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Last night I watched the final episode of The Sopranos strictly out of morbid fascination since I never watched it during the eight years it was on. No matter how well a movie is done; no matter how well it is written, produced, directed or acted when the subject matter deals with people who commit crime for a living I can’t condone the characters being worshiped as either heroic or sympathetic beings.  Unfortunately, The Godfather changed things about our culture that deal with morality and how we perceive it. At least in the final movie of the series Michael Corleone’s world falls apart and he gets his just desserts. Without the requisite emotional attachment to these characters that the show’s loyal fans have I was free to watch it objectively, not prejudging what the relationships are and how they interact with each other. I don’t feel that I missed ANYTHING over the last eight years.  Excepting the two kids there wasn’t one person in the cast that I could feel sympathetic for. Now don’t get me wrong-I’m not a prude. I spent the last fifteen years being a theatrical producer and I presented many plays that dealt with controversial subjects. My philosophy has always been that any subject can be presented if handled properly; however, the purpose of our productions has always been “what lessons can be learned?” Plays rarely provide answers; what they do best is prompt us to ask relevant questions. Movies and TV shows do society an injustice when they cater strictly to prurient interests without anything redeeming in them. Oh, there are a few exceptions over the years such as (but not limited to) Topkapi, It Takes a Thief, Nothing But the Best (starring Alan Bates) and a few others but these by and large were done in a light handed manner, not trying to be anything but entertainment. Recently the plethora of casino rip-off movies (Ocean’s 11, etc.) have glorified stealing on an unimagined scale. The top stars in Hollywood rush to make these movies because they are a lot of fun to make and it’s very nice payday. The worst offender (to me, of course) was the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  My kids were then 16, 14, and 12 and we all saw the movie together. I can’t say that I didn’t laugh because I did, but underlying the obvious humor was the message the movie sent: It’s okay to break the rules and destroy property. If you’re rich enough and smart enough you won’t get caught, and you won’t get punished. It really doesn’t matter who gets hurt. Fast forward twenty years. The sixteen to twenty year olds who saw the movie have either reached or are rapidly approaching forty.  They also voted in the last four or five elections. The current administration has a penchant to emulate Ferris Bueller’s approach to running the government. They certainly have no respect for the rule of law. Is there something in our national character that only looks at armed robbers, murderers, rapists and other violent people as criminals?  Since when is lying under oath not a punishable crime?  Same for obstruction of justice and a whole host of other offenses too numerous to mention.  Intellectually, people will say that they are not influenced by these things, but on an emotional level I wonder.  Intellectually, we as a nation are the most vapid and incurious that we have ever been. With all the information resources available to us we still have the attention span of 30 second or less, preferring the sound bite to real discourse.  Madison Avenue has been very adept at appealing to our emotions over our brain. A mind is too precious a commodity to be toyed with that way.  My fear is that there is a subliminal message being sent. It may not be intentional in the sense that the producers are encouraging us to condone the actions of their characters (What? The Hollywood liberal elite like George Clooney think breaking the law is OK?), but the message is there and it does influence our attitudes about right and wrong on a subliminal level. Just in case you don’t know it I do not believe in censorship. I do, however, believe in responsibility and recourse. Remember, this post is about solutions. How can we as a society get back on track and make sure that wrongdoers get properly punished. How can Hollywood become more responsible towards that end without sacrificing artistic integrity? Given the abdication of our moral  authority in the world, how can we successfully teach respect for the rule of law to the next generation. The examples we have been setting have been detrimental to say the least. Lets keep asking the tough questions. The answers are there somewhere.

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