Changing the Idiot Box

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has recently provided a thought-provoking halftime show that is
raising all kinds of interesting questions about the American entertainment
industry. In this piece, I would like to address some of these questions,
and propose some actions to improve the consumer choices available
in TV and film.

of all, I should point out that I didn't watch the Superbowl. My
Dutch father taught me that football was a rather stupid sport,
expressing numerous vulgar features of the American spirit for which
he did not care, and that I should stick with real football (i.e.,
soccer). Hence, I never developed much of an interest, particularly
since various liability issues seemed to have forced flag-football – itself,
I thought, a rather alright game – out of my high school PE curriculum.
Or perhaps it was simply thought that there was little place in
a Catholic, college-preparatory environment for even a scaled-down
version of a game that principally consists of over-aggressive,
under-educated athletes smashing into each other?

I am wondering if maybe the MTV-halftime show might be a bit of
a "you reap what you sow" case. However, the show did
occur during a time slot designated for families with young children,
and it would have been known that such families would be a major
portion of the audience. And, The Incident aside, anything with
Janet Jackson and male-crotch grabbing in it, is a good candidate
for being in poor taste.

will take it as settled that the content of the show led directly
to questions being raised about why Hollywood does not give consumers
what they want, and also gives them what they don't want. My interest
is in why Hollywood would experience such a "market failure,"
and what to do about it.

porn appeals to large numbers of viewers, without necessarily alienating
so many so deeply that they offer any real market response, such
as boycotting a company's wares. One solution is government regulation.
However, since this solution is going to have numerous side effects
that are tied up with violation of speech and property rights, I
will put it aside. It is true that if the FCC is misleading consumers
into thinking that it will screen out family-unfriendly shows, but
then does not, this is a problem. But one could just as easily respond
to this problem by claiming that the FCC isn't working and we need
to get rid of it, as respond by saying we need a government clampdown.

fact is, no one is forcing families to buy TVs. And civilization
would not come to end if we simply auctioned off all the broadcast
frequencies, instead of hoarding them like petite socialists.
This is particularly true given that we already have the technology
for parental TV controls that would lock out all non-approved programming.
It would be possible to program one's TV so it only plays content
from providers who have contractually promised to meet certain specifications
(e.g., no Friends, or no reality TV, or at least 30% British
shows, or no nudity, or whatever).

I'll just take it as a given that government is part of the problem,
and not the solution. But is getting rid of state interference in
broadcasting really going to solve the issue of Hollywood's underperformance?
Well, no, because, for one thing, the state's interference in almost
every other sector of society is also going to hurt the entertainment
industry. However, since the overactive state is going to be with
us for the foreseeable future, I'd like some alternative strategies
besides merely advocating more cuts in the size of government. (One
problem I've noticed here is that people get very tired and turn
blue if you keep mentioning that, well, the STATE IS JUST TOO HUGE!
But, really, it is.)

continues to produce works that are boring, un-intelligent, politically
correct, anti-Christian, anti-rural, and involving a significant
number of gratuitous explosions and car chases. Indeed, Hollywood
produces almost nothing besides such works. Why does this occur?
Having spent my early years living just a few miles from Hollywood,
and moreover having had many friends and acquaintances involved
in The Industry, I have a few ideas here. One is that most of the
people working in Hollywood are politically correct, anti-religious
types with no respect for Americans with traditional cultural values.
Another is that most of the people working in Hollywood are politically-correct,
anti-religious types who….

I said that already, didn't I? Perhaps I should add: and they are
going to interpret marketing results any way they damn well please.
Because that is the heart of the matter. There have been a good
many conservatives who defend Hollywood on the grounds that "it
gives the people what they want." But it doesn't. It gives
the people what the latest market results, as interpreted by whatever
spin on them will be appealing to the producer and other powers-that-be,
say that the people want. This certainly has something to do with
what people want. The people get the 10% of what they want that
matches up with the reigning political and social ideologies in
Industry LA.

my friends, is capitalism, at least of a sort. People with capital
don't always just want more capital. Sometimes they want more capital,
and also want to feel like they are advancing THE CAUSE.
You know, THE CAUSE of getting all those bloody gun-toting, tax-hating
BARBARIANS out in Orange County or wherever; THE CAUSE of
bringing about de facto One Government rule, because it's
necessary for the environment, after all, the environment that the
sad little non-media capitalists are constantly fouling with their
hideous, racist desires for economic and technological expansion;
THE CAUSE of girldom, I mean womendom, everywhere, which does, after
all, really cut down on the domestic birthrate pretty effectively;
THE CAUSE of separating the narrow-minded, homosexual-hating church,
from lovely, wonderful, potentially quite responsive to u2018progressive'
plans government; and so on, and so forth, let there be light, you
get the picture.

if we had more capitalism, as in a free market, we would long ago
have successfully sent the particular capitalists who run Hollywood
packing, having had the means and freedom to set up competing media-industries
tailored to "middle America" and niche markets. I am sorry
if this strikes some as overly utopian, but: wealth would abound
under a free market. At least in America, we would have plenty left
over for charity to feed, clothe, and house the poor, and set up
an ethical media industry or two besides. (If, for whatever reason,
you still aren't a libertarian, try to consider – really consider – what
10% annual growth rates would be like in this country. And you want
to trade such for what? Poor educational systems, decrepit socialized
medicine, near-insolvent retirement programs, dysfunctional welfare
families? What gives?)

again, yeah not in the cards any time soon. Still, if you are serious
about improving media culture, charity and/or ethically-directed
capital is the only answer. Consumer choice alone won't work in
a mixed-economy; there are too many forces limiting the flow of
capital and the development of consumer preferences. What we have
today is a situation of de facto monopoly by a web of government-buttressed,
interlocking media companies, and supported by a not merely undereducated,
but wrongly educated consumer. If you want to change this,
forget about going into the media business for direct head-to-head
competition for profits. What is instead necessary, is the gaining
of support of wealthy, religious capitalists in setting up an alternate
media production system to the one we currently have in this country
(one which is, I might add, globally dominant).

is of course a precedent for this, in the great patrons of the arts
who once dominated Venice and other European cities. And today,
of course, private charitable support for the arts continues. But
it is one thing to support "the arts," and another to
aim at supplanting Hollywood. And, great town though it is – well,
some of the surrounding areas are kind of nice, anyways – supplanting
Hollywood is the only way to go.

11, 2004

Verhaegh [send him
] is an instructor in philosophy at Kent State University.
Here is his philosophy website.


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