A Wise Geezer

Out of the mouths of geezers sometimes comes wisdom. I’m beginning to feel about Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia the way a young boy did about his father. The boy left home at age 18 and returned at age 21 and said he was surprised that his father had become so smart during those years.

Byrd was recently quoted in a publication by the Parents and Grandparents Alliance Inc. as saying, "The crudeness, cursing, profanity, vice and violence we tolerate on our TV screens will be the crudeness, cursing, profanity, vice and violence that we will be forced to endure in our real lives in the years ahead."

He spoke the truth, and his prediction is already true. Years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court first gutted the laws against pornography — which is now reported to be an $8 billion-a-year industry — I said the bad effect of that decision would not be the dirty bookstore in a sleazy part of town. The bad effect would be the coarsening and vulgarizing of magazines, newspapers and television shows.

It didn’t take any genius or education to figure that out. If the Supremes say that pornography is legal, then everything short of pornography is by definition legal. The entertainment industry in America, in its greed for profits and ratings, has vulgarized and desensitized American society.

There are some basic premises on this subject. One is that when the members of the entertainment industry say that words and images have no effect on people, they are lying through their teeth, and they know it. Corporations would not spend billions of dollars on advertising that consists of words and images if they could not affect people. As Bill Cosby put it, if words and images cannot affect people, "Why am I sitting there with Jell-O pudding?"

Another basic premise is this: The subject has been studied to death, and there is now a scientific consensus that movies, television and music can have a negative effect on children. The fact that excessive violence doesn’t provoke violent behavior in all children is no more of an excuse than saying "I shot 30 rounds from my AK-47 in the air, and only one person was hit."

The third basic premise is that the First Amendment protection of free speech was never intended to protect pornography, vulgarity or gratuitous violence. It was written to protect intellectual ideas, especially political ideas. Oddly enough, in modern times political ideas have been in greater peril than pornography.

The fourth basic premise is that there is no such thing as an "adults only" world and a children’s world. Children and adults inhabit the same world, and most of the sleaze is marketed directly toward children and young people. The ploy of labeling something "adults only" or showing it only at certain hours is a pure scam to dupe the gullible.

Finally, the question of freedom of artistic expression needs to be addressed. There isn’t a story or an idea in the world that cannot be expressed in any medium with good taste. But what is suitable in a nightclub or strip joint is not suitable in a living room or movie theater.

Decent Americans have to get mad and then get tough. It is a rule of law that irresponsible behavior can be regulated, and nobody has been more irresponsible than the entertainment industry in the past 20 years. It has proven that it will not accept responsibility and will not regulate itself.

Therefore, libertarianism notwithstanding, the government must put restrictions on the industry’s products. A culture is the soul of a nation, and to poison the culture is to commit the worse kind of treason. No parent can hope to teach good behavior and sound values when a multibillion-dollar industry is teaching bad behavior and decadent values 24/7, utilizing the most glamorous people in the world to sell its garbage.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.