The White House wants to enlist Hollywood in getting its war message out to the nation and the world, especially to audiences in the Middle East. In the effort to win hearts and minds to the American effort, presidential adviser Karl Rove met Sunday with 42 entertainment industry executives, Motion Pictures Association officials and Screen Actors Guild representatives. And the usually liberal media moguls seemed ready to answer the call.
"It's not about being a Democrat or a Republican, it's about being an American," Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group, announced. "All of us in the industry have this incredible need and urge to do something," Lansing said.
Unfortunately, the most important thing Hollywood could do to help America wasn't on the agenda at all. Rove came armed with seven themes the White House would like to push, including the oft-repeated "this-is-a-war-against-terrorism-not Islam" mantra. I'm not sure the followers of radical mullahs in Cairo, Islamabad or Riyadh will listen to Hollywood on this issue any better than they do Washington. So why bother?
We don't need Hollywood to behave like government propagandists. We do need the Hollywood community to behave like good neighbors and citizens.
If Hollywood really wants to protect the country from further harm and violence, it can start by not exporting any more of its own violent and toxic material. What about a serious campaign -- entirely initiated and directed by Hollywood itself -- to clean up its own fare?
If every Hollywood director decided to reduce the amount of on-screen violence in every action film by 50 percent, the world would be a better place. If every actor would just say no to gratuitous sex and foul language in the script, American children would grow up in a healthier cultural environment.
I'm not suggesting government censorship. I am suggesting that Hollywood might want to consider a little self-restraint.
Hollywood has helped contribute to a less civil society in recent decades by pumping out hundreds of films, TV shows and music videos filled with graphic violence and gross sexuality each year. Even Hollywood's biggest names spew filthy dialogue while behaving like rutting animals before the camera. And the level of violence depicted in the average action film would make the Marquis de Sade blanch.
It makes you wonder whether most executives would allow their own children to watch this stuff. Do the writers and directors who churn out this stuff want their own kids emulating the language and behavior they so wantonly depict? I doubt it. So why do they subject everyone else's children to this trash?
Hollywood didn't simply follow the decline in civility in our culture as it helped create it. The f-word started cropping up in movie scripts in the 1960s and now can be heard out of the mouths of teenagers standing in line at the grocery store. Popular culture is a leading indicator of what's happening in the population as a whole. It actually helps create the world it portrays.
We'd never stand for any other industry polluting our environment the way we let the entertainment business get away with fouling the popular culture. When chemical or oil companies despoil our rivers and oceans, we slap fines on them and launch boycotts of their products. Yet entertainers can dump the intellectual equivalent of raw sewage into the theaters, and we accept it as if there is nothing we can do to change it.
Cleaning up Hollywood won't help the United States capture Osama bin Laden or evict the Taliban. But it would greatly improve our image abroad. Much of the world views the United States through the lens of our popular culture. Hollywood may not be able to affect the way hate-filled, radical mullahs depict America. But they can affect the way ordinary Muslims, Christians and Jews abroad see us.
Just as importantly, Hollywood affects the way we see ourselves. If Hollywood wants to do something to show its patriotic spirit, it could start with a clean-up campaign in its own backyard.