As co-host of public televisions "Sneak Previews" and film critic for the New York Post, Michael Medved sees most every movie released.
He does not like what he sees.
The author of "Hollywood Vs. America" spoke at a lunch in San Francisco on Wednesday hosted by the Independent Institute a nonpartisan think tank in Oakland.
Medveds book is an indictment of motion pictures, television and popular music that has surely gotten him scratched off the lets-have-lunch lists of some of medias biggest moguls.
He contends the entertainment industry portrays a warped society where families are disintegrating, every other word is profane, women are abused and violence is non-stop. A place where the most murderous segment of society if you believe TV shows is businessmen. In other words, a society very unlike our own.
"The most violent ghetto in America isnt South Central Los Angeles," says Medved. "It is prime-time television."
Polls by Newsweek, Gallup and CNN show that 40 percent to 45 percent of all Americans go to church or synagogue weekly, says Medved, and 64 percent regularly say grace. Yet on television, youre more likely to hear Homer Simpson say this on Thanksgiving: "Dear God, we pay for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing!"
The book exposes what Medved contends are Hollywoods "three big lies" that movies and TV dont influence, they just entertain; that they merely reflect whats going on in society; and that producers are just being good business people.
"What has happened in Hollywood," he says, "is the lunatics have taken over the asylum."
Medved recalls talking recently to a top studio executive who claimed "Lethal Weapon 3" last years action blockbuster "saved thousands of lives" with a four-second close-up of stars Danny Glover and Mel Gibson fastening their seatbelts. Never mind the exploding office buildings and 150-mph car chases.
Early movies distorted reality too, the author admits, but for the better. The Depression was raging, yet Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire glided across a marble floor in evening clothes.
"Today its the other direction," he says. "Its to make things more messy, more ugly and to concentrate on characters who are low-lifes."
Medved calls it the "broken-windows effect," citing studies that neighborhoods where windows are smashed or where graffiti is scrawled on the walls have higher crime rates.
"Those broken windows send a message," he says, "that here chaos reigns.
"Television and movies have become giant broken windows on society."
The industrys reaction to "Hollywood Vs. America" was swift and harsh. An editorial on page one of Variety suggested Medved be banned from future movie screenings.
Yet the author says Hollywood is rediscovering family audiences, in part because of box-office realities. Movies rated PG and G make two to three times the money of R-rated pictures, he says. "Aladdin" was the top-grossing movie last year.
"What Im eager for is not that we turn out all Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms or even Aladdin," says Medved. But that movies and TV "reflect the diversity as well as the decency of the truly wonderful people who live in this country."