As we are once again being inundated with that annual, bigger-than-life buzz about film awards, let’s try putting movies in some perspective.
Movies aren’t real. They’re a form of entertainment. However, as such, they reflect the values of those who make them and influence the audiences who watch them. Popular values impact the content of everything we see in the media. There is little reality in “reality” shows. News networks are owned by the entertainment industry. And even so-called documentaries are less fact-filled than politically correct.
Basically, film projects and broadcast programing are determined by two factors: what do the producers want to show and what will the most people pay to see or hear? Specific eras can be defined by public acceptance and popular support for what artists of their time try to express. As the values of societies change, their art changes. What is entertaining to one generation may be boring or even outrageous to another.
Changes in values from one generation to the next used to be gradual. Now, differences seem to multiply exponentially. You may be familiar with a series of TV commercials in which one child tells younger children how good kids have it today. In one of those commercials, the older child was about 8 and the younger ones about 5. Granted, this is intended to be funny, but it illustrates how fast technology is changing the world and how it tends to segment one generation from another.
The other day I watched Life Begins For Andy Hardy. It was made in 1941 and starred Mickey Rooney. Between 1937 and 1958 sixteen movies were made about Andy Hardy and his family — an idealized, typical American family with typical, American ideals. This movie was the eleventh in the series. By the time it was made, the character of Andy Hardy was well-known to movie goers and in 1939 Mickey Rooney had been named the number one box-office draw in the nation. The values portrayed in this movie sold because they reflected the popular values of the time.
The plot of the movie centers around 18 year-old Andy, who has just graduated from high school. His parents want him to go to college and become a lawyer, as his father, Judge Hardy had before him. Of course Andy wants to get a job and experience life on his own. He sees the next ten years as being the best years of his life, and is unsure of “wasting” it on studying law. His father wisely suggests that no matter how old a man gets, he should always see the next ten years as being the best years of his life.
Early in the film, during one of their family conversations (Does that ever happen any more?), Andy asks, “What is this world coming to?” His mother explains, “It’s come to the day when a fine, manly young fellow wants to go out into the world and see if he can fly with his own wings. The same as his father did, once. The same as my father did, once. The same as your son will one day want to, Andrew.” Rather than portraying a generation gap, this movie modeled a continuity — a connectedness — between generations.
Later in the film, Judge Hardy has some advice for Andy, who is being tempted by a lady where he works. Without directly confronting his son, he speaks to him of principles:
Judge: “Well, someday you’re going to be married. And marriage is the one happiness in the world today that can be spoiled by anticipating it. Many marriages are ruined, just that way.”
Andy: “Do you mean a fella’s morality? Being moral?”
Judge: “No, I mean fidelity.”
Andy: “Fidelity to what?”
Judge: “Fidelity to the girl that someday you’re going to marry. Somewhere in the world today there’s a girl — now, perhaps only a child in pigtails.
Andy: “Well Dad, how can a fella be faithful to a girl he hasn’t even met yet?”
Judge: “Well, that’s very easy. By entering into an illicit romance you’re just inviting yourself to the habit of unfaithfulness. Infidelity is a habit — all too easy to acquire if it begins before marriage. The habit of transferring one’s affections from one girl to another is very apt to destroy the ability to bestow those same affections permanently on your wife.
I know what you’re thinking about. You’re thinking the same thoughts I did when my father talked to me. But thanks for listening.”
There was nothing preachy about this scene. It was just wise advice from a loving father. The movie-watching public today might not be able to understand that this wasn’t a religious movie. It didn’t have a religious message or a religious tone. It was a secular comedy about everyday people, which appealed to everyday people. Of course, since it was made 72 years ago, most of the everyday people of that day aren’t around any more. And most of the everyday people of today would probably think this movie was backward or sexually repressed. They just wouldn’t get it. They belong to a different generation with different values.
Though I was born four years after the making of this movie, its values remained the social norm into the early sixties. I graduated from high school in 1963 and had been taught the same values, not from church — my family didn’t go to church — but from society’s prevailing values, which happened to be Biblical values. Society accepted those Biblical values without forcing anyone to join a religion.
Then, drugs (both legal and illegal) caused the sexual revolution. In the mid-sixties, popular use of the contraceptive pill exploded, eliminating a major obstacle to “free sex”: unwanted pregnancy. Also in the mid-sixties, the use of illicit drugs exploded, eliminating another major obstacle to sex outside marriage: inhibition. Once you remove a person’s inhibitions and remove the consequence of pregnancy, then the remaining obstacles to “free sex” are moral beliefs and STDs (we called them venereal diseases back then). As a result, two things happened: STD rates exploded and morals were loosened.
Most people who are comfortable with their sexually liberated attitudes consider themselves enlightened, and people like me as old-fashioned and backward. But I’d rather point to the Bible as the ultimate source for my values, than to what amounts to a drug-induced frenzy. I’d rather respect previous generations for the wisdom they handed down, than to hold them in contempt for not being fresh or “new”. I’d rather watch an old Andy Hardy movie any day than a show like Family Guy, which mocks anything traditional, has characters devoid of genuine concern for others and is set in a world without shared meaning.
I’d rather laugh with than laugh at. I’d prefer no one be put down, but everyone be lifted up. I’d rather believe in an ideal that I may fail to live up to, than to abandon all standards by saying, “whatever”. It’s not that I’m too old to change. I don’t want to change. After living a lifetime, I’ve learned the older generations got some things right. We tried to pass them down to the next generation, but they were too busy re-inventing everything to pay any attention.