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The Doors of Deception

One of the many sociological uses of Hollywood is its dramatic availability when things go wrong in America. Michael Satchell, for instance, has raised the question in Parade of whether the movies by too often glamorizing drugs and alcohol encourage their use among young people. He cites Goldie Hawn, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and JoBeth Williams as actresses who "have been shown smoking marijuana in millions of American homes." He impresses actor Paul Newman, whose son died after mixing alcohol and valium, with "a list of sixty films with positive drug messages," and he quotes Senator William V. Roth's conviction that movie stars "are great role models for young people—movies are a glamour industry—and when drugs are shown in a favorable light it has very real impact." Some critics, says Satchell, want the Motion Picture Association of America to supplement its current rating system with letters ("SA") that indicate "substance abuse"—especially given the strong possibility that Holly wood might have to choose between self-censorship and government censorship.

Satchell's article makes it clear that there are still people around who believe that the moviemakers have a moral obligation to take a stand against drug abuse. Does this imply their agreement with the ancient conviction that the theater, and the arts generally, cannot be subversive to the...

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