Which movie do you think would get a positive write-up in The New York Times? An inspirational movie about character building, or a comic tribute to lust?
Last week, “The Ultimate Gift,” starring James Garner and Brian Dennehy, opened in theaters nationwide. The movie is about an elderly and wealthy man (Garner) who leaves behind a video that requires his grandson to perform various character-building tasks before he can inherit his grandfather's wealth. The movie is laced with lessons about the value of hard work and integrity. According to the filmmaker, Rick Eldridge, it contains no violence or cursing or sex.
New York Times reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis said, “Reeking of self-righteousness and moral reprimand … 'Ultimate Gift' is a hairball of good-for-you filmmaking … the movie's messages – pro-poverty, anti-abortion – are methodically hammered home.”
Contrast that with the valentine given by Times reviewer A.O. Scott to Chris Rock's tribute to lust, “I Think I Love My Wife,” which opened over the weekend on screens nationwide and centers on a man thinking of cheating on his wife. The movie is “an unusually insightful and funny mainstream American movie about the predicaments of modern marriage,” Scott writes, noting that it contains “some raucous set pieces and a lot of frank, jokey talk about sex, but 'I Think I Love My Wife' is not after crude or easy hilarity.”
Yeah, right. The joke about Viagra isn't crude. The temptress-inspired storyline isn't “easy.”
The contrasting treatment of these two films by the Times helps illustrate why the majority of Americans blames the media – both entertainment and news – for contributing to a decline in moral values. The Culture and Media Institute's National Cultural Values Survey, released earlier this month, reports that 68 percent of Americans, including majorities of every measured demographic group, think the media are contributing to moral erosion in our country.
Integrity vs. lust? Character building vs. libido? The New York Times will take the raunchiness, thank you very much, and assure you that it's “smart and likeable.”
Do the media contribute to moral decline? You'd better believe it.