Hollywood Under Fire
Hunting for the sources of teen violence, the government has its sights set on the entertainment industry.
by Beth Rowen
"They, and the rest of us, cannot kid ourselves… Our children are being fed a dependable daily dose of violence – and it sells."
President Clinton will probably not be hosting any sleepovers in Lincoln's bedroom for Hollywood's elite in the near future. Indeed, in lashing out at the entertainment industry, Clinton has turned his back on his rich and famous West Coast buddies, the very people who have poured millions into the Democratic party and his campaign coffers.
In a June 1 Rose Garden speech, the president announced plans to commission a study to investigate whether violent films, television shows, video games, and music are marketed toward children, specifically young boys.
In effect, Clinton is trying to determine if the entertainment industry is setting its sites on the impressionable, vulnerable demographic the same way the tobacco industry has. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission will conduct the yearlong study.
"They, and the rest of us cannot kid ourselves," Clinton said. "Our children are being fed a dependable daily dose of violence — and it sells."
The Beltway vs. Tinseltown
Clinton is by no means alone in his attack on violence in the media. Democrats and Republicans are, to some extent, breaking down partisan barriers to curb teen violence in light of the Littleton, Colorado, tragedy.
Sen. Ernest Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, sponsored the Safe Harbor Bill, which seeks to ban violent television programming from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Other post-Littleton proposals have included bills to make the sale of tickets to R-rated movies to minors a federal crime, give the government regulatory control over the content of movies, and make the filming of violent scenes on public property a federal offense.
To the ire of the National Rifle Association, a handful of Republican Senators broke ranks in May and voted in favor of the Juvenile Crime Bill. The bill passed narrowly, with Vice President Al Gore casting the tie-breaking vote.
The bill includes a series of gun-control measures that would rein in loose regulations on the sale of firearms at gun shows, stipulate that child-safety devices or trigger locks be sold with handguns, ban the import of high-capacity ammunition clips, and finance a $2 million study, similar to Clinton's, that will look into the marketing practices of entertainment companies to see if they are intentionally marketing violent images to teenagers. The latter measure would give the government power to subpoena internal e-mails and memos.
The House, which has not yet voted on the Senate's bill, is expected to put forth an even broader gun-control package. In addition to the provisions of the Senate bill, the House's proposal will likely include provisions that will prohibit teenagers prone to violence from ever buying guns, impose mandatory minimum sentences for firing a weapon on school property, prohibit people from buying more than one handgun a month, and raise the minimum age to legally buy a handgun from 18 to 21. The House is expected to debate the bill beginning June 14.
The Motion Picture Industry of America has refused comment on the issue, and the Recording Industry Association of America said in a statement, "We have nothing to hide."
To some extent, the television industry has responded to Washington's pleas. Studios USA, which owns The Jerry Springer Show, has promised the daytime talk show will be free of profanity, violence, and physical confrontation — the components that have sent the show's ratings through the roof.
Similarly, the WB network pulled the season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because of its violent content. (The town's mayor turns into a 60-foot serpent at a high school graduation and goes on the attack.) However, the WB does plan to air the episode later in the summer.