Critic praises Church for championing traditional values

Anationally prominent film critic who has chastised America's entertainment industry for what he sees as a relentless assault on traditional moral values recently praised the Church for championing those values.

Michael Medved was in Utah March 17-18 at the invitation of the Department of Theater and Film and the Department of Communication at BYU, where he spoke to students.In Salt Lake City, Mr. Medved had lunch with Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Graham W. Doxey of the Seventy, along with officials of BYU and Church Public Affairs. He met for an hour with the New Era staff and recorded an interview conducted by Gerald Pond of Church Public Affairs for later radio broadcast.

Mr. Medved is best known as co-host with Jeffrey Lyons on the television show "Sneak Previews," seen nationwide over the Public Broadcasting Service. His book Hollywood vs. America, published last year, has generated controversy - and in some quarters strident criticism - because of its thesis that purveyors of movies, television programs and recordings have unnecessarily alienated much of the public through excessive violence, sexual content and profanity in entertainment.

At the outset of his BYU speech, Mr. Medved referred to the invocation offered by faculty member Brad E. Hainsworth, who expressed gratitude for the Church.

"I would tell you as someone who is active in the Jewish community," Mr. Medved said, "that I feel gratitude for the Church and what [itT and this university have been able to do to actually put ideals into practice and try to live and demonstrate and promulgate some of the values that many people talk about but do very little to actualize."

Referring to his book, he said, "It has been fascinating to see some of the response; I've actually enjoyed it enormously."

He noted that the editor-in-chief of a national entertainment trade publication said his book was "a nervous breakdown set in type" and that "a case can now be made why Michael Medved should be banned from all future screenings."

It is ironic, Mr. Medved remarked, "that these great defenders and advocates of the First Amendment . . . believe in free speech unless you use the free speech to criticize them!"

He said he has been called a Nazi on national television, a particularly unpleasant epithet since his mother at age 9 escaped with her family from the Nazis in Germany.

"All of this surprises me just a bit because it's so obvious that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with the rather modest, rather moderate, rather restrained, fundamental thesis of my book."

He cited a Newsweek magazine survey that showed 80 percent of Americans feel there is too much sex and violence in movies.

Disputing the notion that movies today are better than ever, he said: "There is clearly something wrong. I'm not suggesting the camera work is out of focus. The camera work is brilliant, in fact. The problem is that the values are out of focus, that movies and television and popular music no longer reflect or even respect the values that millions still cherish."

The consequence, he said, is shown in the fact that motion picture attendance in 1992 reached its lowest point in 16 years.

His opinions have drawn "a howl of protest" from Hollywood, he said, because he rebuts "the three big lies that Hollywood always tells in its own defense."

"Those lies are, number one: It's just entertainment; it doesn't hurt anybody.' Lie number two:We're just giving the public what it wants.' And lie number three: `If you don't like this stuff, then just turn it off and shut up, because it's easy enough to avoid it.' "

Regarding the first "lie," Mr. Medved said the television industry survives on the belief that a 30-second commercial can sell "everything from canned goods to candidates," yet some entertainment people contend that programming does not influence behavior.

"What do they want us to believe? That the public only watches commercials? That we don't watch the programming around it? . . . By law you're not allowed to advertise hard liquor on TV. And then you turn around to TV programming and [much of whatT you see is people drinking. What hypocrisy!"

He said entertainment works much like advertising in that it redefines for the public mind what is glamorous, attractive and acceptable.

"And that brings us to the second lie, which is: `Hey, don't expect us to cut down on this material; we're making money off of it. We're all capitalists. We only do what we do because that's what the public wants."

In actuality, Mr. Medved asserted, the milder "G" and "PG"-rated motion pictures on average do three times the business at the box office that "R"-rated films do, according to Screen Actors Guild figures. That has been true in the last 10 years, yet the proportion of R-rated films has gone from 40 to 60 percent.

"Ladies and gentlemen, an industry that increases the percentage of R-rated films at precisely the time R-rated films are doing worse at the box office than any other rating is not an industry that is giving the public what it wants."

He said he does not argue for elimination of R-rated movies, only a better balance that reflects public tastes.

"I know there's an audience out there for very violent films," he said. "It's an audience primarily consisting of drooling, sub-literate, hormone-addled, violence-prone, adolescent males. And that audience has plenty of movies to please it."

But, he said, even such people as he described seldom complain about too little foul language in movies, yet he constantly hears complaints about excessive profanity.

Regarding the third "lie" - that offensive material in entertainment is easily enough avoided - Mr. Medved said the influence of popular media is so pervasive it cannot be avoided. To illustrate, he told of his 5-year-old daughter, who cried because she was scared by a playmate's doll patterned after the violent movie character "The Terminator." Even though he strives to preserve his children's innocence by not having a television in his home, Mr. Medved was unable to prevent his daughter's exposure to the Terminator character.

During a question-answer session, Mr. Medved said people who want to promote higher values in entertainment can do so by "connecting" with like-minded individuals and organizations. He commended one such group, Associated Latter-day Media Artists, an LDS-oriented association he addressed recently in California.

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