One of the hard things about being a film maker today--especially if you want to do entertainments, which they do more of and they're more lucrative to the people who work on it--is, who are the bad guys anymore? Isn't everybody sick of seeing movies where the bad guys are the Nazis or the Colombian drug lords or the Arab terrorists? And so, it's a difficult thing to be politically correct when you're telling basically an entertainment which is about a hero and the bad guys--that's usually the essential set up.
It gets a lot easier when you want to tell something that is based in reality, that is about real people, that is something that you're passionate about, you know, personally, intellectually, morally, spiritually, ethically, whatever it is. But those films are really hard to get made, to get financed and there is a bitter reality in terms of film making and that is that making movies costs a lot of money.
I watched a couple of great movies yesterday over at the Storyteller: Dance Me Outside and Mi Familia. And I was thinking, as I was watching Mi Familia, that here we are in a multiplex and Tommy Boy is playing and Forrest Gump is playing and The Goofy Movie is playing and then Dance Me Outside or, Mi Familia. And I don't think that it's really fair for all of you guys to sit out there and say, you know, Hollywood makes movies that suck and they portray the Arabs and they portray ethnic people as bad guys and superficial stereotypes, when you go to see those movies, you know.
How many people here saw any of the Indiana Jones movies? Yeah, okay. How many saw the Super Bowl? Okay, right. And I, you know, how many people are going to call up the Storyteller management and say, "Hey, we don't want Tommy Boy and The GoofyMovie exclusively, what we want is small independent films that treat human beings with the dignity that they deserve and that tell stories about real situations and real people and how hard it is or how wonderful it is to get through life?"
Sometimes you can do both, you can be commercially tremendously successful and tell something that really comes from your heart. I had that opportunity once in my life with Boyz 'n the Hood and when you do a film like that that touches so many people, you really begin to understand the tremendous power that media, that story telling has.
But because it's show and business, the business side has to get its satisfaction out of any relationship. So, you know, you the audience have to support the movies that you feel are good, that are well intended, that are well made, that are faithful and truthful and honest to the human experience; and then they'll make more of them. I think it's a real simple equation.
I'll make an argument that I think that while the audience does need to be responsible, that I think in a way, a higher responsibility ought to be with media producers, they have more power, they can make their product readily seen by millions of people; the argument that yes, some of us saw the Super Bowl game or Indiana Jones or something, that we're complicit in that process--I don't doubt that.
I guess the example I would use is I have little question but that throwing certain groups of people to the lions in the coliseum or animals, would make great ratings. But, we don't do that yet in this country. What I'm trying to say is that I always argue to my journalism students who take classes from me, when they say, "Look, we're just reporting the news in the way that the public wants it reported, or they want all the stuff about OJ, they want all the superficial stuff, they want it short and quick with no detail and depth." I say, "you have a higher calling, or should have a higher calling; you're a journalist and you don't just pander to the lowest common denominator. You ought to have certain standards and so I'm going to press each of you to respond to this," but I'm saying that yes, the audience ideally should become more activist, more responsible and so on, but ultimately, somewhat higher responsibility must be placed and must be taken by media producers.
D D already disagrees, but we'll go down and I'll demonstrate to you later how D D's wrong. But, Adam?
If you go to the dusty streets of a South African township at 3:45 in the afternoon where there is no running water and no electricity--or so the government thinks--you will find that life slows considerably as people go inside what may be a house made out of garbage bags but which inside will have, very more often than not, a television set, and quite often a color television set running off of car batteries and they are watching the Bold and the Beautiful, from Los Angeles. They see this as an entertainment--It's a hit from Capetown to Cairo. They see this as an entertainment totally out of context. Many people I've talked to, I say, "What do you think of that model and what she did?" They'd say, "It looked very nice." It's viewed purely as visual and visceral entertainment. Sometimes the language doesn't even travel because it may be in an area where English is not understood very well.
So I'm using that as an extreme example, because here is where media literacy as a concept for the audience would--I believe, in and of itself--move the producers and providers to provide at least a broader range of products to choose from. We're going to see some of that in "Technology," we'll talk about that this afternoon because suddenly we have a situation where the old system of the media being a filter, a narrow channel through which ideas have to pass out through a wider audience, that's beginning to break down.
Anybody with a $500 PC and a $20 a month Internet connection can be a publisher. And when P7 chips come out later this year, can actually have access to and can feed good hefty chunks of video. But, I think you are getting to the core of what this conference is all about.
When somebody is hit with all of that from the day they're born to the day they die, they are encouraged to want the lowest common denominator. They are encouraged to want to not have to dissect it all and television especially encourages it--it can create a slight trance like feeling. It encourages and it is pleasurable. It is pleasurable to numb yourself somewhat after hours of television and that numbing, I would say, produces a dumbing--we all know the movie, Dumb and Dumber. I would say what's happening with most of us, and I include myself as a television watcher, is that we become numb and numb-er, and that makes us less able to criticize any media: movies, television sitcoms, or commercials. We just want the pleasure and then all we're asked to do, we're not asked to do anything except consume something. That's the only interactive thing that all the interactive media really want from us is so that we will consume something. And what this amounts to is that entertainment has become the highest value in the land. How well can you entertain somebody? How well can a movie do it? How well can the Super Bowl half time do it?
I would like to come back to the Super Bowl half time for a second just to say that in addition to what everyone else was saying: the racism and the cultural superiority and all that. What I also saw there was something that you see in Hollywood for decades and you see in commercials, which is that there is somebody of another color, or culture is used to help support the while hero and the white heroine to come together and kiss. Sometimes they help the supporting other colored person helps the white hero meet the white heroine, but it's always in a supporting role. Not always, yes it's changing now and there's inter-racial couples in some films and so forth, but generally it's the supportive role that other cultures have and I think the Super Bowl half time really showed that.
There was the good other colored people then there was the bad people. And then there was Pattie LaBelle who--I still love Pattie LaBelle--but she was there as a supporter of the white couple to bring them together. That's a formula that Hollywood found and television finds and propagates and it is, I find it hard to believe that no one at half time could have seen some of that-- someone who was in a capacity to help produce that.
One reason--I'll bring it back to this--is the money interest in this. Okay, that was supported by Doritos, the half time. Doritos is owned by Pepsi Cola. Pepsi Cola, their ad agency is BBDO in New York and they handled all Pepsico owned companies, KFC, Doritos, Pizza Hut, as well as Pepsi. The chairman of BBDO was one of the top guys doing the Reagan commercials and then the Bush commercials, in the next election. I'm not saying the whole agency is Republican but the relationship between Pepsi and the Republicans is not a thin one and I would just say that it is in a sort of white superior Republican sense to help the image of the white couple getting ahead with the support of basically darker people. That's all I'll say for now.
So the society is saying in a sense, the major part of the society, the major electorate is saying to congress, or congress in interpreting it as: We don't care about our culture. We don't care about its quality. We're not interested in that. We want what? We want entertainment. Or we don't want to think about that. Maybe they don't correlate it. And maybe it's our function and the function of all of us here today to make that correlation and to say more to our public out there: You're killing the juice of your country.
I was just at a television festival in Monte Carlo and there were there representatives of television from almost every country that has a television industry. I was ashamed for the first time in my life, to be representing this gorgeous country, because every country there in some way subsidized its arts--to some small extent, to a large extent, whatever. England, France, Germany, smaller countries. They all were proud of their arts, proud of their culture and showed it by giving some form of subsidy to it, and I had to sit there and hear them all say to me, "What's about what's going on in the United States, you're not giving a hoot about it." And there was not much I could say. I just decided that the responsibility lies with me.
I had a friend once who wrote a play called A Majority of One. It was a great title, I loved it because every one of us is a majority of one and I think it is up to every one of us to do, if we love the arts, if we love good things, if we love, you know, to think of what our kids are looking at. Then I think it is up to us to just make noise about it and I would hope some of that would come out of this festival.
The film that won the Academy Award last year, Shindler's List, I guess I am a minority of one in this regard, but I felt the film, despite all its good intentions and despite the fact that it won the Academy Award, actually to be an antisemitic film. I thought the film did precisely what it intended not to do, which was by objectifying the people who were the victims, namely the Jews in the concentration camps, it reproduced precisely the same kind of attitude that allowed Hitler and the Nazis to come to power; which is that they could look at the Jews as powerless, they could look at them without any ability to be seen as individuals subjectively.
The whole film was seen from the point of view of the superhero Shindler, who, by the way is no different from ET or Indiana Jones--somebody who comes from the outside to solve the problems that people themselves have. I think an ability to interpret that film in that kind of way, makes people ask the sort of questions that I think they need to ask when they look at entertainment, which is so readily and easily consumed that people stop asking.
I was kind of encouraged by the fact recently when there was a woman who sued McDonalds because her coffee spilled on her lap. In a way that was an interesting metaphor for me because in the same way as we go to McDonalds and almost mindlessly and very easily digest this food that is given to us. People put it in their car--they put the fries on the dashboard and they put the hamburger in their hand, they put the coffee between their legs and they don't actually have to look at the food or think about the food or consider what it is they are eating. And then suddenly the coffee, hot coffee spills on her thigh and she wakes up and asks some questions about McDonalds and what McDonalds is and what they do.
I think in a sense what we need in the film industry is a similar kind of event which people stop and ask, and say, I cannot just sit back and consume this and assume that what I am consuming is okay. So, to me, the big issue is not trying to push an enormous industry to reflect on themselves--I think what we have to do is ask our educators to look at the ways in which children and students learn to understand the consumption of media.
I think if I didn't believe that the ultimate responsibility in a free market democracy must always rest with the individual consumer. If I did not believe that, I would have started a lobbying organization to instead of trying to educate the public we would have tried to change what film makers do. What talking picture producers do. The problem with that, of course, is in order to change what they do and to say okay you have to do only "positive" messages or "responsible" productions. The problem with that is how do you define that? Whose definition are you going to use for what is a positive message. Whose definition of what is or is not responsible production gets put into place. And that's the problem that we have in a democracy. I think that you can do that easily in a theocracy certainly, and maybe in other totalitarian countries where they can decide exactly--and maybe a lot of the programming is terrifically wholesome--but you get back into that definition of it.
I happen to really enjoy living in a highly multicultural environment where at least we have nominal freedoms. And in order to enjoy that kind of society, we have to take responsibility for what we consume and what we support and our dollars really are like votes. I mean there is kind of a dichotomy here because certainly and clearly we know for a fact that most of the money goes to producers who have a vision similar to that of the money people. We know that. That is a problem. I'm not saying that this is not a problem and that if we take responsibility for what we consume that all of the problems will go away, that sexism and racism will cease to exist. That is not what we are saying, but the power really is with the people.
I think that everyone has seen this bizarre kind of tragic growth of victimization in our country. It is almost comfortable to be a victim. "Look at what they've done to me." And I think that when Steve was talking about who do we have left as the bad guys, if it's not the Nazis and the terrorists. Well, in fact, what we're doing is demonizing our media and blaming them. "Look at what they've done to me. They make men beat me up, I'm a woman. They make me weak, they make me this, they make me that." And we are not victims of the media. In fact, there is an off switch on your television set.
You do not have to go to the movies. You can decide what kind of clothes you are going to buy. The responsibility has to be yours. America is a very young country, we have a very young national personality and sometimes we remind me of the little kid where you come in and say, "Well, who did that?" And instantly, "Jimmy did it. It wasn't me." So, I'm done.
The problem is I think you generally have some sense of what a taco is going to taste like and what's in it. I mean after you've experienced one, but you go to see certain films, certain television programs and you don't know ahead of time. Moreover, the argument that the industry always wants to hold to which is you can turn it off, isn't even true any longer with regard to television having a child, I can tell you that inside the Wizard of Oz--this is just one example--I can think of many. A couple of years ago I thought well, he's ready to watch the Wizard of Oz and inside it 60 Minutes teased their program two nights later, "Kids Killing Kids?" And they showed a kid being pulled out of a school on a stretcher, blood and gauze all over him. My kid says, "Kids are killing kids is schools? What's that about?" And he got very upset. This is inside, essentially, the Wizard of Oz and other than my sitting there with the mute button at all times. So I argue at that point, CBS clearly had a responsibility to consider the likely audience it had and neglected that. And I don't think you'd back off of that entirely, there should be standards and practices. But what do you do about the fact that people going into theaters don't always know what they are going to get?