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Culture Notes

Culture

Issue: "Forbes: Right on the money," Nov. 8, 1997

Magic Johnson as educator: textbooks, toys, and role model

The union of education, entertainment, celebrity worship, and merchandising took a giant step as HIV-positive former NBA star Magic Johnson announced plans to influence children at both school and play. According to a three-part agreement with Big Entertainment, Inc., Mr. Johnson will help develop textbooks for elementary, middle, and junior high schools. They will cover subjects such as reading, math, and science. In addition, the project will produce Magic Johnson children's books. Big E publicists say that the series will include novels about sports, science, and social issues and will teach lessons about friendship, good manners, teamwork, history, geography, and math. Finally, the venture will create Magic Johnson cartoon characters, action figures, and other merchandise.

Disney diplomacy

Even as Southern Baptists and other Christians are boycotting Disney because of the company's hostility to religion, communist officials in China are preparing to initiate a boycott of their own. Unlike the Southern Baptists, though, the tyrants of Tiananmen dislike Disney because it is too friendly to religion-Buddhism, that is. Disney has produced Seven Years in Tibet (see WORLD, Oct. 25) and the upcoming Martin Scorsese film, Kundun. Both show China's brutal takeover of Tibet and glorify its exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. In retaliation, Chinese officials are threatening to ban all Disney products. Plans for a Disney World theme park in China are in jeopardy. Not only would a boycott close off the potential market of billions of Chinese , it would also keep Disney movies out of film-crazed Hong Kong, recently handed over to the Communists. To its credit, Disney-unlike other businesses and the federal government-is not backing down from exposing China's human-rights record. But to solve this diplomatic problem, Disney has hired the architect of America's open door to China: Henry Kissinger. The former Secretary of State under President Nixon, Mr. Kissinger will try to make peace between the Magic Kingdom and the Forbidden Kingdom. Thus the Disney corporation assumes the trappings of a sovereign nation, complete with diplomatic problems and former statesmen for hire. Maybe after Mr. Kissinger defuses China's boycott, he will initiate an open door to the Baptists.

No cigarettes after the sex scenes

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The conscience of Hollywood is awakening over its possible negative influence on young people. The issue is not sex or violence-the party line is that movies only reflect and do not influence such behavior. But smoking is another story. Jack Valenti, rating czar and president of the Motion Picture Association of America, met with Hollywood producers and directors to discuss reports that there have been an increasing number of movies that show actors and actresses smoking. Mr. Valenti stressed in the meeting that he did not want to trespass issues of artistic freedom and the First Amendment right of freedom of expression. He also recognized that cigarettes were frequently used by directors to provide insights into the character's personality. Nevertheless, he said that he was working to make producers and directors aware that portrayals of tobacco use could influence young people to take up the habit. There is no evidence that the possibility movies could influence young people to adopt other bad habits-such as illicit sex, drug use, gang membership, criminal activity, and similar behavior glamorized in recent movies-was discussed.

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