BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Medved, author of "Hollywood vs. America", on the jacket of your book is a little thing that says, "Warning: This book contains explicit material." How come you felt the need to do that?
MICHAEL MEDVED, AUTHOR, "HOLLYWOOD VS. AMERICA": I didn't feel the need to do that; my publisher did because, frankly, I deal with popular music in the book, and there is simply no way to deal with popular music honestly without quoting from actual song lyrics. Most American parents, I think, are totally unaware of the substance of what their children are listening to. I think there's sort of cover-up that goes on because people use the term "raunchy lyrics," but they don't know that what they're actually talking about is genital mutilation, total brutalization of women, the most unspeakable kinds of violence and gore and sexual content. Frankly, it seemed to me necessary if you're going to deal with popular music honestly to quote some of that. When I turned in that chapter, the publisher was very uncomfortable unless we did put a warning to people that in that particular chapter they're going to get some pretty harsh language.
LAMB: What is this book about?
MEDVED: The book is basically about the way the entertainment industry has lost touch with a huge segment of its potential audience. My suggestion is that it is not simply bad citizenship, it's bad business; that they're hurting their own interests at the same time that many of the messages that they are sending out there with such repetitiveness are hurting the country.
LAMB: In the chapter "The End of the Beginning," you talk about 350 pieces of proposed legislation recently introduced. Legislation to do what?
MEDVED: To censor, basically, the films or television or popular music. A lot of it's aimed at popular music. I'm opposed to virtually all of those pieces of legislation. I don't think censorship is the answer here at all. Governmental activism in this area, I think, is going to fail the same way that any governmental activism in so many other areas that have attempted to raise morals tends to have failed. The problem here is not getting the government involved, the problem is getting the corporations who create all of this garbage to recognize their accountability to the American public and to take a more responsible and responsive attitude toward the public they're supposed to serve. The amazing thing about Hollywood, which a lot of people don't realize or acknowledge, is that you're talking about a very small number of companies that control an enormous amount of what we see, of what we hear -- of television, of movies, of popular music. Time-Warner, for instance -- everything from Time magazine to major record companies to Warner Bros. television productions, which are very dominant in the area of television, to Warner Bros. pictures -- all the same company.
LAMB: How many movies are made a year in this country?
MEDVED: In this country, about 500. What's amazing about that is 61 percent of those 500 now are rated R, for restricted audiences, and one would think, as I did -- as most people do; it's common sense -- that the fact that 60, 61 percent of all the movies are rated R is an indication that that's the kind of movie that the people in this country want; that that's the kind of movie that does best at the box office. Well, as the characters in Wayne's World put it, "Not!"
One of the things that I did in this book was a very simple kind of computer analysis, which is to look at the performance of all the R-rated films versus all of the PG- and G-rated family-oriented films, not only in 1991 but going all the way back for 10 years. You know what? Surprise, surprise, surprise -- the PG- and G-rated pictures do consistently better, and yet during that same period of time when they've been doing by an average of about two to one in terms of median grosses at the box office, the percentage of R-rated films went up from 40 percent to 60 percent. That to me is proof positive that this is an industry that is deliberately ignoring the wishes and preferences of a large segment of its audience.
LAMB: Two politicians -- well, not two politicians; I suppose you can call one a politician, and you'll see what I mean -- have been involved in what you're talking about here in the last year. Dan Quayle and "Murphy Brown" -- what's your reaction to that controversy?
MEDVED: I don't like either of those politicians particularly. Frankly, when Dan Quayle discovered "Murphy Brown," this book was already in at the publisher, and I don't think there was anyone in America who was more upset by Dan Quayle attempting to politicize this issue than I was. It's not a political issue. I mean, the fact is, Dan Quayle is a noted foe of big government. I don't think he's suggesting that we need some kind of new federal bureaucracy to approve plot twists on TV series, and if he is suggesting that, then I think that's a terrible idea. But the fact is that there are just as many liberal parents who are concerned about the messages of the popular culture as there are conservative parents. Recently I was debating one of my fellow critics who said, "Well, there was a referendum on all these issues about Hollywood, and we won."
Frankly, I don't believe that the federal election is any indication at all. I don't think people who voted for Bill Clinton were necessarily voting for profanity or violence in motion pictures. I don't see the connection at all. The fact is that 80 percent of the people in this country, according to a Newsweek poll just in October of 1992, say that there is too much sex and too much violence in movies. Now, you can't get 80 percent of Americans to agree on anything. They can't agree that Ross Perot has big ears. All of a sudden on this issue they agree, and that's why the important thing is to take this beyond politics to make it an issue of forcing -- compelling -- an industry to reconnect with the public it's supposed to serve.
LAMB: The other political figure is Tipper Gore.
MEDVED: Tipper Gore, I think, is a very good example of what I'm talking about. She's somebody who no one would describe as an arch-conservative, and she was concerned about the values of the popular culture, particularly the popular music industry, long before Dan Quayle ever picked up the issue. Interestingly, in my book I quote from Tipper Gore, I quote from Bill Clinton, I quote from Marian Wright Edelman, from a number of leading liberals. I don't quote from Dan Quayle or from George Bush. It's not a political issue. I wouldn't describe myself as any kind of a conservative or a right-winger or a religious fanatic or any of those things. It's interesting to me that some of the reaction to this book has been, "Oh, Medved is such a fanatical right-winger, what he's talking about." The fact is, I'm not talking about censorship. I'm opposed to it. What I'm talking about is the fact that most Americans believe that movies and TV are worse than ever today. Gallup asked how many people in America believe that TV reflects very positive values. Do you know how many people they found? Three percent. Now, that's pathetic at a time when there's so many wonderful new alternatives on TV, like C-SPAN, like Arts & Entertainment, like Bravo, the Discovery Channel and all of that. Why are people so much less satisfied with TV today than ever before? It seems to me that the answer isn't that the camera is out of focus, because it's usually not. The answer is the values that television, motion pictures and popular music purvey.
LAMB: MTV played a role in the political campaign that was just completed. You write about music lyrics. What do you think of them?
MEDVED: Of MTV? I think it's loathsome, frankly. I think there is great artistry in some of those music videos, but the National Coalition on TV Violence, which is a very liberal group, by the way, has documented that the majority of music videos on MTV have some elements of violence and some elements of hostility. I must say I feel this very personally because I have two little girls at home who are age 6 and almost 4 who I love as much as life. They're growing up in a world in which there is a mighty engine in the popular culture, like MTV, which puts out the idea that women basically like to be subdued, raped, abused, used. The misogyny of so much of this material, the hatred for women, that seeps out of the song lyrics that I quote, the notion that women somehow respond to teenaged boys mutilating their genitals, which is frankly what you're dealing with in some of the rap music and even some of the heavy metal music -- this is not the kind of material with which major conglomerates should be associated. That raises to me a very important issue here, which is there's always been all kinds of fringe material in American life, and there's room for that -- stuff that you would get at a midnight bookstore -- but it's a very different matter when a major entertainment conglomerate like Time-Warner decides to promote this stuff and put it into the American mainstream. That's my problem, for instance, with the Madonna book which is now the number one best seller.
LAMB: Do you think the recent election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore will have any impact on this issue politically? You do say there are 350 pieces of legislation.
MEDVED: Yes. The fact is that I don't think most of that legislation is going to go particularly far because wiser and cooler heads will prevail. The problem with talking about legislation and governmental solutions is that when you do that you immediately make some kind of thug into a First Amendment hero. I believe everybody has and should always have the right to create any material that they want, but the question is the corporate support for that material. Now the fact is, if somebody's sitting and writing a screenplay, don't interfere with them. If somebody raises the money on his own to make a movie or to create some kind of video, fine. The question becomes what the corporations choose to put before the public. The Writers Guild of America gets 27,000 screenplays registered with it every year. Of those, about 500 get made. Now, that means that there's 26,500 that don't get made. Have those people had their First Amendment rights taken away? Where in the Constitution does it guarantee you a development deal at Paramount? It doesn't. There are many bases in which these corporation decision-makers elect what they're going to make and what they're not going to make. What I'm suggesting is what one basis for that kind of decision-making should be -- what is the impact of this material on the society in which we live?
LAMB: Your book says "Hollywood vs. America." What is Hollywood?
MEDVED: Hollywood is not a place anymore because actually of the major entertainment conglomerates only one, Paramount, is still located in the rather sadly seedy district that is known as Hollywood. Hollywood is a community of people, all of whom seem to know one another; many of whom are related, by the way. This is not only an elite, it's largely a hereditary elite. But it's a group of people who dominate the entire entertainment industry and all of its manifestations, and all of these feed on one another. Popular music and television and motion pictures and videos are all closely intertwined. There are differences in the various industries, but they're all closely intertwined and they're all dependent upon and run by the same conglomerates.
LAMB: I notice you start out [saying] Hollywood is not really what it used to be. You also talk about the myth of the Jews running Hollywood.
MEDVED: Yes, which is very important to me because I'm Jewish. I'm active in the Jewish community. I'm president of a synagogue and proud of that. One of the things that concerns me terribly is the fact that the disillusionment that so many Americans feel with the values of the popular culture and with what the popular culture is putting out there -- the kind of toxic material that so many of our kids receive -- that this kind of disillusionment and suspicion has fed over into anti-Semitism. I've actually heard comments like that. I've received letters like that where people say, "Well, what do you expect? Hollywood's run by the Jews, and the Jews are doing all this stuff to poison Christianity, to destroy America." The point that I make is that not only is it bigoted, but it's highly illogical because Jewish dominance in Hollywood was once a reality.
The fact is that out of the eight major studios, seven of the eight were started by Jewish families and were family-owned businesses. Today none of them are. The Japanese own two of the studios, Italian interests own one of them, Australian interests own another. Capitol Cities Entertainment, which is a major -- you'll pardon the expression -- WASP company, owns ABC-TV. I mean, William Casey was one of the founders of that company, that enterprise. The fact is that the kind of Jewish cabal that people see controlling Hollywood simply doesn't exist. The interesting point here would be if one believes, as some of these anti-Semites do, that the reason that we get unwholesome messages from Hollywood is because of the Jewish influence, then you would think as the Jewish influence declined, the messages would become more wholesome, right? But exactly the opposite is true. I think everybody agrees that what everyone is saying about Hollywood and the material it's sending out there to the public is less wholesome, less for a general audience, more troubling today than it was 50 years ago when you genuinely did have a Jewish industry.
LAMB: You write about having, I believe it was a Jewish friend or a writer or a director come to your house on the Sabbath -- I guess it would be a Friday night because you are traditional -- and this was the first time this individual ever had the religious Jewish Sabbath?
MEDVED: Absolutely. I make that point in the book precisely because I think that many people who aren't Jewish naturally assume that all Jewish people are religious, they go to synagogue, they know something about their religion. The fact is that a far smaller percentage of American Jews are religiously active than American Catholics or Protestants. The people of Jewish extraction who are prominent in Hollywood by and large are very far removed from their own religious tradition. What I suggest in the book is blaming some of Hollywood's excesses on some of the Jewish film makers or creators or producers, blaming that on Judaism is like blaming Madonna on the Roman Catholic parochial school that she attended as a girl. I mean, it just doesn't compute. The fact is that Madonna is in rebellion against that environment, and many of the prominent cutting-edge, as it were, Jewish film makers and creators in Hollywood are clearly in rebellion and full of resentment at their own religious background.
LAMB: Again, back to the politics of it all -- Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.
MEDVED: One of my favorites.
LAMB: Who is she, and why is she one of your favorites?
MEDVED: She and I have debated on the radio, and she's actually a very bright lady. I think she's a very gifted television producer. Linda, I hope you're hearing this, because I think she sort of used me as the enemy, and I don't consider myself an enemy of hers. But she is the producer of "Designing Women" and "Evening Shade" and now of "Hearts of Fire," three successful TV series. She's also the lady who created the Bill Clinton film that was shown at the Democratic convention. She's an old friend of Bill and Hillary's, and an Arkansan, which I guess is very fashionable to be at the moment. But what was interesting about Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is when we were debating on the radio some of these issues a couple of months ago, she said, "What I do in my TV shows is exactly what Melville and Mark Twain did a hundred years ago." And I said, "Excuse me?" I didn't immediately discern the resemblance.
LAMB: Yes, but she does, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.
MEDVED: But she does, that's right. She was talking about her own work. I don't compare myself to Melville and Mark Twain. So I said to her, "You'll pardon me, but I don't immediately discern the similarity between Moby Dick and 'Designing Women.'" Then she sort of pulled back, and she said, "Well, probably Louisa May Alcott was more of a model." But you know, these pretensions -- these are TV shows, and I don't think most people would describe them as high art. I think that her statement is indicative of what I perceive to be part of the problem of Hollywood, which is people are no longer defining their business as the business of entertainment. They're trying to make statements; they're trying to be taken seriously as artists.
I think it's interesting in the old days when Hollywood was populated by "hacks" like John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra and George Kukor, people who tried to entertain, they ended up doing great artistic work. Today when there are people who define their mission as "artistic work," they create work that is neither artistic nor entertaining.
LAMB: What impact did Hollywood -- and I mean the corporate Hollywood and the actors and the entertainers -- have on the recent Bill Clinton campaign or, for that matter, the George Bush campaign?
MEDVED: I think that they had probably a positive impact on Clinton's campaign, because a great deal of his funding was provided by Hollywood. Certainly since the John Kennedy election in 1960, Hollywood has tilted more toward the Democratic side, more toward the liberal side, I think somewhat increasingly every year. This year, for anyone who works in that community as I do, it was unmistakable that you could count on the fingers of one hand the prominent figures who were pro-Bush. It was just a heavily pro-Clinton operation, and they helped Bill a great deal with fund-raising. I know there are different estimates as to the percentage of the Clinton money that actually came from Hollywood, but it certainly is a substantial percentage.
On the Bush side I think that Dan Quayle blew it attempting to make an issue of the cultural elite. Again, I don't think he blew it because he misread the American public. I think he read the American public correctly in terms of their suspicion, their hostility toward a lot of what Hollywood is doing. But where he did misread it was believing that most people would consider this to be a suitable political issue, which they do not. Even though you have such huge percentages of the people agreeing on things like we have too much foul language in motion pictures, that isn't translated into voting for the Bush-Quayle ticket. I think people had a difficult time seeing how casting a vote for Bush and Quayle would suddenly clean up the material they were going to see on movie screens.
LAMB: Mrs. Quayle told us in an interview that she's been meeting with corporate advertisers in this business, saying, "Withhold your advertising from television networks that run this kind of stuff." Do you agree with that method of influencing all this?
MEDVED: By all means. It seems to me very peculiar that Hollywood, which doesn't believe in any concept like dirty words, does have one dirty word that they never want pronounced, and that word is boycott, especially sponsor boycott. That they don't like. Boycotts are as American as apple pie. The Boston Tea Party was a boycott, basically, and a lot of us in the '60s -- I certainly did -- boycotted grapes and boycotted lettuce. People have boycotted to protest apartheid, to protest the despoliation of the environment. It seems to me entirely appropriate, if people are unhappy with what they are seeing on television, to contact the sponsors, and this can be very effective.
Recently when "Civil Wars," this TV series, showed Mariel Hemingway's breasts famously -- actually it's not even her breasts because if you remember a couple of years ago she had a lot of publicity for the silicone implants she got for her role in the movie called "Star 80". But in any event, when they showed these objects on "Civil Wars," they lost two of their major advertisers because of the fear of sponsor boycotts. The fact is, it makes perfect sense. Why do people advertise on television? They advertise because of the assumption that somehow the association, subtle or overt, with this particular program is going to help sell their products. If people are angry and upset at a given program, it goes without saying that it's not going to be the kind of help in selling a product that a sponsor would want.
It seems to me here that one group that I would cite as almost exemplary in terms of its attempts to influence Hollywood is the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination. They have had a great effect in trying to change the image of homosexuals as they are presented in motion pictures and, to some extent, in television. But it seems to me, if they have a right -- and they do -- to get their point of view across, that there should be more presentations of homosexuality on TV, then how can someone say that someone on the other side doesn't have a right to try to influence the television networks in the other direction for less portrayals of homosexuality. I think it's perfectly appropriate for people to use the marketplace and to use the marketplace of ideas to try to project what they want to see in these public media of entertainment.
LAMB: Are you politically active?
MEDVED: No. I've sort of run away from that. I used to be. I went to law school with Bill Clinton; actually, Hillary was in all my first-year law school classes and was a delightful person, tremendously bright. I would say that she was someone who was universally respected at Yale Law School. Then after I left law school I went on a leave of absence to work on a series of political campaigns, all for liberal Democrats, very liberal Democrats, including George McGovern, Ronald V. Dellums, Ellie Lowenstein, and then after four years I had enough and decided to try to make an honest living and went into the business of being a freelance writer.
LAMB: Where were you born?
MEDVED: I was born in Philadelphia, and my father has a Ph.D. in physics. He moved out to San Diego when I was six years old to get a job in the defense industry, and then later taught at UCLA and later worked for NASA. I grew up in San Diego. When I was a junior in high school, my parents committed unspeakable child abuse -- this is very fashionable now, to talk about how you were an abused child. They abuse they did was they moved when I was a junior in high school, and I had to start a new high school as a junior. That was in Southern California, Palisades High School, which actually later became the subject for my first book, which was What Really Happened to the Class of '65?, which was about my own high school class.
LAMB: What was that book about? What was your mission in writing that book?
MEDVED: It was published in 1976 and actually rose to number three on the national best seller list, so I was proud of that and pleased with that. It was one of the first caustic looks back at the '60s. It looked back on the idea that Time magazine had selected our high school class back in '65 as indicative of American youth on the fringe of a golden era -- that was the title on their cover story -- and the fact is that the era hadn't been so golden. A lot of people did tremendous damage to their lives. There were excesses in virtually everything -- sexuality and drug usage; particularly drug usage -- people dropping out of society and totally rejecting any sense of this thing. All of that we recorded, my co-author David Wallechinsky and myself, by interviewing 30 real people who we had gone to school with and viewing what had happened to them in the 10 years immediately following the high school experience.
LAMB: What had happened to them?
MEDVED: One was living in a Mongolian tent called a yurt with her fatherless child. One was a member of Hare Krishna. One had gone through scientology and transcendental meditation and Nichiren Buddhism and was running for Congress with the John Birch Society in Missouri. This was a significantly weird group of people, and the fact is the head cheerleader was teaching feminist studies at Princeton. So it was an interesting group of people; again, all real people. We used real before-and-after photos. I've often thought -- and people ask me all the time -- about doing an update book on these same people, but that would be very difficult because I think that what happened is with the tremendous success of that book the people who were featured in it got a bit more publicity than they welcomed, and not many of them would cooperate a second time around.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
MEDVED: I went to Yale. I started Yale when I was 16. I was a National Merit scholar. I was a very arrogant kid. I only applied to Yale or Harvard, and I told my parents that if I didn't get into either one of those two places, I'd work on a tramp steamer or hitchhike across the country -- do something like that. Fortunately, I got into Yale, and I didn't have to upset my parents unduly.
LAMB: How do you know you were arrogant?
MEDVED: People tell me.
MEDVED: Yes, oh, particularly the critics of this book. But it's one of those things -- particularly when you're a high school intellectual. There's nothing more arrogant or more insufferable than a public high school intellectual as I was. Today I would have genuinely hated myself if I ran into myself from high school. I had a sense of humor. My big claim to fame in high school was running a campaign at the time to turn the football field into a rice paddy and to abolish football, and I actually enlisted some support in that campaign. It was a very soggy football field anyway, so the rice would have grown very well. We didn't win. We didn't achieve our dream.
LAMB: Who taught you the initial ideas that had you so active in high school? Did you get it at home?
MEDVED: I guess. My parents have always been non-conformists. My mother is a biochemist and, as I mentioned, my dad's a physicist. My dad's the brightest guy I know. He's my hero.
LAMB: Is he political?
MEDVED: He was. He was active in the Henry Wallace campaign in 1948. He's an old leftie, but he's made a political journey since then. I will say very proudly that my father, after he left NASA and he founded his own company and did fairly well with that company, two years ago he retired and moved to Israel where he's made a new life for himself in Jerusalem. He is a true idealist who has always loved Israel and always dreamed of going to live there and at age 66 was able to do that. He's very happy. He lives within eyesight of the Western Wall, and my younger brother Jonathan just moved with his three children to join my father in Jerusalem. The pressure is on for my wife and myself, but we are very, very committed to life in the United States. I don't think I could ever feel at home in Israel the way I feel at home in this country, and I also believe -- as important as I believe Israel is and I care about it deeply -- that the future of mankind depends to an enormous extent on what happens to this great country.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
MEDVED: I live in Southern California, on the fringes of what passes for an acceptable neighborhood in the Hollywood world. One of my big problems whenever I have to go to screenings at studios is I don't have an acceptable car. People rent cars to drive the "right" car into studios for meetings, because you're supposed to have the "right" car. Well, I don't. My wife is a clinical psychologist, and she practices psychology from the guest house behind our house. She also is an author also of lavishly controversial books. Her most recent, very controversial book was called A Case Against Divorce. I think partially inspired by her example of the fact that she could survive all the knocks and the controversy in good spirits and with happiness and aplomb helped to encourage me to write this particular book, which I knew was not going to get me named as the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce man of the year. When you write a book called Hollywood vs. America, that's a safe bet.
LAMB: When you're not talking about your books and not writing books, what do you do?
MEDVED: I host a TV show called "Sneak Previews" on PBS. We're on 173 stations on PBS. We're on every week. My partner Jeffrey Lyons and I review the new movies. We tape the show in Chicago, which is tough because he lives in New York and I live in the L.A. area. We meet in the middle of the country and tape the show twice a month, so we do two shows at once. It's been eight years since I've been hosting "Sneak Previews." I see five or six movies every week, and, you know, I began to feel like a glorified sewer inspector. You become so desperately hungry for something you can recommend with any enthusiasm at all, for a film like "Enchanted April", which is just a great film and I recommend it gladly to everybody that I know.
When you're a film critic people stop you -- you know, they recognize me from TV, and they'll stop me in airports or bookstores, wherever I happen to be. I'm most pleased with that, by the way; I like being recognized. They'll say, "Well, what's new and good at the movies? What's worth seeing?" Usually I say, "Good luck." "Enchanted April" is a good picture to recommend. "Howards End" was a terrific picture from earlier this year. A terrific picture called "Allen and Naomi" I liked very much earlier this year. Contrary to what some of my critics say, I don't hate movies. I really do like movies. I want to see more movies that I enjoy. I think like a lot of people, what I miss about films today is that old feeling that you used to have that you'd go into the theater, you'd spend two hours in air-conditioned comfort and you'd come out feeling good. It's a long time since people have had a movie like that.
LAMB: Do people work in the movies to have political influence?
MEDVED: That's a very interesting question. I think that with some people, I'm not sure that's their main reason for going into the business, but I do think that once they get into the business and develop positions of influence in the movie business, they feel obliged to send various political messages that they consider to be important or responsible. For instance, people are very sensitive on certain things in the movie business.
You may recall that 10 years ago it would be quite common to see motion pictures, even television shows, that rather glamorized drug use; that showed cocaine or marijuana, particularly, as sexy and sort of fun. That changed in the mid-'80s. Bill Bennett, who was the drug czar at the time, made a very aggressive pitch to a number of very important Hollywood people and said, "You're helping to ruin a country. We've got this blight of drugs. Come on, let's get together." Frankly, it changed like that. It was remarkable, and you could almost date the change. Today, any time you see drug use on films, it's considered something negative. It's viewed in quite a negative light. So in that sense they are, I think, sensitive to some kinds of political issues. I think one of the problems some of us have is that while they have a sense of responsibility on some things, like trying to scale back some of the racism that has traditionally been so present in Hollywood films, trying to scale back some of the misogyny, which I think there is some attempt to do now finally ...
LAMB: Let me ask you what that word means.
MEDVED: Misogyny, a hatred of women, though I will say I saw perhaps the most misogynistic, the most women-hating picture I have ever seen, which was a terrible film called "Death Becomes Her" with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis, my favorite star -- not! The hatred for the female that just seeps out of the screen with this particular movie, I found very unpleasant.
LAMB: Bruce Willis is not your favorite, but I want to connect it to politics again. He was out on a hustings for George Bush.
MEDVED: Right. I don't hold that against him.
LAMB: But why is he not your favorite . . .
MEDVED: Star? Because I think he's a particularly uninteresting actor. He plays himself in film after film, and the sort of persona that he's developed I think is rather obnoxious and has become a great bore. He certainly helped to ruin Brian DePalma's disastrous attempt to make "Bonfire of the Vanities", and the only films of his that have succeeded at all are the two "Die Hard" movies. Again, he's basically walking through them. There's some people where it's a mystery. You don't understand, why is this person a star? I have that reaction to Bruce Willis. I have that reaction to Madonna, dare I say it? I don't understand why this woman is a star. She's an incredibly gifted self-promoter.
LAMB: Why do you do what you do?
MEDVED: A very good question. My wife asks me the same question a lot. As I mentioned, she's a clinical psychologist, and Diane believes that movie violence and sleaze is unhealthy for children and other living things, including adults and daddies like me. She actually won't come with me to most of the films that I have to screen, so I'm a lonely critic most nights. She takes the point of view that the cumulative impact of eight years of seeing six movies every week has to be bad for you, and I think she would be delighted if I moved on to do something else.
But to answer your question, I'm there at "Sneak Previews" basically because I don't know of anybody else who's saying what I'm saying. Not to overdramatize it, but basically I've taken a lot of hits from my fellow critics who have called this book every name imaginable and called me every name imaginable because I've dissented from this idea that it's our job as critics just to look at the camera work and the editing and the acting -- not to talk about the trends, the themes, the substance of motion pictures. In terms of some of the positions that I've taken over the years: number one, that Hollywood is specifically hostile to organized religion and sends out anti-religious messages even at its own financial peril; that Hollywood is surprisingly hostile to the American family; that it greatly overstates the idea of the family in meltdown and tends to portray only very rarely anything like functional, decent American families.
On all of those issues, nobody else is taking those positions. I actually think it's kind of useful that somebody should be out there rattling the cage, getting the studios angry and getting his fellow critics angry. I've been enjoying that controversy recently, so I think I'll stick with it for a while.
LAMB: Has the criticism helped sell your book?
MEDVED: Probably not. It's so nasty. What gets me so furious is I don't mind people calling me names, I don't mind people like my colleague David Denby who said in his review of my book that "this is the stupidest book about the popular culture I have read." I don't even mind Peter Bart of Variety saying, "This is not so much a book as a nervous breakdown set in type." What I mind is the distortion of what I'm saying, and a tremendous number of the people who have written about this book have written about something completely different from what I have written.
I mean, Richard Corliss in Time magazine said, "This book is a plea for a return to the Puritanical production codes of the 1930s." I have a specific chapter, you brain-dead twerp, that says specifically that I am opposed to production codes, which I am, and if he had actually cracked the book and looked it up, he could have avoided that particular mistake. But I don't think it's a mistake; I think it's a deliberate misrepresentation. They want the ideas that I'm advocating to look ridiculous because then you don't have to answer the arguments, and, frankly, I think the arguments are those that the overwhelming majority of Americans would agree with. The reason that most people feel uncomfortable with the popular culture and its impact on their own families and their own children has to do with the values of that culture and the excesses and the bias for the bizarre that that culture seems to continually advance.
LAMB: Politics, again, how would you describe yourself politically?
MEDVED: I'm a moderate, a raging moderate. I'm pro-choice, I'm pro-environmental. I split my ticket this time in California in the election. I try not to be politically active. I ended up being a little bit active to support our Democratic congressman, Mel Levine, when he was running for the U.S. Senate. I think he would have made a terrific senator. I'm sorry he didn't win the primary. So it's one of those things. I've supported Republican candidates -- ah! That's something you're not supposed to say in Hollywood. But, again, my main focus is on values issues where I don't think they're political at all. My partner on "Sneak Previews," Jeffrey Lyons, is a self-described Mario Cuomo liberal, and he and I tend to agree more often than we disagree when it comes to some of the values of the films we review.
We actually got in trouble together on a film called "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover", a loathsome film. It's not so much a film as something you scrape off the sole of your shoe. It features a scene with a 9-year-old boy having his navel carved out with a carving knife, two naked people making love on a truck filled with rotting, maggot-infested garbage with a close-up of the maggots, a cannibalism scene with a body all trussed up and nicely cooked with vegetables where the private parts are sliced off and consumed. I mean, a disgusting film in every way -- totally pointless. Of course, the critics loved it. Two thumbs up from two of my colleagues whose approach I've always thought to be all thumbs, praise by Richard Corliss in Time magazine as "exciting, extraordinary, exemplary."
So on the air, we talked about this film, and we talked not just about the film but of the response of some of our colleagues who had praised the film without giving the audience a single bit of warning as to what kind of horrors this picture contained. That, it seemed to me, was irresponsible. One of the jobs of a critic is to give people -- you know, people are sensitive. There are a lot of people out there who don't like cannibalism scenes, who don't like sex on a toilet, which is something else this film contained. You know, let people know what you're dealing with here. So, of course, this produced some very intense criticism, particularly from Mr. Corliss, who I think was unhappy about being mentioned in that context. But the fact is I don't buy this idea of a critical community. I'm quite willing to break ranks. I'm quite willing to draw swords and duel on a lot of these issues with many of my fellow critics. I think it's important to raise some of the ideas and some of the concerns.
LAMB: Go back to your days at Yale and the law school. What do you know about Hillary Clinton that we don't?
MEDVED: Not that much. She was much heavier then. It's a terrible thing to say, I know, but it's one of those things. I hadn't seen either Bill or Hillary for many, many years when I turned on C-SPAN. I was in a hotel room, and it was in the middle of the Iowa caucus period. He had just announced his candidacy, and he was speaking in Iowa, and they said, "And now Gov. and Mrs. Bill Clinton." He was walking up to the podium, and there was this good-looking blond behind him. I said, "Oh, my God, Bill dumped Hillary." Hillary is one of those rare and fortunate human beings who looks much better 20 years later than she did 20 years ago. But she's still unquestionably the same bright, articulate, and from what I can gather, fundamentally decent person that she was then. She was extraordinarily considerate. In a very competitive law school environment, I think she was one of the very few people who no one had an unkind word to say about. She was certainly even more popular than her husband-to-be who came and arrived in the class of '73.
LAMB: What about him? What do you know about him?
MEDVED: It's one of those funny things because I believe the very first time I met him, which was out in front of the law school, he was talking about running for governor of Arkansas. I don't think there's any question, anybody who knew Bill 20 years ago will tell you the guy was ambitious. I think that one of the first campaigns that Bill actually worked in was a campaign in which I actually worked. It was the campaign I left law school to work in, which was the Joe Duffy campaign for U.S. Senate in 1970. Bill ran our 3rd District office, and he did a tremendous job. He's very capable. I will say that behind his back some of his colleagues at law school did snicker and laugh a little bit about the tremendously intense political ambition that was clearly there and very much in place, even 20, 22, 23 years ago.
LAMB: What had you so intensely interested in politics back then, and now has you kind of removed from it? What changed in your life?
MEDVED: Isn't that interesting? I think a lot of us were so forced into politics by the Vietnam War.
LAMB: Were you drafted?
MEDVED: No. I never got my draft notice. I didn't have an uncle. I dodged the draft, like many other people in my generation. The way I got out was I got a teaching deferment while I was attending my first year of law school. I was teaching part-time in New Haven, so I got what was called a 2-A, which is an occupational deferment which lasted as long as I was teaching, and then I lucked out in the lottery, as Mr. Clinton did. But for a lot of us who did avoid service in the war, I think you had to justify that in one way or another. I still think it was somewhat shameful, frankly, when I look back on it and I think that there were less fortunate people who weren't at Yale Law School who served in my place, in effect. I mean, I don't feel proud of what I did in avoiding the draft, but at the time for those of us who chose not to go to Vietnam, it wasn't enough to just say, "I'm not going to go." If you say that, then you have to say, "Well, this war is wrong and we've got to do what we can to stop it," and that certainly was my main motivation in getting actively involved in politics initially.
I worked the McCarthy campaign in New Hampshire when he was running, and then I took a month off from school to work for Robert Kennedy. I was actually there at the Ambassador the night that he was shot, which was a horrible experience. I think that part of what kept me at politics was that experience. You felt like this is a message and you've got to keep at this. What soured me on it was finding that a lot of the people whose ideas I agreed with were disgusting human beings. Really the pits -- without mentioning any names, some of my bosses. I was working basically as a speechwriter. That's what I did. Some of the people I worked for were really pathetic. Not Joe Duffy, who I mentioned before, who I think is a terrific gentleman and an outstanding human being and American leader and a real national resource.
LAMB: Now president of American University.
MEDVED: The very man.
LAMB: Married to Ann Wexler.
MEDVED: That's right. Ann was our campaign manager. Ann and Joe weren't married yet. Ann was the campaign manager, and they're great people. I have tremendous affection and respect going back more than 20 years for Joe and Ann, who I worked for, but some of the people I worked for subsequently, it was very disillusioning -- it was very disillusioning -- because I was a kid, and all of a sudden there was somebody who was admired and held up to public esteem who has substance abuse problems and very fundamental moral . . . It was so dispiriting and disillusioning, and then I was finding myself falling into the same thing. I felt that it was very difficult for me to lead any kind of normal, decent, organized life while I was working politics because it sucks up everything you've got. It sucks up everything in your life. Suddenly politics is more important than any relationship, than any commitment, and that was difficult for me. I don't think I could have lived that way, and I did make a conscious decision that I was going to get out of it.
Initially I got out of it to write about politics. The first book that I actually got a contract for was a book called "The Shadow Presidents", which was about the White House staff which was published in 1979. The question is, how did I segued into movies, which was complicated. One, I did a book about movies in 1980, about the worst movies ever made called "The Golden Turkey Awards". That led to a lot of talking about that book on television and on the radio, and on one of the TV shows on CNN that I was asked back to repeatedly, they said, "Well, why don't you come back and talk about all the new movies that come out for us?" I thought, "Great. It will help sell my book, and it's promotion." I didn't even realize they were offering me a job, but they were and I worked on CNN for three years and then moved over to PBS.
LAMB: Do movies and television affect the political attitudes of people?
MEDVED: I think they affect people's behavior. I think to say there's a direct correlation between what people see on the screen and their voting behavior or their political attitudes is a tough case to make. For instance, if you look in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan won this overwhelming re-election victory in 1984 at a time in the early '80s when movies were hardly tub-thumping for the Republican right wing. Yes, you had movies occasionally like "Top Gun" that glorified the military, but by and large movies were as they always have been, sort of with an anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment point of view, and taking that point of view which I think is new to motion pictures, which is a very dark view of American society; that American society and institutions and our past and our future are all corrupt and hopeless.
It's one of the things I protest in my book. I think there is an unbalanced, negative portrayal of all things American, particularly American history. In 1986, at the height of Ronald Reagan's presidency, you had a movie come out called "Revolution" which was a $35 million stinkeroo starring Al Pacino as one of the colonists struggling for independence. But the whole point of the movie was it went ahead and portrayed the American revolutionaries as the bad guys. Now, Warner Bros., in making this movie, clearly is out of touch with what the American people want. We tend, in most movies that have been made recently about our past, to look for something that could be considered some kind of disgrace for America and to focus on that. Only rarely have we dissented from that and actually portrayed an incident from our history that might be considered rousing or inspiring by someone. The movie "Glory", which was one of my favorite films of the '80s, was an exception. That was a film that I liked very much. And I think "The Last of the Mohicans", in its own peculiar way, is another film that gives people that sort of vague, patriotic sensibility, and I think that's one of the reasons that it's been such a success at the box office.
LAMB: I hate to overdo this connection thing, but let me go back to Bill and Hillary Clinton at Yale. We talked about Linda Bloodworth-Thomason earlier. You talk about the 350 pieces of legislation that are in a hopper over here and can be reintroduced every year, and you talk about your unhappiness with what you're seeing on television and in the movies and all the money that was given by the Hollywood set to the Clinton campaign. In a showdown over legislation in this town, over censorship in Hollywood, what will the Clintons do?
MEDVED: Oh, there's no question there. They're clearly opposed to censorship. They've expressed that sentiment. In fact, even Tipper Gore has actually retreated -- and she was never in favor of censorship, by the way. I think she has been very badly treated by the Hollywood establishment, who portrayed her as some kind of right-winger. Frank Zappa called her a "cultural terrorist."
LAMB: Why did they drop it so soon then?
MEDVED: I think that her husband's political future demanded that she pull back from some of those issues because Senator Gore has very warm connections with much of the Hollywood community.
LAMB: Let me also make this connection: You say that Bill Bennett had an impact, you think, maybe, on the change in the attitude toward drugs on television.
MEDVED: Yes, I think he did.
LAMB: Do you ever see Bill Clinton standing up or Mrs. Clinton standing up and taking hard-line against the kind of things that you see on television?
MEDVED: Interesting. I think it will be more difficult for them because of the very close relationship with the Hollywood community, but I do quote Bill in my book, talking about his concern for his daughter Chelsea and about what she sees on TV. You know what I see out there is a sense that they're trying to kidnap our kids; that they're trying, in a way, to interfere with my ability to convey my own values to my children. They're imposing a set of values that are bizarre, loony, and, again, you see it the way sexuality is portrayed. An American teenager at the age of 14 who isn't out there doing it like some kind of rabbit is made to feel like a nerd or a loser by the popular culture, and that's not a message that most American parents welcome.
LAMB: You talk about your association with American Enterprise Institute.
MEDVED: Sure. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion that they had here in Washington in March, and I was thrilled to participate with William Bennett and Judge Robert Bork and Daniel Forsten and Richard Grenier, who I think is the finest film critic working in America. I sat right next to Jack Valenti, and what a pleasure it was to debate Jack Valenti in that setting. It's always a pleasure to debate Jack. He's a courtly gentleman; he's very articulate. He just happens to be dead wrong on most of these issues.
LAMB: You also mention in your book about the ratings system, the X and R and PG and G. How much did Jack Valenti have to do with that, and is it a political decision that they made?
MEDVED: When Jack came in as head of the Motion Picture Association of America in 1966, the old production code system, the Hays code, had broken down. It was basically being ignored more than it was being followed. What Jack did was restructure things into what he felt was a more modern and moderate way. In other words, the old Hays code said in effect that you could only make G-rated movies; that every movie would have to be made for a family audience.
What Jack said was, "That's not fair. We have to have a certain number of adult films that are made, and that's appropriate. We can compete with some of these successful European imports." What's interesting is, I quote in the book, when they did that there was always the assumption that the great majority of films would still be G-rated films. They'd still be made for the whole family. And, of course, to see how untrue that is, less than 2 percent of all films were rated G, and by the way, some of the most successful films of the year. G films on average do far better than any other kind of motion picture, and for the obvious reason that you can sell not two tickets but four and five, if people come along with their kids.
LAMB: Then why are they making the movies that are rated R?
MEDVED: This has been a whole big focus, as you know, in my book, which is the motivation for this madness. The fact is that many Hollywood people, even more than they want to make money, they want to be taken seriously as artists, as creators, like Linda Bloodworth-Thomason comparing herself to Mark Twain and Melville. They want the respect of their peers. There is a sense in Hollywood that, yes, you can make money on a little film about a pee-wee hockey team like The Mighty Ducks, but that's not a serious or hard-hitting film. To make a serious or hard-hitting film, you make a film that exposes some horror in America or that's downbeat.
LAMB: Which critic to they most respect, then? Who are they playing to?
MEDVED: They're playing to one another. The thing they most respect is the Oscars. It's huge. It's like a religious occasion in Hollywood. It's phenomenal, the attention that this has received, and when the Academy Awards honor as the highest example of what this industry can achieve, when they honor a slickly made little thriller about two serial killers, one of whom skins and the other of whom eats his victims -- The Silence of the Lambs -- I think that makes a profound statement. This is the first time in the history of Hollywood that the film that was chosen as film of the year by the Gore Gazette is also chosen as the best picture of the year by the Academy.
LAMB: You say nice things in your book about Donald Wildman.
MEDVED: Not particularly nice things. I say he's controversial, and I say he has a right to his opinion.
LAMB: But I thought you left the impression, and I obviously must be wrong, that you thought the work he was doing was worthwhile.
MEDVED: No, I don't. What I do is I give a list of organizations -- some of which I support and some of which I don't; some of which I support some of the time -- that are trying to work on influencing the media. I list some liberal organizations and some conservative organizations. What I do quote Donald Wildman as saying, and here I agree with him, is that I think it's peculiar that people who believe totally in free speech somehow would deny him his free speech to criticize Hollywood. I happen to think that a lot of Wildman's criticism of Hollywood is just wrong-headed. It's just wrong. I mean, he doesn't see a lot of the movies that he criticizes, and I disagree with him on a range of issues. I think he has a perfect right, just like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination has a right, to advocate an agenda and try to interact with this industry rather than simply accepting blandly and in a supine way what they're dishing out.
LAMB: On the back of your book, the advance praise for Hollywood vs. America -- and I'm bringing all this up because it's just mixed signals and I want to get your reason for it -- Steve Allen. Politically, where would you find Steve Allen?
MEDVED: Steve's a very committed liberal. He's a sort of charter member of the Hollywood liberal community.
LAMB: He writes, "Everyone, right, left and middle, is perfectly aware that we are in a period of cultural and moral collapse." What proof does he have that everyone believes that?
MEDVED: I have a tough enough time defending my own writing.
LAMB: Do you think that's true that everyone . . .?
MEDVED: I think the overwhelming majority of Americans do believe that, sure. And I think it's obvious. In other words, if you look at it . . .
LAMB: Are the people in Hollywood that are writing these movies leftists?
MEDVED: Many, not all.
LAMB: Do the ones that write this stuff believe that we're in a state of cultural and moral collapse?
MEDVED: Oh, sure.
LAMB: And yet they write it anyway.
MEDVED: No, and I think that's part of the problem is they can feel a great sense of responsibility. Mark Canton, one of the people behind "Lethal Weapon", pointed very proudly to in "Lethal Weapon 3", which is a film he didn't make, by the way, but he said, "Look, 'Lethal Weapon 3' was so positive. They use seat belts! Isn't that great?" You know, you influence people for seat belts, but meanwhile there are hundreds of dead bodies flying everywhere on screen. There is this double standard that they have.
They feel very good about themselves for urging recycling or condom use, but when it comes to urging violence against women or violence as the solution to everything or irresponsible sexual behavior, then they take no responsibility. And this question about the social and moral collapse, I think that people on the left are just as concerned as people on the right about teenage pregnancy, about teenage promiscuity, about the level of violence in our public schools where there are literally thousands of incidents of violence every day. My mother worked as a school teacher for some years and was injured by her fifth graders. This is serious stuff, and, again, I don't think one has to be a right-winger to say that there is a very big problem with the values that many American young people are growing up with.
LAMB: We're about out of time. At the end of the '90s, what will you be writing about the last 10 years?
MEDVED: I'm not sure. We're in the middle. We're about to take a little turn into the decade. I think that probably when people talk about the '90s they will date the '90s as having truly begun with the beginning of the Clinton administration, the same way that when people talk about the '60s, they don't mean '61 and '62. They mean what happened after the Kennedy assassination, by and large. So I think it remains to be seen. I think what's happened -- and this is very much the sense that I have in my book -- is that things have become very bitterly polarized, and that's a shame. There are very rare incidences where people from the left and the right can agree. It seems to me that one of them has to do with the worries about the popular culture and its impact on our kids. I think this is an area where people could work together constructively to try to get more responsiveness and responsibility from a gigantic industry.
LAMB: Do you ever see yourself in politics again?
MEDVED: God forbid, no! It's hard enough to be a movie critic.
LAMB: Next book?
MEDVED: My next book, which is finished, is called "Riding High", and it's about how we got into this mess. It's about the making of Easy Rider, which I think was a decisive film, with 30 real people who worked together on "Easy Rider" and how their lives changed in the years since. It's too long right now. I have to cut it down. I'm working with the publisher on that.
LAMB: When is it coming out?
MEDVED: It's due out in October of '93.
LAMB: This is the current Michael Medved book, "Hollywood vs. America: The Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values". Thank you very much for joining us.
MEDVED: Thank you, Brian. It was a great pleasure speaking with you.
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