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Hollywood's Blind Side

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Various writers are publicly kvetching about the decision by a Baptist-owned bookstore chain called Lifeway to stop carrying The Blind Side DVD because, according to the Southern Baptist Convention it contains "explicit profanity," takes "God's name in vain" and contains a "racial slur."

Breakpoint, the daily radio commentary started by former Watergate figure Chuck Colson weighed in with a piece by its star contributor Eric Metaxas decrying the move by Lifeway as "insane," and many other Christian-related sites also complained about alleged shortsightedness.

I watched The Blindside when it first hit theaters and though generally unimpressed with the film, was nonetheless pleased that such a nice story was getting so much attention. I certainly don't remember any bad words, but then again, maybe I'm getting used to it. I work in Hollywood after all.

But are the Baptists really at fault here? Aren't they entitled to carry whatever product they want for whatever reason they want? And who are we as non-Baptists to castigate them for what they decide to stock in their stores, especially those products which offend their deepest religious sensitivities?

If a Jewish-owned deli refuses to sell pork, should it be held up for public ridicule and bullied until it gives in? If a Mormon-run retail outlet refuses to carry caffeine products are they to be criticized? And what about Chick-Fil-A with its policy of staying closed on Sundays as an expression of its owner's deeply held religious beliefs? Should we browbeat them all until they give up their religion and conform?

But I digress. The real issue here isn't whether Baptists should be shamed into carrying things that violate their moral code, but rather why corporations like Warner Brothers, which produced The Blindside, keep filling their movies with words that millions of American filmgoers say they don't want to hear at the movies and don't want their kids to hear and emulate. As I point out in my book, The Lion, The Professor & The Movies: Narnia's Journey To The Big Screen, early drafts of the the screenplay for the first Narnia film included numerous profanities uttered by the children, inserted by writers who somehow thought that adding words that rhymed with "luck" and "bit" would somehow enhance this children's classic.

When "artists" indulge in such bizarre behavior, its precisely the kind of market forces like Lifeway's recent action that serves to check that behavior for the knowledge that a retail giant like Lifeway, not to mention a Walmart, may not carry a product has tremendous impact on what is ultimately greenlit. There's no censorship involved here, it's just a business decision made by the artist and the company that owns the work. They have the freedom to insert whatever words they want into a film, but they do so knowing that the film may lose millions of dollars in business.

There's also another way to deal with the problem as well, which is for studios to make available edited versions such as those used on airlines to outlets like Lifeway. If the studios were run by capitalists intent on selling more product, they'd make two versions of the film available to both theaters and retail outlets: the original version and the airline version and see which outsells the other. Take a wild guess at which one would sell better in the American heartland.

Beating up on Baptists is the easiest and cheapest way of addressing this controversy, but they're merely behaving as good moralists should be expected to. The real question isn't why Baptists are behaving like Baptists but rather why Hollywood studios aren't behaving like capitalists, selling more product by either getting rid of the bad words to begin with or making alternative versions available to consumers like those represented by Lifeway who want great stories without the words that offend their deeply held religious beliefs.

Perhaps they should take their cues from one of their own, a certain former president of the Screen Actors Guild named Ronald Reagan who, upon reading a script penned by former aide and current member of Congress Dana Rohrabacher gave his protege these notes: "Clean up the language -- a few h--l's & d--n's yes; but I'd drop all the words ending in -itch, -it or -uck."