BOOK REVIEW / Icky goo on the silver screen: 'Hollywood vs America' - Michael Medved: HarperCollins, 17.99

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S a feeling about that modern cinema is obsessed with the icky, the grotesque, the violent, with what Will Self calls 'the membranous stria of bio-goo'. There are, it seems, people with delicate sensibilities out there, uncatered for by Hollywood, who suffer in silence, politely declining invitations to see Reservoir Dogs and (perhaps reluctantly) allowing the likes of Mary Whitehouse to polemicise for them. There's also a political panic on to find the culprits for our 'new' brutality (though statistics indicate an immediately postlapsarian murder rate of 25 per cent). The safest place to lay the blame is the Sixties, which can't answer back; and now John Major has added contemporary television and cinema to the list of society's Most Wanted.

If he wants chapter and verse, he should read this book. Michael Medved is a film critic tired of having to watch a parade of violent films which denigrate the family, portray Christians as maniacs, depict all Vietnam vets as disasters waiting to happen, promote extra-marital sex and swearing, debase the concept of heroism, and generally portray America in a dim light. What happened, he asks, to the golden days of Frank Capra, Gone With The Wind and Goodbye Mr Chips?

Cleverly, Medved aims his attack at Hollywood's most sensitive area: its pocket. 'Family Entertainment' films gain larger audiences than 'R'-rated films, and yet Hollywood, in a quest for artistic kudos, produces more of the latter than the former. Not just films, either: REM's song 'Losing My Religion' was lauded by the pop industry; 'Madonna,' he writes, 'has abused Christian symbols from the beginning of her career.'

Medved is worried about popular culture's effect on the young. He quotes a 1992 study by Dr Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington, which claimed that 'our prolonged exposure to violent television programmes produces 10,000 extra murders every year in the United States . . . (he) further identified violent television programming as a 'causal factor' in some 70,000 annual rapes and 700,000 injurious assaults.' How Centerwall got these figures Medved does not say. Maybe Centerwall doesn't, either.

The studios claim that their product reflects real life; Medved disputes this, quoting statistics that illustrate just how decent and God-fearing Americans are. He worries for his family: 'as I watch my own sleeping children, hugging each other in the bed they share with the blankets tangled around their feet, I experience a terrible sense of powerlessness . . . Their bedspread features a cheerful pattern with kittens and butterflies . . . I know that these children cannot sleep this sweet sleep forever; they will some day face a world that delivers its moments of shock, darkness and despair. But not now, please. Not yet.'

Dumb, violent entertainment certainly needs to be attacked, but Medved seems to have lost both his historical and aesthetic judgement. He doesn't seem to grasp that people are robust enough to distinguish between cinema and reality; that a relish for the grotesque and violent might represent a reaction against safe reality; or that a portrayal of violence need not mean a promotion of violence.

He has also lost his sense of humour. He lambasts a trailer for The Simpsons which showed Bart saying grace. Highly sensitised to sacrilege, he damns The Last Temptation of Christ without acknowledging Scorsese's piety; dismisses Paul Schrader's Light of Day as 'a sombre stinker'; and describes The Pope Must Die as 'putrid'.

And so on. The convincing elements of Medved's case are buried beneath his angry righteousness. Perhaps he felt obliged to turn the emotional volume up, simply to have a better chance of being heard. He seems to be succeeding. The knees have started jerking already.

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