Do artists have a social responsibility to create art that will not diminish culture? There is always a squabbling debate between the conservative factions that believe that violence and sensationalism in entertainment generates more of the same in the real world, and the creative liberal types who hide behind the banner of freedom of speech to defend any and every expression regardless of its content. This debate collapses into name-calling and political jockeying where pundits on each side grease up their well-oiled public relation engines and race to win the pulse of public consciousness.

We can all agree that entertainment objects like films and albums have a impact on behavior, even if we only admit that such expressions may serve only as reinforcement for behavior patterns that are already established. This is the classic projector/reflector dichotmy: are cultural artifacts like movies and television programs a projector of the prevailing moral stand of a society; do they direct and so influence audiences that they push the collective into a particular direction? Or are such artifacts merely a reflector of the prevailing attitudes and mores of the society at large; a socio-cultural barometer if you will, of standards and practices that govern a society at any one point in time? I tend to think that the answer is not that works of art and entertainment and the media at large are one or the other of these, but that they serve both roles in a cyclical feedback loop of listening, reacting, projecting, and affecting. After all, in a free society, the people really do rule, and they rule by the choices that they make. Collectively, the people have spoken, and they have chosen Justin and Kelly, Clay and Reuben, Daddy Day Care and Charlie's Angels, WWE and The Real Cancun, 50Cent and the abominable Bennifer. If our society is undereducated, politically apathetic, morally corrupt, and culturally bankrupt, we have only ourselves and our own hedonistic urges to blame. There is no collaborative effort of filmmakers, rappers, artists, and magazine editors to force things like the Bennifer upon us: we choose it freely. In fact, in growing numbers, we seek it out, we crave it, and we stalk it.

But there is a question in here somewhere that is not being asked. Trying to prove the causal connection between Ozzy Osborne's lyrics and a pair of maladjusted teens shooting themselves in the head, or between KMFDM and kids who take Uzi's into their high school cafeteria, or between The Matrix and delusional murderers is utterly futile. For those who try to make such a case, the result at best is the conclusion that the film, song, or book in question played some role in a derranged person's violent actions against others. And these movies, songs, plays, and photographs are such easy targets because they provoke; they push buttons and sometimes appeal to a fringe minority who live life on the darker (albeit still LEGAL) side of the American Family Value Spectrum. The question I want answered though, is not what responsibility do artists have to make sure that their works of art, literature, etc. are not used for evil. These objects are not like bullets and bombs- they cannot harm simply by existing and they are not designed with a purpose to destroy by those trained to improve kill ratios. In fact, there is no more abused and misused piece of literature in the world than the Bible- a book in whose name countless thousands of murders, wars, executions, rapes, and hate crimes have been committed. If we are to believe that a cultural object and its creators should be halted before harm can be done in their name, then we should have stopped printing Bibles centuries ago. No, instead, the question I want answered has not to do with the misguided misinterpretations of a few, but with the greater damage done to our cultural heritage as human beings when we allow Survivor:The Amazon, American Idol, and Pet Stars to rule our lives.

What responsibility do the creative (and I use that world loosely) minds behind such works as The Real Cancun, The American Idol Movie, and Coca-Cola advertisements have to society at large to keep our collective cultural identity from sinking into the earth? While Girls Gone Wild may not have led anyone to murder (yet), it's impact on the notion of healthy gender roles amongst teens and college-aged people seems to be part of a dramaticly declining trend towards the abasement of women. Playboy is cool now, has anyone noticed? Apparently the freedom to view porn in the privacy of your own computer room has left many asking the publc question "what's so wrong with Playboy?" In fact, that question isn't even asked anymore, it's rather assumed that there is nothing wrong with porn- so much so that porn stars are now hocking shoes and soda. The Man Show, The Bachelor, and the 6 o'clock news are all to blame for dumbing down the information our tired, hungry, but ultimately easily satisfied minds desire. When was the last time you went to an art gallery? How about a poetry reading? The last time you wrote someone a letter without using a blinking cursor to make the words? When was the last time you saw a movie and it made you think, or you heard a song and it made you feel something other than an instinctual urge to 'get busy'? You see, I think the greatest evil perpetrated by the entertainment/infotainment industry is not the gratuitous sex, violence, and lack of moral character in the content being produced. I see the greatest evil as the near obliteration of any cultural objects that we as a human race would be proud to unearth in a time capsule some 100 years from now. Just imagine, people will be digging and they will vfind a DVD copy of Bruce Almighty, a 50Cent dis CD produced by the Neptunes, and Teen People magazine with tips on how to be cool enough to get the cute boys to notice you. But mostly, what future generations will dig up will be our empty, lifeless bodies and they will blame us for standing in line to see Scary Movie 3 instead of planting a tree, reading a book, or learning something about the way Nike increases profits.

If anyone was outraged at The Matrix and the way it inspired people to be killers, they need only fast forward to the last frames of the original film when the Rage Against The Machine track roars up with "WAKE UP". Wake up indeed.