In six months I'll be a good boy

Posted: Sep 13, 2000 12:00 AM
If you see anybody around who predicts that life for the porn-types is going to be really tough six months after Al Gore is inaugurated president, move in. . Give him 10-1 odds. Seven months after the inauguration, find a 14-year-old and take him/her to an R-rated movie and see if somebody jumps out at you -- saying what? Saying, "Stop! Didn't you hear Candidate Gore's speech? He said six months after he was sworn in, Hollywood would have to yield or --"

Or what?

The Washington Post came up with a scoop from Daily Variety. There is a tape, said the paper, of a meeting in 1987 between Senator Gore and rock-music executives. It features an apology by Senator Gore for his role in Senate hearings on dirty lyrics. Then the Los Angeles Times reports that last year Vice President Gore told Hollywood big enchiladas that the Federal Trade Commission's investigation wasn't his idea; it was Clinton's.

That refers to the report filed on Monday, whose findings prompted Candidate Gore to swear that he and Joe, six months after they got into office, would end this effort to corrupt the young. The FTC alleged that Hollywood, whether pushing dirty movies or dirty music or dirty video games, was targeting very young audiences with some of its ads. So what is to be done about it?

Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission Robert Pitofsky said that surely one way to go is to enforce existing laws and conventions. If the movie is R-rated and the youngster comes up to the ticket counter unaccompanied by an adult, you're supposed to say, No, you can't come in. And there are laws of sorts that touch down on rap music and video games. The computers bringing in the Internet are supposed to have close-sesame chips that Dad can activate to keep Sonny from spending his time with naked ladies, an option which means Dad has to get his own set.

Now Chairman Pitofsky made an interesting intellectual point in his discussion of the report with Jim Lehrer. You cannot prove that a child who engages in violence was prompted to do so by seeing the incremental violent film, and you can't establish that the young man who impregnates the teen-age girl was prompted to do so by a libido activated by Sharon Stone on the big screen.

But correlations are phenomena that justifiably arrest the attention. To put this in particular terms, you cannot say that the violence seen and read by the two young creatures at Columbine was responsible for their decision one day to kill their classmates. But you are justified in inquiring into correlations. If violence among teen-agers in a decade rises by 25 percent, what else happened during that decade? A rise in the price of oil? The impeachment of a U.S. president? An increase in songs and movies featuring violence?

Those are proper subjects of examination by scholars, and Mr. Pitofsky obviously has personally concluded that the correlation is there and points to the effect of advertising by producers of violence and sex who want the kid's nickel, and perhaps his lifelong addiction to the genre.

It is curious that concerning two matters, our cognoscenti are very much alert to the influence of advertising on young and inquisitive children. Causal relations are here taken for granted. If you advertise cigarettes, more young people will smoke. If you advertise the availability of guns, more young people will buy guns. You then sanction laws, most of them very popular with the liberal elite, that forbid selling a cigarette to a minor, as also a gun. But "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is probably protected, critics of Mr. Gore from the left would be quick to say. You are brushing up against the First Amendment, never mind that Mr. Gore specified that any laws or administrative actions that he would favor at the end of the six-month probationary period would abide strictly by the guarantees of the First Amendment.

So what do you do then? "What happens after six months if they don't comply voluntarily?" a New York Times reporter wanted to know.

Gore: "There are differing opinions within the FTC legal staff as to whether or not the current authority allows them to proceed against false and deceptive advertising in this situation. So that would have to be tested."

What does it all mean?

Ask Jack Valenti, the streetwise Hollywood spokesman whose prowess dates back to when he had to defend Lyndon Johnson. Reported the Times: "Mr. Valenti dismissed the Democrats' proposal as carefully calibrated political posturing. 'Frankly,' he said, 'if I were running for office I'd be trashing the movie industry myself.'"

Does that tell us that if you run for office, under current conventions, you are trashing democracy?