I just watched an old movie popular in the thirties—the William Powell/Myrna Loy version of Dashiel Hammett’s The Thin Man, which later became a television series starring Peter Lawford. My mom and dad often mentioned how entranced they once were by this movie and its follow-ons, how they idealized these suave young couples. They also often talked about Kate Hepburn and Bing Crosby in their respective versions of The Philadelphia Story and High Society.
Watching these old movies today, I am once again astonished at the power of the media to impact culture. Rightly or wrongly, these movies glamourized and legitimized—no, actually promoted—social choices considered quite extreme at the time (divorce, choosing a spouse without regard for family opinion, frequent at-home and social drinking of alcohol, associations with people from different classes and values systems, smoking….)
They influenced many young moderns (my parents among them) to eagerly embrace their advocated lifestyles, for better or for worse. I know that my parents found the courage to take such counter-cultural steps from the illusory weight and seeming solidity of the airy fantasies presented in these and similar movies, although I also know that both of them had been well-inculcated from very early on with every reasonable argument against such decisions. Their children (me included) were further influenced by their defensive insistence on the reasonableness and superiority of their choices.
How much more are today’s young people influenced by their day-long forced feeding of heavily-marketed television (both programming and commercials,) music, books, games, magazines, movies, consumer goods, etc? The only thing that surprises me at all anymore is that we still recognize our children as “ours,” considering they live in a completely “other” world than ours, a brave new world of tomorrow which, as Kahlil Gibran said, “we cannot visit, not even in our dreams.”
All Americans profit when our children grow up in strong families to be good, responsible adults. And we all suffer—and pay—when our youth make poor choices. Nevertheless, we let our public airwaves run amok in their promotion of unhealthy attitudes and lifestyles, while we barely scratch the surface of their potential to promote wise choices.
On one sad level, Americans today are relegated to living in the land of the free-to-make-a-buck and the home of the brave-but-stupid, which is too bad, because I don’t remember voting for any such peculiarly modern-American mantra.
When we-the-people finally get around to taking our politics and government(s) back out of the hands of big money, I’m confident we’ll find excellent ways to tap into using all the public airwaves for the common good.
The Iranian movie industry, currently severely constrained by their reigning theocracy to produce only non-violent, non-sexual movies, has responded with a lovely array of internationally recognized award-winning values- and family-based films which are poignant, gripping, and thought-provoking. Someday, a responsive and representative government of, by, and for the American people will surely find ways to preserve our most-cherished freedoms, while supporting visionary media output that promotes the great diversity of healthful and positive values, lifestyles, and choices.
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