By Dyson, Michael Eric
The Nation , Vol. 260, No. 25
Tossing a j'accuse at the entertainment industry may boost Bob Dole's standing in the polls. It will do little, however, to clarify or correct the problems to which he has drawn attention. As a public intellectual and ordained Baptist minister. I'm in favor of changing the moral climate of our nation. I just don't believe that attacking movies, music and their makers is very helpful. Besides, right-wing talk-radio hosts wreak more havoc than a slew of violent films.
A far more crucial task is figuring out what's wrong with our culture and what it needs to get right. Nailing the obvious is easy. That's why Dole, along with William Bennett and C. DeLores Tucker, goes after popular culture, especially gangsta rap. What they shrink from helping us understand--and what all public moralists must address--is why this now? Dole's answer is that this--the loss of family values--is caused by the moral corruption of popular culture, and therefore we should hold rap artists, Hollywood moguls and record executives responsible for our moral chaos. It's hard to argue with Dole on the surface, but a gentle scratch reveals that his analysis and his answer are flawed.
Too often, "family values" is a code for a narrow view of how families work, who gets to count as a legitimate domestic unit and, consequently, what values are crucial to their livelihood. Research has shown that nostalgia for the family of the past, when father knew best, ignores the widespread problems of those times, including child abuse and misogyny. Romantic portrayals of the family on television and the big screen, anchored by the myth of the Benevolent Patriarch, hindered our culture from coming to grips with its ugly domestic problems.
To be sure, there have been severe assaults on American families and their values, but they have come not from Hollywood but from Washington: cruel cuts in social programs for the neediest, a redistribution of wealth to the rich and a conservative political campaign to demonize poor black mothers and their children. …