Craig over at The Artful Writer
asks if writers and other culture-makers are too quick to deny any responsibility for the effects on culture of the movies they make. He's talking about whether the FCC should be able to censor basic cable, which is a big issue these days because cable is not, technically, a public transmission (cable cables are private), but obviously an awful lotta the public have cable.
I think this raises an interesting question, but isn't quite the point. Yes, absolutely, culture-makers have a deep responsibility for the dreams we insinuate into culture. When we make smoking look cool, people start smoking. When we say the individual is always smarter or better than the establishment, we encourage people to be mavericks, but also encourage people to disregard the laws that make us safe.
But that doesn't mean government should get to censor us. Responsibility means we're supposed to behave, not that a schoolmarm in an office tells us how to behave. Where there's censorship, there is no responsibility -- writers and directors will just try to get anything they can past the censor, because it's not their responsibility any more
If you want people to behave responsibly, you have to treat them as responsible adults.
I agree with the V-chip. Parents should have the ability to block their kids from seeing stuff they don't want their kids seeing, without being required to just turn the TV off. But there, the government isn't regulating the shows, it's just requiring a mechanism to allow parents to regulate the shows. If cable boxes need to be programmable so that you can't get Showcase or Fox without a special code, that would be fine, too.
But adults shouldn't be forced to watch stuff appropriate for kids just because there are some kids who could conceivably watch the channel, too.
Anyway, how can the government decide what's responsible programming and what's not? I think it's responsible to allow my 9-year-old to watch Saving Private Ryan
. His mother and I have decided that he's capable of understanding that while it's appropriate to say bad words when people are shooting at you, it is not appropriate to say them in school or in front of adults. I don't let him watch the later Rambo movies, because I think they glorify violence and I don't think he'd be immune to that. Should someone in an office who doesn't know him be allowed to decide otherwise? Someone appointed by Jerry Falwell?
Suppose someone decides that teaching evolution is irresponsible?
I agree with Craig that too many filmmakers believe that, as artists, they have no responsibility but to, say, "the truth." But artists are exactly who create
society by creating its defining myths. We have as much responsibility as anyone else, except that because we have more leverage, we ultimately can do more damage or more good.
But that's not the same thing as believing that government has the right or responsibility to rein us in. That's for repressive societies. In a free society, we have to rein ourselves in.