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Mahony letter highlights values.

LOS ANGELES - "Is it any wonder we seek dialogue with the entertainment industry's filmmakers," asked Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony in his Sept. 30, 1992, letter: "Film Makers, Film Viewers: Their Challenges and Opportunities," for "their power - for good or ill - is awesome."

"Rare is the priest, minister or rabbi, educator, politician or business executive who has the filmmaker's power to elevate or degrade the human person," the letter said.

In the 40,000-word missive directed at both filmmakers and viewers, which outlined the responsibilities of both, Mahony wrote a wide-ranging essay. These extracted highlights include his early focus on the business end of the industry, his rejection of censorship, and comments on human relationships:

Bottom line

Television is a ratings-driven industry. The motion-picture industry is similar, driven by the box office. It makes what its executives think people will pay to see.

The commercial system has obvious disadvantages ... but it does have one great advantage: It links the storyteller with the story viewer and grounds the creative process in what viewers want. In the long run, this gives to the TV-viewing and moviegoing public considerable say over the content and quality of what is produced.


It has been said that in a democracy the people get the kind of government they deserve. The same can be said of entertainment.

How is the conscientious viewer to decide what TV programs to watch and what movies to see and recommend? How, in particular, are conscientious parents to help their children make these kinds of decisions? These are not easy questions. The pastoral letter's intent is to lift up and offer certain criteria.

1. Evaluate the characters. We are ambivalent creatures, torn between the positive and negative poles of our being, between truth and illusion, love and hostility, freedom and compulsion, life-and-death wishes, alternately cowardly and courageous, flawed yet beautiful. This ongoing conflict is the heart of the human condition. It is also the stuff of great storytelling.

2. Characters - are they believable? Can I relate, find echoes of myself in them? Am I taken inside? Do I get to know what they feel, think and choose? Am I given some idea of how they got to be the way they are? Do I like them?

3. Evaluate the conflict. How deeply and honestly is the evil treated? Do we see its initial allure, the disparity between what it promises and what it delivers, the lie that constitutes its essence?

How deeply, how honestly, is the goodness explored? Does the film get beyond the superficial image of goodness to which most people pay lip service? Do we see the rigorous demands it makes?


Sexuality: When the characters are portrayed as engaging in sexual relations, what are they saying to each other? Something with their bodies they do not mean with their hearts and souls?

Are the sexual scenes handled with taste, delicacy, the reverence the subject demands? Are they telling an essential part of the story or being exploitive?

Women: How are the women portrayed? Are they possessing the same intrinsic dignity as the males? Facing the same soul-wrenching challenges? Valued as objects rather than people? Is the unique vocation of motherhood given its proper due?

Family: How well do members of the family in the picture communicate? Is there openness and trust? Do we see the gritty sacrifice family life demands?

Religion: Is the religious dimension of the character in evidence? Do the characters turn to God - if not, why not? Are they active in a religious community?

Violence: Tension, even conflict, is inevitable given our flawed human condition. Is the violence demanded by the story? Is it presented as a desirable way to solve problems? Do we see the cowardice at the heart of it? Do we see how it spawns more violence?
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Title Annotation:Cardinal Roger Mahony; criticism of popular movies
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 18, 1992
Previous Article:Cardinal engages dream factory.
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