What’s playing at the movies nowadays? First, there is “The Hours,” a movie that chronicles the multifaceted lives of three women who face the perils of depression and AIDS. Then, there is “Chicago,” a musical about two flamboyant dancers and singers who murder their husbands. “Gangs of New York” depicts the brutal conflict between Irish gang members and other immigrants during the 1860s. “Far from Heaven” portrays societal prejudices and violence, unleashed when a previously tranquil suburban housewife catches her husband in bed with a man and initiates a relationship with her African-American gardener. These movies, appearing in theaters across America, are among the top contenders for Oscar nominations. They are en route to receive the highest form of Hollywood acclaim because they have acquired much critical praise and feature exceptional actors. However, these movies all contain violent or depressing themes. Why do the arguably most popular American movies revolve around such ghastly topics? Television shows seem to have experienced a comparable transformation. After many consecutive seasons, America’s favorites such as “Seinfeld” and even “Friends” have slowly wound down.These light and breezy classics are now being replaced by vulgar and offensive shows. For example, in Fox’s new hit show “Joe Millionaire,” a lower-middle class man pretends to be a millionaire. Many women appear on the show and date “Joe” under the false pretext that he is rich. The show is an example of crude and derogatory humor, in which women unwittingly make fools of themselves on national television. This show is just one of the many examples in the grotesque new genre that diminish people’s self esteem. Is “Far From Heaven” really the best description of American life today? Over the past few years, America has suffered tremendously. The terrorist activities of September 11th violently shook America and commenced the country’s relentless pursuit of terrorists at home and abroad. Then, the focus shifted from al-Qaeda to the tyrannical head of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Now, America is holding its breath as it waits at the threshold of a war with Iraq. At the same time, North Korea poses a fearsome threat as it allegedly commences the mass production of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, America’s economy has suffered serious setbacks, and the stock market continues to decline. Prominent companies, such as Enron and Worldcom have gone bankrupt; similar financial scandals have befallen Wall Street. Sadly, these problems pervade the international arena, too. Many countries are cursed with rampant unemployment, devalued currencies and serious economic deficiencies. There are tensions between India and Pakistan, as well as between Israel and Palestine. The world has been shaken by the incessant fear of terrorism, violent conflict and poverty. These current crises seem to have permeated all aspects of our society, even what is now ironically referred to as entertainment. Therefore, inevitably, the question arises: have the current crises in our country, and for that matter, our world, changed our criteria for entertainment? Has the national preoccupation with terrorism, war, and economic downfall caused Americans to consider films and television shows about violence, depression, or degradation to be good sources of amusement? The mood of national terror, uncertainty, and financial woes has been integrated into the lives of many people. It seems that even directors and screenwriters have found it necessary to invoke the somber reality. These people have produced movies based on disease and hardship and television shows based on humiliation. These movies and television shows represent the negative aspects of our present society, rather than provide the uplifting messages of strength, virtue and redeeming social values that are so needed. In the past, there have been periods of prosperity and eras of misfortune. They have seemed to come and go in cycles. Therefore, maybe the crises that exist in America today will soon pass. Hopefully, we will soon come face to face with a new era in which peace and prosperity will prevail throughout the world and all the top Oscar contenders will be films that cheer our spirits and gladden our souls.