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Oscar nominee acknowledges movies can desensitize society

NEW YORK (BP)–A Hollywood director and screenwriter twice nominated for an Academy Award has made an unusual public commitment in the wake of the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Writing in The New York Times May 6, Gary Ross stated, “… let me promise that, on each screenplay, I will ask myself what the ramifications are to the culture in which I live and the children who may see these films.”
Movies, he acknowledged, “can contribute to [the] desensitization” of the nation’s culture.
Ross received Oscar nominations for screenwriting for “Big” and “Dave” and made his directorial debut in last year’s “Pleasantville,” a film in which Ross, as one Los Angeles Times writer put it, “is clearly telling us that the ‘50s were bad — gray, monotonous, sexually repressed — and that we were saved by the liberalism and experimentation of the ’60s, which were largely defined by the loosening of sexual codes and anti-establishment values.”
Writing in The Times’ op-ed section, Ross suggested: “instead of shifting blame [from ‘the movie business’ to ‘gun lovers’ to politicians], what if we search our souls for culpability? Guns kill people and movies kill people and video games kill people and it soon becomes obvious that the list doesn’t stop there.
“It may not reduce to a tidy sound bite or a convenient political enemy, but the simple truth is that whatever debases the culture (Springer), degrades the value of human life (Doom), panders to violent impulses (local news), trivializes human relationships (Springer again) or isolates us from one another (paradoxically, the Internet) can contribute to a situation like Littleton. It is absurd to say that this problem occurred in the absence of social forces, but it is equally absurd to blame a single one.”
Citing a book, “Finding the Heart of the Child,” by psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, Ross added a further list: “changing family structure (single-parent homes, two-career homes); the breakdown of communities, villages and neighborhoods; cynicism about government and social institutions; the decrease in a sense of security, job permanence or close personal relationships; the decline of genuine spirituality as an ethical force in the culture; an explosion of information that creates anxiety over one’s worth or abilities; a lack of respect for older people; and an over-reliance on ‘self’ to find the meaning of life.”
Ross, a Clinton supporter who helped write jokes for his speeches during the ’92 campaign, then added a few examples of his own choosing: “When conservative Republicans fought to have night basketball removed from the crime bill of several years ago, they were eroding a sense of community that can prevent this kind of isolation. When prime-time magazine shows peddle yet another ‘hard hitting’ investigation of yet another corrupt local official, they are feeding our cynicism about social institutions by elevating the exception to the rule. When advertisers exploit perfect bodies on perfect men and women to sell their less-than-perfect products, they are exacerbating the anxiety that adolescents feel in regard to their self-worth. (Littleton has shown us this is no benign thing.) When the local news leads its broadcast with a homicide three nights a week, it is committing the very desensitization that it decries when it covers a story like Littleton.”
Only “an acceptance of personal responsibility can possibly break this deadlock” to which “many of us who have an impact on the culture have contributed (however unwittingly),” Ross wrote, before making his promise to evaluate his future films in terms of their effect on the culture and its children.
Among other commentaries since the April 20 killings of 12 students and a teacher by students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who then took their own lives:
— The White House’s May 10 conference on youth violence was, in NBC correspondent Claire Shipman’s words, “just another talk-fest with no teeth, and as you can imagine, the finger pointing is intense,” The Washington Times reported. CBS correspondent Eric Engberg called it “one of those White House meetings nobody really wanted to be on the guest list for … several Hollywood moguls ducked the meeting, the White House barred the press and pointedly did not invite the nation’s best-known voice for gun rights, Charlton Heston,” The Times reported.
Sens. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D.-Conn., writing about the conference on The New York Times op-ed page May 12, lamented that no entertainment industry representative in attendance “had any genuine response to the growing chorus of concerns about the harmful influence of the entertainment media’s romanticized and sanitized vision of violence, about its part in the toxic mix that is turning too many of our kids into killers. The President did little more than ask for their help in moderating the most harmful media messages, to which the land’s most awesome communicators found many imaginative ways to say no.”
The Washington Times, in a May 13 article, contrasted Clinton’s “tame” scolding of Hollywood with his denunciation of the gun lobby after the Columbine shootings, when he said tougher gun controls are “a no-brainer.” It is “crazy” not to action, Clinton said.
— Violence “is not an entertainment problem,” Edgar Bronfman Jr., CEO of Seagram, Universal Studios’ parent company, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying May 12 in Orlando, Fla. Bronfman said violence is “a societal problem, and I believe the government would be well served to deal with it as a societal problem rather than create a quick fix that may be popular but ultimately is a disservice to their constituents.”
— Jerry Drace, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, noted: “We are a nation where some political leaders quote from the Scriptures on national television, but deny the practice of those Scriptures in their private lives. We are a nation where the voice of the ACLU is more feared than the voice of God. We are a nation which has become a vacuum that sucks in every form of filth and perversion and then gives it a stage on which to perform. We are a nation which embraces pornography in the name of freedom of the press and forbids prayer in the name of separation of church and state. We are a nation which has been so foolish as to sow the seeds of violence, immorality, rebellion and hypocrisy and now the crops are being harvested.”
Drace, of Humboldt, Tenn., added,” It is time our children be allowed to lift their voices in prayer in their schools so that they will not have to bow their heads at the funerals of their friends.”
— Olga-Maria C. Cruz, a doctoral student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., urged in a commentary, “We need to decide, as individuals and communities, that we are going to take steps to shield our children from the very real danger of the very real sin within their hearts.”
Cruz urged Christians to “model and grow in our children the virtues that our church has long recognized as the core of Christian morality: faith — trusting God in all circumstances; hope — not giving in to feelings of pain and despair, keeping a perspective that protects us from being overwhelmed by the past, the present or the future; love — not putting down others in ‘unlovable’ categories, going beyond respect to cherish and embrace others, rather than excluding them; patience — not giving in to frustration, not demanding instant gratification; peacemaking — not giving in to feelings of anger, stepping in to resolve conflicts, walking in forgiveness.”
— Alan Keyes, radio personality, columnist and long-shot Republican presidential candidate, commenting on Cassie Bernall, the student who was slain after she answered “Yes” to one of the Columbine gunmen who asked if she believed in God: “The martyrdom of the young lady presents to us the truth about what we should be doing to counteract [the] cowardice” of “gutless people in our public life — in our pulpits and our politics — who won’t speak the truth about where this death is really coming from.”
“Many guns are pointed at us, and we need to imitate her courage in facing them down,” Keyes wrote. “Over here, a preacher won’t speak out because he is afraid of losing his 501(c)3 status. Over there, a politician won’t speak out because he is afraid that The Washington Post will call him a right-wing religious nut. Someone else won’t bear witness in the family because he is afraid he will be considered unsophisticated, which is why another young person won’t bear witness in the school, because he won’t be part of the ‘in’ crowd. In so many ways we are afraid to bear healing witness to our neighbor because we are threatened with the death of mere things that we care for, much less our physical life. The threat to kill our 501(c) money, or our political careers, [or family and friends who may] laugh at us, is enough to make us ashamed to bear witness to God in this world.”
— Charles Colson, in his “BreakPoint” radio commentary, stated, “The best way all of us can honor Cassie’s memory is to embrace that same courageous commitment to our faith. For example, we should stand up to our kids when they want to play violent video games. We should be willing to stand up to community ridicule when we oppose access to Internet pornography at the local library.”
— Columnist Cal Thomas asked, “Why should young people take life seriously when their overworked, aborting, day-care, euthanasia culture does not? Life is so cheap, relationships are so meaningless — children get the message.” Thomas also noted, “Politicians are powerless, parents are not. Parents have the best chance of curtailing violence of the heart before it reaches the head and the hands.”
— Pete Henderson, assistant to the president of the Alliance Defense Fund, an evangelical religious rights organization, reflected: “We are shocked when evil personifies itself in the taking of innocent life so quickly and so ruthlessly. Just as diabolical, it can slowly creep into the land, unnoticed by those who have chosen not the watch the gates of their cities. Such is the case over the past 50 years in America’s legal arena. The enemy is trying to hold us captive without religious free speech protections. He has cleverly used the courts to take unborn human life, and now is at the doorstep of redefining the marriage contract. It is a stench in God’s nostrils. The goal is clear, to destroy everything that is good before God and those who would profess his standards.”
— Columnist Mona Charen: “One of the reasons schools have responded so lamely to discipline problems in recent years is the American Civil Liberty Union, which is always ready to sue school districts for what it characterizes as infringements of students’ rights.
“Within the past few months alone,” Charen continued, “the ACLU has sued a Missouri high school for attempting to ban the marching band from playing the pro-drug song ‘White Rabbit;’ taken the Chicago public schools to court for supporting the Boy Scouts (because the Scouts require an oath to God); and harassed a Mississippi school district that has decided to require school uniforms.
“The result of this litigation is to make school officials and teachers very skittish about imposing any limits on students. Parents who once supported teachers’ discipline now more often resist it,” Charen wrote.