Last month's devastating Federal Trade Commission report detailing how the film, recording and electronic-game industries are deliberately marketing their violent products to children has spurred certain entertainment companies to promise a few reforms.
As a whole, those reforms don't amount to much, as usual. Commensurate with the tsk-tsk rhetoric coming from entertainment executives has come a slate of vague promises. But get specific -- as when Sen. Sam Brownback pointedly asked each movie-studio representative if his company would publicly promise not to push R-rated films during the television "family hour" -- the answer was "No."
So, it's all the more poignant, given Hollywood's mushiness, that one mover-and-shaker amazingly contends that Hollywood has gone (ITAL) too far (ITAL) in accommodating those concerned about the brutality that permeates our culture.
Specifically, this executive thinks some of his fellow suits behaved far too deferentially -- "kowtowed" is how he put it -- when they appeared before the Senate committee hearings on the FTC report. "Quite frankly," he told them, "I was disappointed in ... the way Hollywood handled its response ... Where's your chutzpah?"
This firebrand is none other than World Wrestling Federation boss Vince McMahon, whose very stock-in-trade is brutality, not to mention vulgarity. And he's making a fortune peddling this garbage to impressionable youngsters.
At the Oct. 11 luncheon of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, guest speaker McMahon argued that efforts to restrict marketing amount to "censorship ... plain and simple," given that, in Los Angeles Times reporter Brian Lowry's paraphrase, "companies have no incentive to create products they are unable to market."
"You can't give one inch on this," McMahon exhorted his audience. "Don't. You'll regret it."
McMahon's hardline rhetoric was based on this bit of populist theory: "People don't have a problem with our content. Otherwise, they would not be watching."
How absurd. (ITAL) Obviously (ITAL) the people who regularly watch WWF programming don't have a problem with its content. That leaves another 235 million or so who don't watch -- plenty of whom object strongly to McMahon's trashy fare.
In fact, outrage over the WWF is sufficiently widespread that more than a dozen large companies (most recently, Burger King and ConAgra) have announced that they will no longer advertise on McMahon's primary broadcast television show, UPN's "WWF Smackdown!"
Make no mistake: Sponsor withdrawals are hurting the WWF, too. On Sept. 27, after the company said that in part as a result of such pullouts, its revenue for the rest of the fiscal year would fall short of expectations, its stock lost more than a third of its value.
The WWF claims to have toned down its raunch in the past few months. Nonetheless, the fact remains that its highest-profile programs, "Smackdown!" and cable's "Raw Is War," which late in September moved from the USA Network to TNN, are utterly, toxically filthy.
The latest disgusting stunt was the promotion, extending over four weeks of both "Smackdown!" and "Raw," of a Playboy pictorial featuring the WWF's top female star, Chyna. Lowlights: A grinning WWF color commentator Jerry (King) Lawler thumbing through the magazine; a visit by Chyna's boyfriend to the Playboy Mansion, supposedly in an effort to stop the issue from coming out; a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoot; and Chyna herself stripping down to a bra and thong panties to celebrate a victory in the ring, inspiring Lawler to exult, "It's Playboy in real life!" (Not quite; she is very much naked in the magazine.)
That's not even the worst of it. This is: Children, a whole lot of them, are being poisoned by this pornography propaganda. The numbers tell the sickening story: Nielsen figures indicate that more than 1.5 million youngsters aged 12-17, (ITAL) and an additional 1.3 million children aged 2-11 (ITAL), watched the Oct. 5 "Smackdown!"
According to a story on CNSNews.com, federal commissions have "found that minors comprise the largest category of consumers of pornography in America and that even 'soft' porn could well have a serious, harmful and lasting effect on the mind of a child."
It's fair to assume that of the millions of children who experienced this Playboy hype, more than a few checked out the magazine, which, of course, contained plenty of nude photos other than those of Chyna. Was it wrong for the WWF to influence impressionable youngsters in this way? Well, in Vince McMahon's world, that's just not important. What matters is their "right" to watch his sleaze and his "right" to market it, no matter how damaging or degrading it may be.
Larry Flynt has met his match in Vince McMahon.