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What Kind of Message are We Sending?

01/21/03 –Rochester, NY—

About a month after the 9/11 attacks against America, I had asked the question:

** What kind of image are we projecting? Literally! I am willing to bet that a lot of the problems between us and other nations and other cultures is a misunderstanding based on what others see of our culture in our media. Consider it this way: When was the last time you saw a movie that made the military look good? How about one that cast a positive light on the Christian religion? Or Judaism? One that showed us that the American family is supposed to be a cohesive unit, much less one that actually WAS?

So, over a year later, here comes Fredric [1] U. Dicker, The New York Post’s State Editor, who basically points up the same problems, through the filter of a discussion about film director Martin Scorsese’s new movie “Gangs of NewYork” :

“LET’S see: Martin Scorsese’s new movie demeans Lincoln’s efforts to save the nation, mocks the Union Army, sneers at volunteer soldiers, derides native-born New Yorkers, pours scorn on firefighters and police officers and fails to find a single person of quality among all of New York City’s leaders, circa 1863.”

It would do well, perhaps to at this point look at the output of Martin Scorsese, aside from GANGS.

* The Last Temptation of Christ.
Ah, yes. Portray Christ as a sex-crazed mental defective. Wonder what would happen if he was to portray Mohammed that way?

* Good Fellas.
Oh, yeah. THERE’s a great picture of America.

* A remake of Cape Fear.
Even the cast of the original, which was sill alive at the time thought it overly violent.

* Taxi Driver
Another great snapshot of our country and out culture. 13 year old hookers are common. Got it.

* Casino
Another great snapshot of our country and out culture.

*The Grifters
Another great snapshot of our country and out culture.

There would seem to be a basic theme developing here, in his list of movies, that not many are willing to see. It’s one that Scorsese himself addressed, in an interview years ago:

“My parents wanted to protect my brother and myself from the horrors out there – the degradation of the poor derelicts, who were literally there on your block, in your building, on your stairs as you were going out to school in the morning; who were there, drunk, fighting each other with broken bottles or knives, or dead, literally dead.  Parents didn’t want you to touch them – they’re dirty, they’re this, they’re that. But at the same time, the church is always talking about compassion. So I’ve always had this split guilt: I’ve always felt not quite right not doing anything about it and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this movie.”

There is no question but that Scorsese is a genius at getting his vision onto film. Trouble is, as Dicker suggests:

“… Scorsese’s frightening vision… is just plain wrong, terribly wrong, and wrong in a way that is an insult … to millions of Americans – then and now. “

Dicker goes on to suggest:

“… anti-American deconstructivism has had a long run in both Hollywood and academia, and it was planted in both places by the political left

.”

I’m less than convinced that such deconstruction was the original object of these films, though I can certainly see the argument for it. Rather, I suppose that Scorsese is, like most liberals driven by guilt they wish to impose on themselves, and the remainder of their society. I would go on to suggest that the level of recognition he gets, is based on this lean of Hollywood’s.

But for all this inaccuracy, we’re supposed to take him seriously when he says as he did a couple weeks ago, on the BBC, that President Bush is wrong to take on Iraq for “the oil” and that America allegedly refuses to “respect how other people live”? Sorry, Martin, no sale here. Worse, what is the remainder of the world seeing in this
distortion?

Nor am I suggesting by ANY stretch, that Scorsese is unique in this. The larger issue here, in my view is the kind of message we’re sending by holding up such films, and such people as make them, as our best? We need to consider, both as individuals making films, music, whatever, and as corporations and investors? and as buyers? what kind of message we’re sending not only to those within our own society, but also to the rest of the world. What kind of message, do you suppose was sent to people all over the world trying to make sense out of the propaganda piece spewed by the fat idiot, Michael Moore? What kind of message about us, are the people in the rest of the world getting from most of today’s Rap “Music”?

Small things over which we have exerted little control, are usually what drives our foreign relations.

Think I’m kidding?  Consider the pictures that the populations in other countries have, pictures they use to form their opinions about us. Most will never set foot on our soil. Yet, they think they know us by our propaganda, which is masquerading as entertainment. What else do they have to go on? You may consider this overstating the case, but I think not. Can you imagine anyone watching the films listed above,
having a positive attitude about Americans?

And look, I’m by no means suggesting that we should somehow place artificial (nee: Legal) limits on the produced matter. What I am suggesting is that our country, our culture, our world, would be far better off, if the producers of popular films, music and so on were more conscious of what kind of image we’re sending of ourselves. That can best be arranged by the American buying public were being
conscious of the message sent in what we’re buying. If we don’t buy it here, it won’t be selling overseas, either, and thereby we will have some control over the kind of picture others are getting of us.

Our future may depend on what others see of us. Shouldn’t we be paying attention to it?

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Postscript, 01/22/03:
Just this morning, a couple days after writing this column, a peice by
Newt Gingrich on this very topic was posted on his website, and run in
the LA TIMES Op-Ed section. His conclusions are slightly different
than my own, but valid, nonetheless, and decidedly worth a read. It
can be found at
http://www.newt.org/index.php?src=news&prid=473&category=Opinion )