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September 16, 2000
Column #994


     The Federal Trade Commission issued a blistering indictment this week of Hollywood's hypocrisy in creating a self-regulatory system allegedly to warn parents of violent content of movies, music and electronic games while firms ''routinely market to children the very products'' with the warnings.

     The FTC cited examples of ''pervasive and aggressive marketing'' of violence to children:

  • ''Of 44 movies rated R for violence the Commission found that 35, or 80 percent were targeted to children under 17.'' One plan to promote a violent, R-rated film stated: ''Our goal was to find the elusive teen target audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12-18 was exposed to the film.''

  • Of the 118 electronic games with a ''Mature'' rating for violence, 60 percent had marketing plans targeted at children under 17.

  • Of the 55 music recordings with ''explicit content'' labels, all marketing was aimed at those under 17.

     For example, R-rated films are hawked on such shows as ''Dawson's Creek,'' MTV, and ''South Park'' seen by millions of teens. The Commission reported that more than eight out of ten people assembled in groups to test-market films were younger than 17, some are only 12. Ads pushing violent movies, games and music fill teen magazines such as Teen, Jump and YM.

     What's the harm of media violence?

     ''There have been innumerable scientific studies, such as a recent one by the American Medical Association, showing a direct link between what children are exposed to and what they emulate,'' said L. Brent Bozell, Chairman of the Media Research Center. ''The killers at Columbine High School were addicted to violent video games and music. There have been four instances of children aged 6 to 15 killing other children, copying what they are watching on TV.''

     Of course, not everyone watching violent media becomes violent. But Shepherd Smith, director of the Institute for Youth Development, sees a ''corrosive influence affecting nearly all parents and children. Children growing up establish a value system from what they see and hear from their parents and other important adults. The marketing of violence invalidates much of the value system. What occurs is a growing lack of respect for those important to the young person.''

     What is the remedy?

     The Clinton-Gore Administration leaked the report on Sunday night and both the President and Vice President were quick to denounce Hollywood on Monday. ''It is not about censorship it's about citizenship,'' Al Gore said on ''The Oprah Winfrey Show.''

     In an elementary school, he added, ''I call on these industries for an immediate cease-fire.'' He said he hoped for ''self-restraint and responsible corporate citizenship.'' However, if the industry has not policed itself in six months, Gore noted that ''false and deceptive advertising is illegal under the current laws. If the Federal Trade Commission does not have enough authority to deal with it, I think it is time to take steps that can actually help parents.''

     George W. Bush questioned Gore's credibility on the issue, noting that the Vice President ''chose to distance himself'' from the study when it was announced last year, which Bush linked to the $13.6 million in political donations from Hollywood to the Gore campaign. Bush pledged to ''work with the CEOs of Hollywood, those who produce the products and oftentimes pollute our children's minds, to come out with a better product.''

     ''But I'm going to remind moms and dads that their biggest responsibility is to make sure their children are not watching or playing those violent games.''

     He has a point. While 97 percent of parents think there is too much sex and violence on TV, 47 percent allow their children to have their own TV sets in bedrooms.

     However, there is some good news. The number of movies with a pro-Christian theme have soared from only one a decade ago to 98 last year, according to Ted Baehr, president of the Christian Film and Television Commission. Further, he produces ''Movieguide ,'' an invaluable monthly magazine for parents that spotlights both the good films and those to be avoided, and reports on the trends.

     ''Politicians play footsie with the whole issue,'' says Baehr. ''They like to bombast and yell but the entertainment industry is such a powerful force, they will not take it on. Parents need to learn the grammar of mass media and be able to teach their children the consequences of watching this stuff, to help them have media literacy.'' For a free sample of Movieguide, call 800 899-6684.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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