The Pendulum and the Pit

By: Dr. Ted Baehr; ©1999
What is the driving force behind the type of movies Hollywood releases? Why are they so much “worse” today than they were years ago? Can something be done to reverse the trend?



EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Ted Baehr is a resident of Camarillo, author of The Media-Wise Family, the publisher of MOVIEGUIDE ®, and the Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission.

Before Scream hit the big screen, the major media pundits had pronounced the horror movie genre dead. Then Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Halloween H2O exploded across America’s movie screens, and suddenly the media mavens started searching for explanations.

Actually, the explanation is quite simple: the little children who had once begged their parents to see The Lion King are now turning into teenagers. Their movie and television habits reflect the impact of their adolescent cognitive development as well as the forces of our contemporary cultural imperatives. This generation, which Time Magazine has dubbed the “Baby Kaboom” generation (Newsweek calls them “Generation Y”), consists of 77 million children! These are the children born between 1979 and 1989 (a million and a half more children than the “Baby Boomers”).

Like the “baby boomers” who drove the box office up for the likes of Davy Crockett and the other golden age of Disney movies when they were young, and then shifted to Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in their teens, the viewing tastes of this new “baby kaboom” generation has followed a similarly predictable pattern.

If we look back over the last ten years, we can prove that family films do better at the box office because consciously or not the entertainment industry catered to the “baby kaboomers.” But, if we want to look forward, we only need to extrapolate from the evidence of the predictably maturing tastes of this audience of “baby kaboomers.”

As they enter into their teenage years, these “baby kaboomers” have indicated that they, too, are more interested in experiencing thrills and uncovering taboos. Just as the baby boomers sought out Wild Bunch, Rosemary’s Baby and Midnight Cowboy, this new crop of teens is seeking out The Blair Witch Project, American Pie and Austin Powers.

That being said, they seem to be on an obviously much faster track than the previous generational demographic cycles. Whereas the “baby boomers” and “Generation X’ers” seem to have at least a residue of Judeo-Christian morality, this “baby kaboom” generation seems more in tune with moral relativism.

Again, to look back at the past in order to predict the future, these teenagers are in many ways similar to the post World War I generation in Germany and Russia – youths who cast off the moral constraints of their Judeo-Christian heritage and followed after Nietzsche and Marx in the ”God is Dead/Anything Goes/Morality is a Bourgeois Inhibition” rebellion.

If the cognitive preferences of the “baby kaboomers” are detached from a moral an­chor, we may even foresee this generation acting similar to the German and Russian generations who took to the streets in their brown shirts or red shirts and declared war on the values that they thought were restricting their pleasures and desires. If so, this new generation may sow the same seeds as did the brown shirts and red shirts of Europe after World War I, which grew into authoritarian dictatorships that cannibalized many of their own people in gruesome, genocidal Holocausts. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his opus on America, a republic needs self-discipline or it will succumb to the whip of tyranny.

Of course, this may not be the case today. We may have a strong enough moral base to withstand such pressures. Perhaps, as the “baby kaboomers” get older, they will return to sense and sensibility, give birth to their own families and demand a new cycle of family-friendly films for their children. Or, there may be extraordinary circumstances that will turn them in a totally unpredictable direction: pushed by economic crises; revival; or, simply a return to the safe and familiar values of their grandparents.

In fact, one study by a major entertainment studio already shows that many of this new generation are turning away from the rootless values of their parents and toward the values of their grandparents. However, these so-called “granny-factor” members of the “baby kaboom” generation may not be the cutting edge. The cutting edge is usually led by those who embrace the extreme, push the envelope and persuade others to do the same.

What is at stake here is a battle for the souls of this generation. Which path are they going to take? The path of the European brown shirts and the Columbine killers? Or, the moral highway of the concerned, ethical and righteous builders of the future!

Whichever road they take, however, too many leaders of the entertainment industry are focusing on their audience’s vulnerable adolescent desires. As the entertainment industry news media have reported, the 14-year-old is the target audience. One can attract that audience with either good writing and intelligent dialogue, or (regrettably) more easily with sex and violence…just as one attracts flies with either sugar or garbage.

If the entertainment studios pander to humanity’s baser instincts, the pendulum may swing lower and lower into the pit, and a dire dissection of our culture will take place. If the entertainment executives and creative talent decide to be a positive force, with respect for their craft and responsibility to their audience, then they may just guide this “baby kaboom” generation to newer and brighter horizons.

It is all so very possible…and just a question of making the right choices.

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