Ethics in Entertainment

From the beginning of film making in 1895 until approximately 1933, each studio or film maker was responsible for upholding the moral standards of each piece of work. By the early 1930s, however, it was clear that self-policing was not sufficient. Granted that good films have the power to touch their viewers and change the world for the good through influencing how they feel about certain issues, poor movies also have the power to corrupt those who watch them and change the world for the bad. There has been a decline of respect for the government, religion, school and family and the media and entertainment industry now exerts a stronger influence on people's opinions, thoughts, goals and values, than ever in history.

Literally thousands of scientific studies have been conducted to determine whether watching violent movies or television shows results in an increase in violence. Many children in America spend more time watching television than attending school and are far less critical when watching programs than adults are. The glorification of violence in American films can have a strong influence on children, who learn by observing and imitating the behaviors they see. Aggressive attitudes and actions are examples of behavior that children might see on the television or in a film. Current research points to a subject's previous exposure to violent behavior as being the strongest single link with subsequent violent behavior by the subject. Repeated watching of violent scenes can result in increased hostility, the expectation that other people will react violently, a lack of empathy when seeing other people hurt and an increased risk of responding to other people with violence.

In addition, the portrayal of smoking, drinking and drug usage in movies and on television as cool or sophisticated behavior is thought to be a reason for their increased prevalence in society. Television and films affect how their viewers feel about high-risk behaviors, particularly when they are presented as exciting and without any negative consequences. While one cannot blame movies for all social ills, it has been proven that they can exacerbate them. Movie makers who realize that their films do not only reflect reality but also help to create it will hopefully take the responsibility of providing the public with entertainment that won't come at the risk to their morality.

In addition to how viewers' attitudes toward risky behaviors are shaped by the movies and television programs they watch, these shows also have a strong influence on viewers' attitudes toward parents and other figures of authority, such as the police. They can also influence attitudes to religion and can strengthen stereotypes. The way in which views of, and relationships between, blacks and whites, men and women, various minorities, etc. are portrayed in films and television shows often becomes engraved more deeply in the minds of those who watch these entertainments than they realize.

When morality and good taste are balanced against the first amendment rights of freedom of speech and the specter of censorship, protection of the young is invoked to tip the balance toward limiting what is broadcast. While some countries a government department decides on how a movie should be rated, in the United States the Rating Board decides for whom a movie is suitable. A G (General) rating means that the film is suitable for general audiences, including children, as it doesn't contain nudity, foul language, drug use, or intense violence. A PG (parental guidance suggested) film might have brief scenes of mild-intensity behaviors mentioned above, while a PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) warns that most parents would not want their children to see the film. An R (restricted) rating means that the film has a lot of adult content in it (for example, a lot of foul language, sexual content, intense violence or drug use), while NC-17 (no one 17 or under admitted) means that the adult content of the movie is even more intense than R films. Formerly X-rated films are now rated NC-17. Some countries ban films that they would rather their citizens did not watch, or they cut out parts of the films. Yet other countries restrict the audience that can view a film by allowing only doctors, for example, to see it. Many unofficial rating committees also exist, which give a brief summary of the film and advise parents concerning the levels of profanity, violence and gore, and sexual content in a movie (each category might be rated on a scale of 1 to 10).

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Ethics at the Cinema
Ward E. Jones; Samantha Vice.
Oxford University Press, 2011
Untimely Affects: Gilles Deleuze and An Ethics of Cinema
Nadine Boljkovac.
Edinburgh University Press, 2013
Media Ethics Goes to the Movies
Howard Good; Michael J. Dillon.
Praeger, 2002
More Than a Movie: Ethics in Entertainment
F. Miguel Valenti; Les Brown; Laurie Trotta.
Westview Press, 2000
Ethics in Song: Becoming Kama'aina in Hapa-Haole Music
Yamashiro, Aiko.
Cultural Analysis, Vol. 8, Annual 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television
Annette Hill.
Routledge, 2005
Librarian’s tip: "Chap. 6 "Ethics of Care"
Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network
James Der Derian.
Westview Press, 2001
Visions of Virtue in Popular Film
Joseph H. Kupfer.
Westview Press, 1999
The Moral Imagination and Public Life: Raising the Ethical Question
Thomas E. McCollough.
Chatham House Publishers, 1991
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