The first ever "Silver Sewer" award, in recognition of its "outrageous contribution to the degradation and coarsening of our culture and its unswerving dedication to the pursuit of profit above principle" was presented (in his absence) to Edgar Bronfman, president and chief executive officer of Seagram, owners of Universal Studios.
When the annual Academy Awards ceremony opens in Hollywood on Monday night, as the Oscars gush forth on a contented media elite, there is unlikely to be much recognition given to the cultural achievements of pregnant strippers, teenage prostitutes fighting with pimps or undertakers having sex with corpses.
But yesterday in Washington, in the latest broadside in the cultural war that has become an increasingly significant element of political debate in the last few years, a bipartisan political group launched a new campaign aimed at embarrassing one of the leading lights of the entertainment business.
The first ever a "Silver Sewer" award, in recognition of its "outrageous contribution to the degradation and coarsening of our culture and its unswerving dedication to the pursuit of profit above principle" was presented (in his absence) to Edgar Bronfman, president and chief executive officer of Seagram, owners of Universal Studios.
William Bennett, a former cabinet member in the Reagan and Bush administrations, and Joseph Lieberman, a prominent Democratic senator, picked out Seagram and Mr Bronfman for the company's ownership and promotion of two of America's more egregious entertainment models — The Jerry Springer Show, one of the most popular daytime television talk programmes, and Marilyn Manson, perhaps the most shocking of the "shock rock" groups that have emerged in the underbrush of popular musical life.
Mr Springer's programme, owned by Universal's subsidiary, USA Networks, has become infamous for its lurid and heated conversations among dysfunctional family members, prostitutes, transsexuals and others, that usually end in fist fights.
It recently overtook the Oprah Winfrey Show as the most successful daytime television show. Marilyn Manson, author of such hits as White Trash ("White Trash get down on your knees/Time for cake and sodomy") performs on the Interscope Records label also owned by Seagram.
Mr Bennett, a veteran campaigner against the excesses of the entertainment business, described Seagram as "the leading perpetrator of cultural rot" in the US. The purpose of the award, he said, was to ensure people made the connection between the pollution they see on TV and "respectable board members of respectable companies."
The battle between Washington and Hollywood, a constant theme of US politics in the last few years, has heated up. Polls repeatedly show a popular distaste for the values of the entertainment industry and Republican politicians especially see a full-blooded campaign against Hollywood as a potential vote winner.
Not all politicians are enthusiastic about such a campaign. Recently the leading source of popular discussion of unseemly subjects — oral sex between older married men and young women, sexual harassment in the workplace — has been Washington itself.
As one anonymous insider on Capitol Hill put it: "The fact is, half the stuff that's been coming out of the White House in the last three months is the very stuff of Jerry Springer."
Gerard Baker, Financial Times (London), 21/22Mar98, p. 2.
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