Recently Disney/ABC Television boss Michael Eisner penned a thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal excoriating his fellow television programmers not to hide behind the First Amendment in their seemingly relentless pursuit of the dumbing down of culture.
"How many times," Mr. Eisner asked, "have you seen entertainment executives justify the release of vile programs and repugnant lyrics by sanctimoniously proclaiming 'freedom of speech'?" The First Amendment, he maintains (correctly), was envisioned as a restraint on government's censorship temptations, not as a license for producers to "encourage barbarism." He acknowledges that there "is a constant tension between allowing artists who work for us to have the right to free expression and exercising our personal responsibility regarding the content of the product we put out. But edit we must - not to stifle conflict or conviction but to eliminate debasement. What I am talking about is good taste and good judgment... it is work of quality and honor that is valued in the long-term."
Pretty powerful words, and welcome ones at that. And I'm certain that Mr. Eisner fervently believes them. Unfortunately it tells me he has no idea what good taste and good judgement are about. His network has been insulting Christian teachings in general, and Catholics in particular, for years now; just two weeks before this piece ran, ABC had run an episode of "That's Life," a prime time comedy which Bill Donohue of the Catholic League called "the most anti-Catholic show of all time."
And what was most offensive was that this episode was deliberately aired during Holy Week, thus deliberately intending to insult Catholics.
Just how repugnant was it? In the episode, Mike's ten-year-old nephew asks his uncle to take him to Mass, which he's never attended because his mother Catherine is a true Church-hater. When Catherine learns where her son has been, she confronts Mike, who quips, "It's not like I got him all liquored up and took him to a hooker... That's what we do on Ash Wednesday."
Good taste, good judgement, Disney-style.
Catherine proceeds to denounce "the way the Catholic Church treats women, [its] views on abortion, homosexuality, [and] censorship... The Church is dying because everybody our age with a reasonable amount of intelligence has left."
To defend the Church there is Catherine's sister, cast as the family simpleton (naturally), and who, machine-like, begins reciting a Hail Mary. When asked by Catherine what, exactly, this prayer means, simpleton sister replies, "I don't know, but I can do fifty states in alphabetical order, too." Triumphantly Catherine proclaims, "And that's why [religion] is a crock."
Is this what Mr. Eisner means by a work of quality and honor?
On and on the insults fly during the show. Those who would defend the Church are packaged as ineffectual, ignorant, or both, and nothing is deemed out of bounds. When the topic of Midnight Mass is raised, for example, Mike recalls that "everyone is drunk. Last year somebody fell off the balcony." Then there's this disgusting exchange between Catherine and her mother:
Mother: "Father Doyle mentioned that they need another
Catherine: "Yeah, well, he does go through them."
If this is not debasement meriting Mr. Eisner's editing - what is?
"That's Life" may be the most egregious example of anti-Catholicism ever put on television, but it's not the only one. Witness the May 4 installment of "The Practice," which also runs on Mr. Eisner's network. In this episode a Catholic priest is arrested for the murder of a sixteen-year-old boy. It turns out he's innocent, but this emerges only after the show has managed successfully to traffic for much of the hour in the highly offensive - and increasingly frequent, for television - clerical stereotypes of pedophilia and homosexuality. And though the priest is exonerated, it turns out the sexual predator was a lay parish worker.
In his Wall Street Journal piece Mr. Eisner lists a number of shows, both in film and on television, that he feels to be "work of quality and honor that is valued in the long-term." I dispute a couple of them (where, pray tell, is the honor in "Seinfeld"?), but that's beside the point. One he cites is, I think, the embodiment of Hollywood at its very finest - "Schindler's List." It is far more than a celebration of the Jewish people; it's a celebration of the living Jewish faith.
One can only presume that if Mr. Eisner is so moved by the glorious nature of "Schindler's List" that he would be in equal measure offended by anyone's attempt to ridicule and demean the Jewish faith. And yet if the target is the Catholic Church, he sanctions it over and over on ABC, the Anyone But Catholics network.