The Perfect Cat's-Paw

November 1999

In the lead article in the August 23 Weekly Standard, David Lowenthal argues that because of all the gratuitous sex and violence in the movies and popular music and on television, America needs rigorous government censorship if she is not to sink hopelessly into decadence and barbarism.

Addressing one of the objections to censorship — namely, that people don’t want anybody telling them what they can or can’t see — he replies: “That is exactly our situation now, where a few hidden figures in movie studios and television networks, motivated primarily by profit, decide what will be available for our viewing. With few exceptions, the viewer is offered a variety of bad alternatives….” Lowenthal’s article is followed by comments from various notables. Irving Kristol, who is pro-Lowenthal, points out that “Any educator who writes a letter to The Weekly Standard expressing agreement with Lowenthal knows that he will never become Secretary of Education, dean of any school of education, superintendent of education in any city or town — indeed, if he does not have tenure, he will be lucky to hold on to his current job…. Any military officer who writes such a letter has, at the very least, set a ceiling on his military career. So censorship does exist, of an informal kind that is far more powerful than any official censorship the United States has ever known.” (Lowenthal doesn’t need to worry, for he’s a retired professor.)

William Bennett and Terry Eastland, in their replies, do not oppose Lowenthal in principle, but don’t think censorship can be pulled off in today’s climate. They have not, however, given up the fight against trash. Far from it. Bennett urges that those responsible for our junk culture be “named,” be met with a “firestorm of criticism,” be made to “feel the heat,” and be turned into “social pariahs.” Eastland advocates “boycotts” and wants journalists to “shame Hollywood.” Then things will change.

Because — let’s face it! — movies, television, and popular music have displaced family, church, and school as, in Lowenthal’s words, “the prime educational force in the country,” serious measures are surely called for, whether censorship or withering criticism and energetic boycotts. Our children — never mind our fellow men — deserve no less.

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New Oxford Notes: November 1999

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