Issue 75, Fall 1999

Instead of an “Appeal to Hollywood,” how about an Appeal to Reason?

New York City has become ground zero in the culture wars, thanks to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s assault on the Brooklyn Museum over an art exhibit already seen by thousands in Europe. Perhaps the Mayor sees his future in Washington, the center of politics, rather than New York, a center of art and culture.

Blaming society’s problems on art and culture has become a popular pastime in Congress. First, there was the Appeal to Hollywood, endorsed by current and former public officials, which, in the name of countering youth violence, trashes the entertainment industry rather than the gun industry. It claims that giving “children unsupervised access to today’s media is the moral equivalent of letting them go play on the freeway,” as if getting “hit” by an image is the same as getting hit by a car. Next came the proposal to create a task force in the Senate to address the “decline of America’s culture,” which would focus on entertainment, family structure, and sexual behavior. Is the subtext here that gay rights and feisty women would disappear if Hollywood would only “behave”? Most recently, Congress passed a non-binding resolution expressing its intent to deny federal funding to the Brooklyn Museum, should it ever again ask.

This is the slippery slope, in action. Once you accept the basic premise behind censorship, nothing is safe. First the target was violence in media; now it’s “offensive” art by well-known artists on display at a major cultural institution. Censorship offers convenient targets of blame, and lets officials escape from politically difficult decisions—like restricting access to guns, or resisting the demands of powerful constituencies.

For those who are skeptical of claims like “the movie made me do it,” and suspicious of government officials who want to control art and popular culture, NCAC and other First Amendment organizations have developed a counter-statement to the Appeal to Hollywood and other assaults on art and entertainment. Called “An Appeal to Reason,” it explains the dangers of restricting speech and artistic expression, urges public officials and Hollywood executives to avoid simplistic responses and sound-bite solutions to complex social problems, and questions the impulse to villianize the entertainers and artists who reflect and comment on contemporary culture.

For the full text of the Appeal to Reason, along with instructions on how to add your voice to those who say that a marketplace of ideas is preferable to an orthodoxy of ideas, click here.