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FIRST-PERSON: How low can entertainment go? Too low, some companies now say

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–There was a time when the American public was consistently treated to entertainment that was, well, entertaining.

Movies were able to deal with serious topics in a straightforward way, but still sent us home enlightened and uplifted. Television may have been frivolous at times, but it certainly wasn’t as culturally destructive as today.

Disk jockeys didn’t discuss bowel movements on the air for cheap laughs. Live theater wasn’t filled with nudity and perverse campaigns for social change.

Pop music didn’t depend on sociopathic lyrics to make Top 40 lists. Performers didn’t parade across the stage in lace-trimmed underwear and invite young people to use drugs and trade their innocence for experience with lines like, “Heaven is a four-letter word.”

How low can we go? A few recent examples:

— On an episode of the top-rated NBC sitcom “Friends,” two of the lead female characters — after whom impressionable teens in real life pattern their hair, clothes and makeup — fight over who gets to use the last available condom for a casual sexual encounter.

— The film “Hannibal” soared at the box office as the top grossing film for weeks after its release. This sequel to the grisly “Silence of the Lambs” (an Academy Award-winning Best Picture) features a psychopathic cannibal who removes the skull of a still-living man, carves away some brain tissue, cooks it up in high culinary style and then feeds it back to his victim.

— The biggest star of this year’s Grammy Awards was a character named Marshall Mathers, otherwise known as the rapper Eminem. Mathers’ debut album, “The Marshall Mathers LP,” features a collection of songs that promote the beating, rape, torture and murder of women who don’t give him what he wants — even his wife and mother.

Mathers’ antisocial rantings won Grammys for Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, and Best Rap Album.

However, he was beaten out for Album of the Year by the group Steely Dan, which is named after an instrument of autoerotic pleasure. Their award-winning album, “Two Against Nature,” includes a song called “Janie Runaway” in which an older man attempts to persuade a teen runaway and her friend to engage in a sexual threesome with him.

This is entertainment?

The excesses of Hollywood have so sickened advertisers that a coalition has been formed to fight for more wholesome entertainment.

The March 2001 issue of Brill’s Content magazine reports that some of the biggest advertisers in the country have banded together to launch the Family Friendly Programming Forum (Family Forum for short).

According to author Jim Edwards, the effort was initially headed up by Johnson & Johnson and included Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, and Sears. The organization now has more than 40 member companies with a combined total of $11 billion in annual advertising.

While its members haven’t completely deserted the sordid entertainment industry, the forum has begun to exert financial and political pressure on broadcasters to remove inappropriate content during the so-called family hours of prime time. The group also funds script development for wholesome productions and has initiated an awards program to honor acceptable family fare.

“The Family Forum, by seeking a more direct role for advertisers in the making of television shows, is riding a cultural and political wave that networks may be ignoring at their own peril,” Edwards writes in the Brill’s Content article.

There is occasional good fare in the modern entertainment wasteland. We should applaud those tiny steps toward responsible conduct, support people and groups who are struggling to make a difference and continue to speak out about objectionable content.

After all, Christians’ economic power makes $11 billion look like play money.
Perkins is editor of The Baptist Record, Mississippi Baptists’ newsjournal.

    About the Author

  • William H. Perkins, Jr.