Tom Coburn Was Right

By Dr. Alan Keyes
web posted April 1997

Can we accept the view that the quality, the moral and historical significance, the educational aim of airing Schindler's List justify relaxing the standards in this case? On the contrary, I believe that especially because of these claims, the standards should not be relaxed. If our deep moral concern about the Holocaust justifies relaxation what shall we say to the filmmaker who produces a worthy, moving and significant depiction of slavery, and who feels compelled to depict the indignity of the slaves on the auction block-their clothes shorn away, their private parts probed and examined as if they were animals. Or the horrors of sexual exploitation by masters, mistresses and overseers who raped and otherwise abused their slaves to quench their unnatural lusts? Should ABC decide to air this authors work, will Bill Bennett recommend the same toleration that he has in this case? If he does not, how will he rebut the clamorous voices that will accuse him of giving special preference to the suffering of one group over another? One week it will be film about the degradation and suffering of blacks under slavery, the next a film depicting the brutal exploitation of women in the sex industry, the next an account of the horrid consequences of discrimination against gays and lesbians, each one requiring a new level of graphic realism, each one wrapping itself in the plea of artistic, moral and historic merit that NBC now fashions to cloak its effort to push back the envelope of public indifference. Bill Bennett and others, including myself, may believe that the Holocaust has a special, unique historical and moral significance. But does he seriously expect this belief to quell the demands of other perceived victims of fatal inhumanity? Against what scale shall we measure the objective meaning and worth of human suffering?

This is, of course, the charitable course of speculation. In fact, the special dispensation given to Schindler's List creates as it were a new laurel of honor in the entertainment industry. Filmmakers will compete for the prize of the next dispensation, with each new entry supported by the insistent lobbying of its featured victimized group. We may not like this prospect, but given the banal temper of our times only a fool would deny its accuracy. Finally of course, would come the charlatans, the crass, profiteering opportunists, covering their mediocre schlock with a thin veneer of social purpose. Can we believe that the broadcast networks will resist this downward spiral of indecency.

Only if we believe that the executives at NBC chose to air an unedited version of the film out of some deep respect for it's historic and educational significance. But many great films have appeared on television after feeling the editor's cutting edge. Why this sudden passion for moral worth? We can be forgiven if we suspect that it may have more to do with profit than artistry. The commercial networks are feeling the pressure of competition from videos, cable networks and other controlled access media where today anything goes in the way of graphic nudity, sex acts, extreme language and violence. They have a vested interest in breaking down the standards that restrict the content of the shows they air. In pursuit of this interest they may have used Schindler's List as a stalking horse for their venal purposes, exploiting, not respecting the praise and plaudits it has justly earned.

There are some standards that cannot be compromised for one if they are to be maintained for all. Woody Allen was a great filmmaker. Who believes that this can excuse his emotional violation of the incest taboo? When a film of great merit like Schindler's List is made to bow before the standards of public decency, its merits argue forcefully for the idea that there are some lines of human decency that we simply may not cross, no matter how plausible the motivation. If the people of Germany had remembered this as they listened to Hitler's siren song of evil, there would have been no Holocaust. The greatest tribute we can pay to its victims is to respect, not compromise, the simple truth that would have saved their dignity and their lives. There are some standards of conduct that must be applied without exception, against the just claims of a master work, or the delusions of a self-styled master race. Tom Coburn was right.

Reprinted from a recent Exegesis email, in the interest of a different view on the topic.

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