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Hollywood is a conspiracy, all right. Movies tell the same stories over and over again, Hollywood thinking that we won’t notice if the movies show ogres or animals fall in love and live happily ever after, or that the planet has already been saved twice this year.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, a new poll shows that Americans are on to another devious Hollywood plot: almost half of us believe that Los Angeles is the center of “an organized campaign by Hollywood and the national media to weaken the influence of religious values in this country.”

This is a pretty astonishing claim, amplified by further finding that 61% of the country thinks, organized or not, the media has put religious values “under attack.” Why does Hollywood want to attack our religious values? Easy. Almost 60% of those polled last month by the Boston-based Marttila Communications Group said, “the people who run the TV networks and the major movie studios do not share the religious and moral values of most Americans.”

What’s most astonishing about these numbers is that even though movies and TV shows make producers money, more than half of the intended audience finds the movies distasteful or downright morally aggressive. As one conservative commentator ruefully put it last year, “The culture wars are over and capitalism won.” In short, sex sells.

Yet this doesn’t ring true either. If anything, the poll suggests that the culture wars are still with us, splitting us along religious lines. Traditional Catholics were the most likely to suspect an organized Hollywood conspiracy against all they hold dear, and the values gap was largest among those who attend church at least once a week.

These positions translated directly into politics, too. 83% of those who felt their values were under attack voted for John McCain. Also, it’s not clear that sex, or violence, in the raw is what Americans are objecting to; they may be objecting lifestyle issues–the way our movies and TV shows seem to accept homosexuality, pre-marital cohabitation, and other non-traditional practices that don’t necessarily lure dollars out of pockets.

Still, it’s hardly a conspiracy against religion if Hollywood, the most entrepreneurial sector in the nation, is only selling what we’re lining up to buy. It’s possible that we stream to the movies and stay glued to our TV sets to see values we don’t agree with. Whether it’s a cartoon of lust and greed like “Dirty Sexy Money” or a closely observed tale of moral ambiguity like “No Country for Old Men,” we lean into these other worlds to glimpse the moral limits of these fictional people–or ogres or animals–and come back with a better idea of our own.

This glimpse is what we pay for–this, and the thrill of seeing the villain punished and the hero kiss the girl. We’ll even watch people with lifestyles–prostitutes, gay activists, warriors– the majority wouldn’t care to emulate as long as good is served in the last reel. If our moral sensibilities are traduced in the making of the film, the reason is to keep us from noticing that we’ve been hoodwinked into caring once again.

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