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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Is there too much Gore (or Bush) in movies?

All of sudden, popular entertainment became a U.S. presidential election issue. And it wasn’t just the Republicans this time castigating Hollywood for degrading the morals of an otherwise pure American society. The Democrats were getting into the act too. Big time.

Al Gore has taken over where his wife Tipper left off, warning us about the perils of unchecked filth in our music and our movies. And Joe Lieberman’s credentials as the country’s conscience is well established, so it’s no surprise that he’s included regular blasts at the entertainment industry in his speeches. This is all part of a carefully orchestrated strategy by both major parties to sell the American voters the concept they most want to hear, which is, of course, “Hey, there’s no difference between us on the issues but vote for me because I don’t cheat on my wife.”

Strangely, many celebrities seem to think that there actually are some major differences between the candidates. One minute I’m reading that Alec Baldwin is threatening to move to another country if George W. Bush wins, then I am reading that he didn’t really say that after all. Then I read that Elton John says it’s the end of the world if Bush wins. This seems like pretty extreme stuff over two guys who are so busy trying to hug the center of the political spectrum they look like they’re locked in an embrace with each other. In the good old days, this kind of dire rhetoric was reserved for presidents who lied to cover up political scandals and ordered bombings in faraway countries that resulted in civilian casualties. Inconveniently, the current administration has technically done these things too, but there are extenuating circumstances which make it all okay. At least that’s what we baby boomers have to tell ourselves. Otherwise we might have to face our worst fear: that we’ve actually become our parents and we neglected to follow The Who’s advice and die before we got old.

The funny thing is, when I hear Gore/Lieberman/Bush go on about how the record and movie industries are deliberately targeting young children with alluring advertising for music and films ostensibly aimed at a more mature audience and how violent and vile and totally redeemless some of these video games are, I actually get upset and think, “Hey, we should really do something about this.” Some of the stuff that’s put out as entertainment is indeed pretty vile.

But then logic and common sense and personal experience finally kick in. While all of this popular entertainment has been allegedly getting so much worse, haven’t the rate of violent crime and teenage sexuality (as indicated by the teenage pregnancy rate) actually been going down? Why is this now such a crisis? It’s called pandering to a certain element of the electorate, and neither party is above doing it. Strangely, though, the Democrats seem to be emphasizing it more than the Republicans, but then that’s another a time-honored electoral ploy: trespass on your opponent’s natural electoral turf wherever you can. And since Hollywood loves Clinton/Gore, they don’t even seem to mind going along with the charade.

Let’s face it, the Democrats’ dirty little secret is that they have to find problems that essentially can’t be solved and then promise to solve them. Working on solving unsolvable problems is great job security, and anyone who criticizes you for trying to solve problems sounds like a mean old grump. (The Republicans’ dirty little secret, on the other hand, is that they are always against any new government program until it becomes successful and well-established and has been around for years and years and then, of course, they are for it. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t against any more new programs.)

The bottom line is: there isn’t any exception for vileness being mentioned in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Of course, the courts have ruled that the freedom of speech guaranteed in the Constitution isn’t absolute, but it’s a long hop to say that the right of expression should be curtailed for vileness. Sure some marginal members of society are apparently affected by violent or sexual images and go off and act on them. But it’s a pretty darned insignificant percentage. If we go down the road of legislating to the weakest and sickest members of society, we might have to outlaw automobiles, for example, because of bad drivers. This doesn’t mean that Hollywood shouldn’t try to clean up its act. It just means that politicians should be very careful about trying to force the entertainment industry into self-censorship.

-S.L., 28 September 2000

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