The majority of Americans no longer believe that Jews control Hollywood. This is the news from a new poll released by the Anti-Defamation League that also suggests there remains a widespread conviction that there is an organized campaign by Hollywood and the national media to undermine religious values.
In the October 2008 survey of 1,000 American adults, "American Attitudes on Religion, Moral Values and Hollywood," conducted by the Marttila Communications Group, 63 percent of Americans said they do not believe that the movie and television industries are "pretty much run by Jews." This finding contradicts not only the prevailing myth, but also a 1964 survey in which half of the respondents agreed that Jews controlled Hollywood. It seems the era depicted in Neil Gabler's book, "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood," is over.
"It's interesting that it's fallen that much; it's a mark of the decline of anti-Semitism in this country," said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. However, Sarna was quick to point out that the statistics may not be entirely reliable. Telephone polls, he said, tend to skew older because they are the ones who are at home to answer calls, and because the prohibition against cold-calling cellphones precludes most younger perspectives.
Sixty-one percent of those polled said they believe religious values are under attack, and 63 percent said religion as a whole is losing its influence on American life.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents do not believe Hollywood shares the religious and moral values of most Americans. Of those, 70 percent identify themselves as religious Americans who attend religious institutions one or more times each week. Conservative Protestants agreed with this statement most strongly (68 percent), followed by traditional Catholics (60 percent) and moderate Catholics (55 percent).
Forty-three percent of respondents said they believe there is an organized campaign by the national media to "weaken the influence of religious values"; 62 percent of that group said they attend religious institutions one or more times per week. Among them, those who identified themselves as traditional Catholics agree most strongly (65 percent), followed by Protestants (56 percent) and liberal Catholics (41 percent). However, 59 percent of non-affiliated people surveyed disagree with this statement.
The idea that certain forms of entertainment are antithetical to religious values predates Hollywood. In early American history, Protestant groups were deeply opposed to theater. When motion picture "talkies" were introduced to America in the 1930s, the Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was quickly created, establishing explicit censorship guidelines for the film industry.
"Ambivalence towards entertainment is a bit like ambivalence towards sex," Sarna said. "And they're related; things that give one joy are often deemed to be suspect, and I think we're seeing that."
The poll also revealed some support for censorship. While a clear majority does not think books containing dangerous ideas should be banned from public school libraries, 38 percent support censoring books.
The study's data indicates that people who attend religious institutions regularly are decidedly more conservative in their cultural views. They are also more likely to vote Republican. While the majority-vs.- minority groupings do not surprise Sarna, he is skeptical of the poll's numerical conclusions.
"If 43 percent of Americans decided not to go to the movies, the movie industry wouldn't be the size it is in this country," he said.
In a statement accompanying the poll's release, ADL director Abe Foxman said, "The belief that religion is under attack underlies the drive to incorporate more religion into American public life."
Yet, Sarna countered that if the majority of Americans really believed religion was under attack, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin would have won the election.
"The very fact that Obama's ticket won -- and won big -- reminds us that there are all sorts of other issues that are important. Nobody voted for Obama because they thought he would inject more religion into public life," Sarna said.