Film, TV takes First Amendment too far |

Film, TV takes First Amendment too far

Last fall, I took my daughter to see one of those uplifting, inspirational movies people like to take their daughters to see. On the way in, however, we saw a poster for “Saw III.”

It’s disturbing to think that “Saw” and “Saw II” were such successes that a third one was offered. My daughter attended a 14th birthday party she had to leave because she couldn’t stand to watch “Saw,” a graphically sadistic video being enjoyed by the other teen guests.

The poster showed several human teeth dangling from wires that had apparently been used to pull them out. The catchy slogan was something like, “Suffering? You haven’t seen anything yet.”

This is chilling. I’m not a worrier by nature, but I’m just shy of terrified that these movies, offering the opportunity to enjoy watching “suffering like you’ve never seen before,” have been so successful.

Something bad is happening in Hollywood (and music, and video games). While we agonize over bared breasts on TV, evil is being marketed to our youth, masked as entertainment. And someone’s making a lot of money doing it.

Somewhere along the line, free speech took a wrong turn.

The First Amendment was originally intended to protect our right to speak out when we disagree with the powers that be. Now, as this right is being systematically eroded, another “right” is supplanting it – the right to pander to our lowest common denominator. The right to offer obscene, sadistic violence as entertainment for obscene profits.

Censorship is, admittedly, a slippery slope. Choosing an arbiter of what is fit for viewing is difficult and ripe for abuse, having historically led both to suppression of dissent and to messy discussions of what is “too sexy.”

Yet the media needs to be accountable to more than its shareholders. Certainly huge profits can be made by appealing to a side of human nature that most of us prefer not to think about. All of us are capable of being titillated by evil, from thoughts of simple revenge to sadism; the film industry understands this all too well. There are, however, greater loyalties than to the bottom line.

Film and print media have initiated huge shifts in awareness – we cannot afford to be cavalier with this power. The media can awaken base instincts that we all have, just as they can inspire and strengthen altruism.

I say it’s time to re-evaluate censorship’s bad name, thusly:

• Censorship to silence political dissent: bad.

• Censorship to prevent adults from seeing images of victimless sex: bad.

• Censorship to prevent the glamorization of cruelty, such as child pornography and the current spate of films encouraging a youthful audience to vicariously enjoy torture: good.

Our policies are increasingly dictated by those with the most money – this flow of money has tampered with our sense of what’s acceptable vs. what’s obscene. The profits made from making sadism “hip” only add to the obscenity.

It’s time to return to the original intent of the First Amendment – freedom to voice ideas and dissent, not freedom to earn obscene profits from obscene violence.


Diane Miessler lives in Grass Valley.

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