on the revolting products they are responsible for creating. And we can hope that they will feel something often missing in this day and age: a sense of shame.
If a public official or a journalist dares to utter one single word or phrase that is in some way offensive to any group in America, he or she quickly becomes an object of scorn and ridicule, and can often be hounded out of office or a job for that sole lapse. Yet the head of an entertainment company usually feels no opprobrium even though a music CD produced by the company contains the most vile, obscene, misogynist, or racist language imaginable. The board of directors of a major network may receive no derision for programs that network airs at 8 o'clock at night - the former ''family hour'' - that find humor in the most scatological or sexually explicit subjects. Indeed, they profit from such products.
A White House summit can help end the ''disconnect'' between those at the top of some of America's largest corporations and the ''cultural rot'' - in the words of former Secretary of Education William Bennett - from which they benefit.
Giving voice to the silent majority
Critics of presidential involvement with the entertainment media may utter cries of censorship and ''McCarthyism,'' but parents will applaud this most appropriate use of the presidential ''bully pulpit.'' President Clinton can give voice to the silent majority of Americans who despair over the state of our culture and the future of their children - something Mr. Bennett, Sen. Sam Nunn, and I have tried to do by shedding light on the abysmal state of daytime television talk shows. American parents have, for too long, felt powerless to confront those who control the entertainment industry - forces that are far removed from the neighborhoods where they live.
Many parents believe they are in a struggle with the entertainment culture over how their children will be raised. They do all they can to bring up their children with a good sense of right and wrong. Yet they fear their teachings are undercut nearly every time those kids tune into a music station or turn on the tube. When you add it all up, millions of American children spend more time listening to music, playing video games, and watching television than they do in school, in church or synagogue, or talking with their parents.
Because the music and the games and the programs routinely abuse the values we want our kids to learn, there can be little doubt that the entertainment climate is having a powerfully negative effect. After all, we cannot believe in the power of the media to inform and inspire without also believing in their power to degrade and diminish the human spirit.
When the leaders of the broadcast industry enter the White House next week, they must realize that the president is not embarking on a solo quest. He has become the commander in chief of a ''revolt of the revolted,'' representing the interests of tens of millions of Americans who will share this hope and prayer - that those who run the entertainment media will use their influence for good, so that we can have a better culture, a safer country, and a brighter future for our children.