Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It," by Linda and Richard Eyre. The book will be released at the end of August.
It is obvious that media has enormous influence over how we perceive ourselves and our world — and over how we live within that world. Those who say otherwise are trying to defend the indefensible.
• Our appeal to writers/producers/directors: Have the courage to attempt the portrayal of the more positive (and more difficult) emotions and characteristics. Take the risk of making something about honor or truth or courage rather than the “safe bet” of more sex and violence. Show the real and honest consequences of things. Actually think about the effect and influence on the consumer. Meet the challenge that is inherent in all creation: Think more about the ultimate quality, effect and legacy of what you make and less about the short-term profit.
• Our appeal to actors, artists, celebrities, “role models,” and their agents and publicists: Show the significant rather than the seamy. There are so many celebrities with strong families and strong views about priorities. We don’t often see this side of them, partly because of privacy and partly because it doesn’t seem sensational enough to sell. In fact, there is a hunger for human-interest stories that we can connect to and identify with. If people knew as much about the “good” as about the “bad,” we might all be amazed (and reassured) that there is more of the former than the latter.
Perhaps we can illustrate these appeals with a personal story: We were featured guest speakers at an Aspen, Colorado, retreat with top Disney corporate officers and division heads. We wrote a brief “parents’ plea” for the occasion, attempting to articulate the appeal we felt all parents would want to extend to the Disney organization in light of some of their recent moves away from the family entertainment that made them famous. We called it “Err to the Light.”
To the Disney organization: Err to the Light
To Disney, from parents: We appeal to you now, today, as parents, as “every parent,” from a part of the heart that only parents know. We have been with you in these convention sessions, looked around and tried to calculate the influence in this room. You, as the top management and executives of Disney, reach every American family and every American child and beyond, to the whole world, not periodically, but daily.
Because of your size and who you are, because of media’s stretch and subtle stimulus, you may have more influence than any other company, even more, perhaps, than any other single institution of any kind, perhaps more than the presidency, more than the Congress. Actually, “influence” is too small a word. You have stewardship. You reach our children every day. They may listen to you longer and with more concentration than to us.
What we say to you now is born not of statistical analysis or profit-margin expertise (although we promise you that “goodness sells”). It comes from a simple clarity bestowed only on parents. Because, you see, while our own personal commitments and values, our desires and dreams, may quiver with ambiguity, they take on a firm, sharp focus in what we want for our children.
As mere people, we are confused by complexity when we look at our world. But as parents, we are touched by simple, pure wisdom when we look at our child. In that wisdom, we see the joy of right decisions, the wonder and trust of selfless love and the nobility of simple courage. We see the good and love in the world reflected in our children’s eyes. We feel the deep desire to pour all that is good into their lives. And we feel the need for help because we also see the damning dangers of the dark dimming of sensitivity, the callous desensitizing and loss of wonder that not only robs them of their childhood but steals their awe and hope.
So, first, we thank you for the times you have portrayed the light better and stronger than others portray the dark (and when you portray the dark, for showing it accurately, for making it lose); for the times when you have reached the deeper realism of right that is truly stronger than might. Thank you for escapes into fantasy that are not to places outside ourselves, but to the deepest and truest parts of our own hearts. Thank you for the times you’ve shown the courage to speak of and to the spirit and softly and carefully of a higher, better being to go with a higher, better way. Thank you for the times you have avoided the mindless amorality, which is, in its public face, more widely destructive than immorality.
Media, goes the old poppycock, doesn’t influence a society’s values, it only reflects them. Is that why prime time ads cost a million a minute — to reflect? Media influences us and our children so profoundly it cannot be measured. “With influence comes responsibility” goes the old cliché. A stewardship? A burden to bear? But isn’t it more an opportunity, an opportunity to lift, to love, to help us all live in a higher realm?
As parents, our plea to you is so basic: Help us. Help us remind ourselves and our children of who we really are and who we really can be. Help us to see the light within ourselves. Help us to be better parents by being our ally, by giving our children heroes and role models, by creating good that is both beautiful and believable.
If you err, err toward the light. Be willing to earn 15 percent instead of 20 percent by avoiding the dark. Light brings strength, and a sure-footed, clear-headed creativity and confidence that makes up (financially and otherwise) much more than the missing 5 percent. Err to the light, not only in turning down a bribe or a sweatshop or a tax dodge. ... Err to the light in turning down an amoral script, or a superfluous excess of foul language or violence, or a tarnishing comedy that makes fun of what is right. Err to the light in telling stories about the noble human spirit rather than the pseudo-sophisticated “realism” of the underside. Err to the light by believing and portraying that human beings are still good at their core.
From parents to Disney: err on the side of right; err on the side of light.
To learn more about the book and the cause it represents, please go to www.The-Turning.com. The Eyres are donating all royalties from the book to charity.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.