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May 15, 1999
Column #924


     WASHINGTON   Former Education Secretary William Bennett showed a Senate hearing clips of  ''The Basketball Diaries,'' the film that inspired a 14-year-old to kill students in a Kentucky school. It featured teen idol Leonardo DiCaprio blasting classmates with a shotgun.

     Bennett then ran excerpts of  ''Scream,'' seen by millions of teens. In an opening scene, a teenage girl is forced to watch her jock boyfriend tortured and then disemboweled by two fellow students seeking revenge.   After his stomach is cut open and he dies screaming, the killers repeatedly stab Drew Barrymore, torture her, cut her throat and hang her body from a tree for her parents to see when they drive home.

     ''Had enough?'' Bennett asked. ''That's what a lot of American parents have had. Enough.''

     Denver Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput also told the committee of being ''completely stunned'' by seeing a film, ''The Matrix.''  In one scene the heroes wear leather trench coats ''in a violent, elegant, slow-motion bloodbath'' as they ''cut down about a dozen people with their guns.'' He wondered if Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold had seen the film. ''If so, it certainly didn't deter them.''

     The Catholic prelate noted that people of faith have been involved in music, art, literature and architecture for thousands of years ''because we know   from experience that these things shape the soul. And through the soul, they shape behavior. The roots of violence in our culture are much more complicated than just bad rock lyrics and brutal screenplays. And it's clear that the Columbine killings were planned well before ''The Matrix'' ever opened.

     ''But common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films and our television has to go somewhere and it goes straight into the hearts of our children, to bear fruit in ways we can't imagine, until something like Littleton happens.''

     Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recalled that many Americans ''were justifiably outraged when it was discovered that tobacco companies marketed cigarettes to children.  I believe that we should be equally concerned if we find that violent music and video games are being marketed to children.'' 

     That's exactly what they are doing. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, who organized the hearing before the Littleton massacre, said the ''teen-slasher'' films such as ''Scream'' are rated R (not recommended for teens under 18). ''But the teen cast and high school setting indicates that the targeted audience is precisely the same people who are supposedly discouraged from seeing it: teens.''   Theaters never block underage kids from R films.

     More disturbing is the violence in video games because a game player takes active part in violence.  The higher the body count, the higher the score in such games as ''Postal'' which offers the fun of blowing away innocent bystanders, training children to be virtual serial killers.

     The ads for these games appear in ''Sports Illustrated for Kids'' and game magazines.

     What can be done about it?  The CEOs of companies that make these products, Time-Warner, Seagrams/Universal, Sony, all refused to testify at the hearing.  They did not show up at a White House meeting on youth violence, either.   Only Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association came to both meetings.  His answer: ''Mother, father, ministers, rabbis, priests, principals and teachers must construct within the minds and hearts of children an impenetrable moral shield'' to give them a clear sense of right and wrong.

     He's right, of course, but movies and games should not shoot armor-piercing bazookas through the shields we parents try to construct in our kids.

     . Instead, what is desperately needed are ''comprehensive codes of conduct adopted by the different entertainment industries themselves...much as the broadcasters did from the 1950's to the 1980's with the old National Association of Broadcasters TV code,'' proposed Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz in a New York Times column.

     The nation's major Internet providers recently pledged such a step, a filtering tool that is one click away for parents.  AOL already offers it.   Problem is, ''with 99 percent of the filters that are out there, there is an override code or a 12-year-old who is sharp can figure it out,'' says Rev. Don Wildmon, a United Methodist pastor and president of the American Family Association.

     Therefore, AFA offers a better alternative.  Buy your Internet access through AFA for $21.95 a month that offers the same unlimited access, but with the server filtering out all violent games, sexually explicit or hate material and chat rooms except a few that are monitored.

     It is not just kids who need protection. Wives, if you fear your husband is into Internet porn, AFA has your answer. Call 601 844-5036 for information.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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