They stormed the beaches of Normandy. They dodged sniper bullets and tangled with Tiger tanks. They shared a tent with Vin Diesel. But on Nov. 11 Veterans Day the soldiers of Saving Private Ryan found themselves caught in the crossfire of an altogether different, far less dignified war. The one over the culture.
The fact that 65 ABC affiliates yanked Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning 1998 epic from their prime-time schedules replacing it in some markets with Return to Mayberry was indeed astonishing. Could these stations truly have been worried, as they claimed, that the film's bracingly authentic battle banter might actually violate FCC regulations and leave them open to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines? After all, we're talking about one of the most revered American movies of all time, a national monument made of celluloid, filled with flag-waving approbations to that greatest of all generations. Not to mention that the film had already aired on many of these same affiliates twice before uncut and unedited, per Spielberg's agreement with ABC without the FCC so much as raising a regulatory eyebrow.
Even some conservatives are having a hard time believing it. ''Anyone who can't distinguish between Janet Jackson and Saving Private Ryan is out of their minds,'' suggests Brent Bozell, founder of the Parents Television Council, a conservative watchdog group devoted to safeguarding prime time from indecency. ''There are some extraordinarily positive messages in that movie. Of course, one wishes they had bleeped out the obscenities and run it later in the evening, but...''
One pundit was so shocked, she naturally assumed liberals had to be behind it all. ''Hollywood is so non-understanding of normal human Americans,'' fumes former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. ''These liberal-leaning heads of major TV affiliates have interpreted the reelection of Bush to mean that they shouldn't show Saving Private Ryan on TV because creepy little America will complain [the way] it complained about Janet Jackson. Really,'' she goes on, ''the amazing thing about Hollywood is how they make so much money entertaining people for whom they have such contempt, people they think are stupid Martians.''
Forget for a minute that some of those ''liberal-leaning major TV affiliates'' are in fact run by die-hard conservatives. Noonan's vehement stance reflects what a hardcore group of Hollywood haters truly seems to believe: that the town might as well be run by an alien species.
These are indeed strange days in the culture war. While broadcasters struggle to figure out if their FCC-controlled airwaves are still safe for Tom Hanks, and cultural critics ready their next protest (of the movie Kinsey), Hollywood continues to produce pop culture the old-fashioned way trying to reach the biggest audience possible, including, of course, the very people calling it all these terrible names.
Conservative culture warriors have been battering at the gates of Hollywood for more than 30 years, but it wasn't until last February that they finally found their Joan of Arc, the woman who might actually lead them to victory. That, of course, would be Janet Jackson, flasher of the nipple that rocked the world.