COMMENTARY – “Are you that desperate for an execution?” – Sam Patterson, Defense Attorney speaking to Marty Rockman, Producer of “Citizen Verdict” – 2003)
There is absolutely no denying the media today has transitioned from a somewhat objective public service entity to a biased propaganda machine that will it seems, remain forever lost in cyberspace until such time it is swallowed by the very black hole it has created taking with it those who worship it.
I believe the media reached its point of no return back in the late 70’s, surprisingly enough during a seemingly apparent moment of nostalgic journalistic integrity when it actually attempted to participate in productive journalism by asking the question: “Do movies shape opinions and/or influence actions in society?”
The question rocked Hollywood. Fearing a potential backlash like that experienced briefly in the 50’s and 60’s from those who believed Rock & Roll was the devil’s music, Hollywood’s liberal element and the politicians funded by them responded quickly, collectively and loudly. Movies they rationalized, are only entertainment and don’t have that kind of power. Playing on the words of another battle cry prevalent in that day among those opposed to gun control Hollywood claimed, “Movies don’t influence people, people influence people.”
Some went even further stating it was society that influenced Hollywood rather than the other way around. Given the fact the media and Hollywood are both capitalistic profit seeking entities in spite of their attempts to portray themselves otherwise one can see their point, a case of simple economic supply and demand.
But studies like those conducted by Purdue University English Professor William J. Palmer who during the 90’s sensed a parallel change in our social climate in line with the media and Hollywood in the 70’s and 80’s theorized that rather than one affecting the other the media, Hollywood and society seemed to be working hand in hand and would continue to do so in the 90’s and beyond. And, I believe he was right.
Ratings and thus revenue are determined by what people are watching. Events have always driven the news media. Hollywood sensed an opportunity and began to frame the social unrest of the 60’s and 70’s on the silver screen, transitioning primarily from escapism that entertained to audience inclusion, portraying historical aspects of social events, though obviously not always accurately. The combination worked and a new era of movies enticed paying customers to attend their premieres in numbers never before imagined.
But as is the case in a hedonistic society such as ours interest in these episodes of semi-reality began to wane. Society slipped back into its fantasy induced stupor having found a new escape in the form of better drugs and thanks to the massive increase in prosperity in our nation the money to purchase them.
Hollywood responded in kind. They began once again to produce movies that fed our incessant need for virtual escapism a society such as ours craves to counter the daily grind we experience in our search for economic and hopefully subsequent spiritual Utopia.
Sci-Fi, cultural exploitation movies and futuristic political commentaries came at such a pace that the entire movie going experience morphed from a single premiere into a smorgasbord of cinematic choices complete with multiplex theaters in which to satisfy any particular taste.
I happened to have been in the military during the 70′ and 80’s and spent my off time partaking in both the drug and movie craze of that time (as well as a really ridiculous stint at discos of which I am ashamed to admit). Whether it was the drugs or the atmosphere I personally found several movies during this season of change that struck me as prophetic. As I look back on them now I see I was not just imagining but truly seeing into the future.
The movie “Network” (released in 1976) was one of those movies. It so perfectly painted the love/hate relationship between Hollywood and the news media that existed then and so accurately depicts how these 2 industries have become “frenemies” for profit by simply marketing everything as entertainment and all participants as celebrities.
Even more telling is how the political landscape uses both for its progressive power grabs. To watch this movie today and not see how prophetic it was then would be validation that one is truly an idiot (or a liberal which is the politically correct term for idiot). “Network” won 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight) and Best Screenplay validating the media and Hollywood finally found the niche in which they could both exist in harmony. To this date I still consider this my all-time favorite movie.
There have been other movies of this genre. “Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Dawson reluctantly comes to mind. You may remember this was about a game show in which accused citizens were allowed to compete for their freedom against an array of super hero type executioners.
But in light of the recent controversy surrounding the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the vigilante responses by black activists, politicians and organizations like the “New” Black Panther Party (the “Old” Black Panther Party is now called the “Rainbow Coalition”) I am reminded of a movie that came out nearly 3 decades after “Network”, though not with as much fanfare or critical acclaim. It is however just as prophetic and apparently just as accurate. It was the movie, “Citizen Verdict” and starred the king of trashy day time talk shows, Jerry Springer and B-Actor Armand Assante.
In “Citizen Verdict” (released in 2003) Florida governor Bull Tyler (Roy Scheider) is trying to ease the dissatisfaction of his constituents in the midst of a major crime wave. Television producer Marty Rockman (Jerry Springer) has offered him a high-profile way to do just that. Rockman, best known for his splashy reality program, “So Sue Me” has come up with an idea for a new show — “Citizen Verdict,” in which an alleged murderer is tried in three hours on broadcast television, with the viewers voting on the guilt or innocence of the accused. If 75% or more of those who call in (the super majority concept was probably to appease Independents and Libertarians) vote to convict the defendant he/she will be executed as part of a pay-per-view special to follow.
Governor Tyler thinks the show could be good for publicity and gives his approval, with Ricky Carr (Raffaello Degruttola), accused of murdering the host of a popular cooking show, given the honor of starring in the first episode. Carr is being defended by Sam Patterson (Armand Assante), a once-respected civil rights lawyer fallen on hard times, while prosecutor Jessica Landers (Justine Mitchell) represents the state.
The movie takes its weird prophetic twist when Defense Attorney Patterson realizes the trial is being skewed after learning an obtained video placed as the key piece of evidence has been edited in order to ensure the conviction and execution of the defendant. Sound eerily familiar yet?
Fast forward to today. George Zimmerman has admitted he shot Trayvon Martin, claiming it was in self-defense. What we have seen since that day is evidence of the transfiguration of justice that has taken this country in the name of political correctness into class and racial warfare reminiscent of the 60’s and threatens to launch us into yet another civil war..
Daytime television talk hosts like Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell, never shy about being judge, jury and executioner in their daily trial by estrogen driven man-haters court room have all but condemned Zimmerman to execution. MSNBC has not only made racist rhetoric a staple of their pundit circuit but continue to employ one of their most ridiculous pundits, Al Sharpton, who advocates civil disorder and instigates racist tensions on a regular basis. MSNBC has also been found guilty in editing audio tapes that imply racist claims made by activists like Sharpton in order to indict Zimmerman.
Politicians Maxine Waters has labeled the shooting a “hate crime” while Ferderica Wilson calls it “murder” stating that Trayvon Martin “…was hunted down like a dog, shot on the street.” Former Black Panther and now Illinois Congressman Bobbie Rush donned his $300 designer Nike hoodie on the floor of Congress calling for vindication for racial profiling. Congressman John Lewis equated the shooting to the 1955 lynching of Emmitt Till (hung for whistling at a white woman) while Jesse Jackson elevated Martin to “martyr” status on behalf of the civil rights movement, which apparently still rages in the Jackson camp in spite of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey has now brought charges against Zimmerman, apparently offering the due diligence Florida Governor Rick Scott has determined necessary to “…preserve the integrity of the investigation.” (Translation: “Come up with something to calm the hysterical masses and make it look like I’m tough on crime”).
And of course, Attorney General Eric Holder, utilizing the Obama’s camp credo of “…never let a crisis go to waste” is taking time off from handling his cover-up of the “Fast and Furious” scandal for a “thorough review” of the incident in order to determine if there were “civil rights” issues violated in the shooting (Translation: “Can we solidify even more of the black voting block?”).
Yes, it seems we are indeed once again at a crossroads in which the prophetic comes to pass. Entertainment and influence is once again being redefined by the media as objective journalism. And just as Sam Patterson asked Marty Rockman the question begs to be asked again by those who possess reason, “Are we that desperate for an execution?” Unfortunately it would seem so. I guess the only thing that remains is deciding who will host the new show, “Citizen Verdict” and what network will produce it? Should Obama get re-elected my money is on CSPAN. I bet they could even get Jerry Springer to host it. I heard he is available.