Diana Ronald-Szabo's Letters to the Editor

Asheville Citizen-Times, Saturday, Aug. 29, 1998 OTHER VIEWS


Art is meant to be uplifting, not degrading

By Diana Ronald-Szabo

Thank you so much for printing columns by Cal Thomas, who so often echoes the sentiments of many readers. He is so appreciated!

This is in reference to his column of Aug. 7 mourning the death of Roy Rogers and others noted for clean entertainment. Mr. Thomas bemoans the fact that entertainment today is at a low moral level and he wonders who will replace these entertainers.

How sad is it that so much trash passes for "art" these days. True art does not offend or degrade; rather, it inspires and uplifts. It doesn't take talent to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but it does take talent to put on clean, wholesome and successful productions which show respect for human dignity and do not offend anyone.

The true artist recognizes his/her potential for good, understands that entertainment is one of the greatest media through which the human mind can be reached, that the power of suggestion cannot be overlooked, and that much entertainment can be found within the bounds of decency and good taste. The pollution of the arts ought to be of great concern to the true artist.

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Katherine DeMille Quinn, daughter of the late Cecil B. DeMille. Being an actress herself and after years of being a party to "intellectual seduction," she began to see the folly of the arts in breaking down moral values and she made the following statement: “The theater and all arts can be uplifting and inspiring and should raise values, not degrade them. Why is it then that when theater awakens the best in man it is called ‘propaganda,’ and when it degrades, it is called ‘progressive?’”

Yes, art imitates life but it can be presented without sinking to low levels. To be able to skillfully portray the realities of life without offense and to know where to draw the line takes real talent.

For example, back in the 1930s and 1940s when the Lord-Quigley code was in existence, we enjoyed an era of wonderful, powerful and successful motion pictures. Even the stage had certain restrictions and those who uttered crude language were fined. Toughness was there. The message came through.

Take James Cagney, for instance. Why, that fellow could make the screen sizzle with his toughness!

Take Bette Davis. She could make the screen sizzle with her ornery characterizations .. and it was all done in good taste without resorting to vulgarity, profanity or coarse words.

It was in 1956 when attempts to revise the code were made, when adherence to it was practically nonexistent, that all pandemonium broke loose and Hollywood took a downward plunge into the pit of moral degradation...and there it remains today.

We are told by the defenders of trash to turn the TV dial or to "just stay home" from theaters showing objectionable fare. The mere knowledge that we must turn that dial or "just stay home" from theaters because our human dignity is being attacked is enough to cause offense and disappointment.

Long after the theater lights go out and long after that TV dial is turned, the offense is still there. We feel betrayed by those who care not one iota about respect and discretion, or declining moral values.

An encouraging note is that there is a growing movement in Hollywood to upgrade values in films, although there is a long way to go before this goal is achieved. This may be the beginning of a dream to restore those values. That goal may never be achieved in my lifetime, but who knows?

Diana Ronald-Szabo lives in Canton


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