Part 4 – Entertainment
I. Introduction (p. 321)
A. Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press—first reaction of the commission (1947)—was to consider movies outside the “modern press” and basically “harmless escapism.”
B. Will Hays (MPAA) presented the case for industry self-regulation before the commission. The commission eventually adopted various Hollywood codes.
C. Entertainment media and their responsibility to the public—displayed in the commission’s 1947 report. It recognized the power of the media to mold and shape values and public opinion, and to educate.
D. Should entertainment programs be subjected to ethical reasoning? Because of the interdependency of social institutions, many argued that the entertainment media should be put to the test of ethical reasoning.
E. In the 1980s, many theories of social ethics provided the framework for analyzing the entertainment media’s contribution to culture. Entertainment media perceived as significant storytellers contributing to a culture’s collective wisdom.
F. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks provided some of the most gripping images television news has ever seen. Such images had an impact on entertainment media as the public once again seriously considered its role in society.
G. The chapters in Part 4 suggest ways to ethically approach media violence, obscenity, stereotyping and other offensive portrayals. The economic pressures driving programming and the huge financial stake of big media are also considered.
II. Violence (Ch. 14, p. 327)
A. The shootings at Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, reinvigorated public debate about the dangers of media violence. Perhaps we had developed a culture of violence driven by the media entertainment industry?
B. Libertarians confront those who would censor violence. They refer to studies showing the violent programming may or may not breed violence. Plus, curtailing speech is worse than the violence that speech may foment, they argue.
C. The Meese Commission, 1985, considered the impact of pornography on U.S. society.
1. Its findings supported Gerbner’s cultivation theory, suggesting that the media can and do shape, mold and influence public thought and action.
2. Its findings call for tougher enforcement of existing obscenity laws.
3. Its rationale was that viewing and reading sexually violent material created an incentive for violent sex crimes.
D. Opponents, such as the ACLU, published “Summary and Critique,” a document with five essential claims that basically concluded that violence is a larger (macro) issue, we cannot prove a direct cause—effect relationship and therefore we should not worry about media violence.
E. Should we treat media violence like obscenity? Should we include warning ads and labels? Why do civilized people permit uncivilized entertainment?
F. Cases in this chapter demonstrate the key issues and questions in the media violence debate.
1. Hear it, Feel It, Do It (Case 58): An Ozzy Osbourne fan commits suicide. The family blames Osbourne’s suicidal lyrics for their son’s death. A television program is cited as the inspiration for a horrible attack on a young girl. Can media inspire violent crimes? Do artists have an ethical obligation to consider how their audience will receive their art?
2. Violence-Centered (Case 59): Many people react to violent portrayals negatively, but Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center displays violence that is anything but banal, pointless and overwrought. Can violent depictions serve a higher ethical good?
3. Comics for Big Kids (Case 60): Comic books are filled with violence and sex of all kinds. Comics target children. Given the target audience of most comics, does the industry have an obligation to ensure that its comics present violent content in morally responsible ways?
4. Video Gaming Changes the Rules (Case 61): Violence has become more and more prevalent in video games, not only in graphical content, but also in setting and tone. Where does the line become drawn between entertainment and simulated killing that alters a person’s moral compass?
III. Profits, Wealth, and Public Trust (Ch. 15, p. 343)
A. Entertainment media are 90% business and 10% public service. How does the business end of entertainment determine what the public eventually defines as “entertainment”?
B. Many argue that the profit motive is the most compelling concern in entertainment industry decisions, not public service.
C. Profit and loss affect all media, but entertainment media feel the impact directly.
D. One movie insider commented, “There are no ethical decisions in the movie business. In a word, the profit motive renders ethics irrelevant. The only counterbalance is that certain individuals—and precious few at that—live their personal and professional lives according to some reasonably high standard.”
E. Cases in this chapter demonstrate the key issues and questions related to the profit and loss motive.
1. Copyright and Cultures (Case 62): Chinese counterfeiters produce knock off designer purses and DVDs. Some claim that copyright protects creative interests, while others claim that copyright widens the affluence gap between East and West. What ethical solution can open the world of art to the poor while still maintaining the financial interests of the creators?
2. Deep Trouble for Harry (Case 63): An examination of the film Deep Throat and the way the pornographic film industry treats its performers. Can a principled free market exploit and abuse its artisans?
3. Super Strip (Case 64): An examination of how Warner Communications unfairly appropriated the original work of two struggling cartoonists and turned it into a fortune. What could these two powerless cartoonists do against the media giant?
4. Duct Tape for TV (Case 65): In the midst of diminishing returns for ABC, the television series Lost provided audiences with challenging, mind-soul entertainment. Will television networks be willing to continue producing shows such as Lost that probe the human condition if it means only average profit for investors?
5. The Lone Ranger and Tentpoles (Case 66): The Disney reboot of the legendary Texas Ranger is criticized while other sequels like Star Wars and James Bond films do well. Is there room anymore in Hollywood for an original story?
6. Faux Doc, Twice Baked (Case 67): An Oscar-winning documentary is criticized for making new footage look vintage and authentic. Do filmmakers have an obligation to help their audience distinguish between archival footage and reenactment?
IV. Media Scope and Depth (Ch. 16, p. 358)
A. Every medium of communication has an aesthetic scale—on one end are serious artists and on the other are those who simply want the product to be popular.
B. Media’s commercial base may lead entertainment fare to lean toward the “less serious” side of the scale. The result, in many cases, is that the complexity of human life is trivialized.
C. Between the demands of “art” and the “marketplace” lie a host of moral questions:
1. Must art be compromised when it passes from one medium to another?
2. Are stereotyped characters fair to real people?
3. How far should commercial concerns dictate cultural products?
4. What is a fair portrayal of a religious or ethnic character on television?
D. Cases in this chapter demonstrate the key issues and questions related to media scope and depth.
1. Reel History (Case 68): An examination of docudramas that blend historical fact with entertainment for box office success. Do the makers of docudrama operate under certain ethical obligations to tell the truth about history? What duty do they owe their audiences? What standards should we hold them accountable to?
2. They Call it Paradise (Case 69): An exploration of the ethical issues surrounding reality television programs. What special ethical guidelines accompany programming that seeks to display human frailty and incite sexual intimacy among non-scripted participants?
3. Tragedy Lite (Case 70): Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful portrays the relationship between a boy and his father at a Holocaust concentration camp. When re-creating painful, terrifying historical events, is the filmmaker under an ethical obligation to portray such events in ways that capture the fullness of their horror?
4. Training in Virtue (Case 71): Denzel Washington insists that his character in Training Day die at the end of the film. Does a media professional dare mix work, art and personal conviction?
V. Censorship (Ch. 17, p. 371)
A. Censorship, in its negative sense, speaks of tyranny of all kinds.
B. Great paradox in democratic theory: Liberty can never be absolute, censorship can never be absent. Liberty thus requires restraint in such areas as speech, which directly affects the entertainment industry.
C. The fundamental question is where do we draw the line between liberty and censorship as it relates to the entertainment media?
D. The Hutchins Commission on the Freedom of the Press explored this question. Ernest Hocking of Harvard University captured the commission’s struggle when he asked, “Are … thoughts all equally worthy of protection?”
E. Cases in this chapter demonstrate the key issues and questions related censorship.
1. The Voice of America (Case 72): An examination of rapper Eminem’s music, lyrics and influence on society. Do artists have an obligation to go beyond mere castigation and criticism of societal norms?
2. Frontal Assault (Case 73): This case examines how hate groups use the Internet to distribute their messages. Ethical issues related to censoring hate speech of all kinds in all venues are explored.
3. South Park’s 200th (Case 74): South Park’s irreverent treatment of religion and other traditionally sacred objects has been justified under freedom of speech. But is laughter at a neighbor’s expense morally justifiable? Do television producers have any moral obligations to respect audiences’ worldviews?
4. Rescue Us (Case 75): What ethical message do depictions of rape on late-night cable TV send to audiences? Is rape merely a way to add to the shock value of a show, or can it be part of a natural outworking of a complicated storyline?
5. Lyrics Not So Cool (Case 76): Interpretations of the Ice-T song “Cop Killer” are evaluated. How free is an artist to direct anger towards someone easily recognizable?