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Hollywood: With Rights Come a Little Responsibility

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As long as there has been entertainment--and that’s just about as long as there have been fires (or footlights or projectors or televisions) to provide light to entertain by--there have been critics trying to quash the outlandish or sacrilegious or revolutionary messages in music, poetry and pictures. We’re used to it in the entertainment business and we’re glad we live in a time and place where our rights are protected and our freedom of speech andexpression is sacrosanct.

We know our rights come with responsibilities. As producers of entertainment fare, wehave access to media that allow us to share our views and philosophies, but we must also make sure that access is available for different views. As an industry we have to remain profitable so that we may continue to exist in the free market, but we also have to make room in our commerce for our art. As artists, we are allowed to let our imaginations roam and our creativity take us into new places, but we still can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

In other words, folks, there are limits. They are few and far between, but they exist. And in the name of what’s hip and what’s happening and what’s going to make the fastest buck with the least investment, we may just be bursting through a limit that’s better left intact.

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In this country we have to be very careful to protect the rights of the accused, to make sure that an individual like Snoop Doggy Dog isn’t tried and convicted in the media (“Murder Charge Puts Rapper Under the Spotlight,” Calendar, Sept. 9). But in the course of protecting his rights do we really need to be elevating him as an example to already confused young people? Do we really need to be making him an MTV superstud while he’s waiting for arraignment? Do we want our kids to think his message is cool? Isn’t this a disservice to everyone, including the rap musician?

It’s time to step back and remember that we have some responsibility to our audience, especially to our young audience--the kids who are constantly barraged with new rules for life. Or no rules for life. Or no life. There’s a whole generation out there growing up with ideas and values that we in Hollywood--we filmmakers, TV writers, music video directors--wouldn’t even recognize. What’s more frightening is that while we’re just exploiting that hip factor, trying to make a buck, those kids are taking this stuff seriously.

There’s a terrible shortage of role models out there. What we have is pretty much limited to rockers and rappers, athletes and movie stars. The entertainers, whose traditional role was always to provide the world with a break from what was really important, have now become what’s really important. That’s not good, but it is reality and we had best face it.

This is not to suggest that music videos ought to be teaching kids to be CEOs and ministers and doctors and social workers. But it is definitely to suggest that we need to stop glorifying crime, making heroes out of felons, giving seven-figure recording contracts to “artists” whose main appeal is that they’re just out of prison or just on their way in. We can’t be the solution but we can stop being such a big part of the problem.

We get a lot of perks in the entertainment industry. Most people out there would trade places with most of us in a heartbeat. Let’s show a little gratitude. Let’s not automatically take the low road just because it’s the cheapest and closest. Let’s try to help; if we can’t, let’s at least try not to make things worse. Let’s not go down to the Bijou this week and yell, “Fire!”

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