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The Market, the Movies, and the Media

Every responsible parent knows not to permit their children indiscriminate access to movies, television, video games, and the Internet. The dangers to heart, mind, and soul may not be more prevalent in our times than previous times, but technology seems to have made them more accessible. And thus does the urgency of a parental response present itself. One need not be a puritan to insist on caution and even severity on the subject.

This is not the same as censorship, which is a political action that prevents citizens from having the freedom to choose what they read. Censorship is dangerous because it gives power to political elites to determine what is best for us, and their decisions are not based on morality and virtue but on political priority. Also, political controls on speech and media often backfire by inviting even more curious eyes to discover what it is they are not suppose to know. I've seen censorship in operation too often in authoritarian countries, and it is not suited to a free or virtuous society.

But if we are to live in a society with no political controls on information, the urgency of private controls becomes all the more intense. Institutions such as families, churches, and schools need to exercise their cultural influence and shame companies that market violence and immorality to children. Advertisers that misuse their access to the public should feel the sting of a negative public opinion. These kinds of controls can often be more effective than political controls. And let me state this very clearly: it is not censorship to shield young eyes from evil or keep certain books out of your home or strictly control Web browsing. This is your right and your obligation.

There is yet another way, however, that responsible citizens with a moral sensibility can exert influence over the cultural impact of the media. Our buying decisions dictate to producers what to make and to merchants what to sell. It is consumers that make violence and moral degradation in movies profitable. The best way to discourage this is by refraining from buying. This not only the best means to protect ourselves and our families personally; it is a way to send a signal to those in the industry.

The market works rather well in this regard. Much attention is given to the morally corrupt media forms that are everywhere but far too little attention is given to the alternative. The Dove Foundation keeps careful track of movies and has documented how family entertainment is eleven times more profitable than the alternative. We also do well to remember that there are more movies made today than ever before, which means more bad movies but also many more good ones.

There is no evading our moral responsibilities as producers and consumers. This has been true in all times, and is especially true in our times. We are surrounded by inspiring examples of how Christians and other people of faith have harnessed market forces in their favor, bringing their religious programming to millions, building billion dollar industries, and becoming a vibrant part of the nexus of the global exchange economy.

This approach of heavy market infiltration is the best possible strategy to counter the problem of the bad influences that the media can have on our society. We must provide an alternative and make that alternative accessible through every means we have. This is the major reason why the Acton Institute works so very hard on our Web site, our media outreach, and our op-ed program, and why we devote so many resources to putting our scholars on television, our books in libraries, and our journals in the hands of students, pastors, and teachers of all sorts.

This is the way a free people can work to shape culture. This is how a free people can take steps toward building a good society.