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Washington's Taking Aim at the Wrong Target

October 02, 2000|BRIAN L. DYAK | Brian L. Dyak is president of Entertainment Industries Council Inc

Have you seen the movie where folks breathe easier after they lock up the character everyone thinks is the bad guy? Then it turns out he's only a peripheral player; the real killer is still out there.

Chances are you have, since it's a popular story formula. A version of this same plot is now being played out in Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of the violence at Columbine, blame is being aimed at Hollywood when the target should really be guns, a nearly unregulated product.

The same government that's failed to impose consumer product safety or advertising standards for marketing guns to kids is now firing on Hollywood for doing the same with films.

In blasting away at violence, the government has diverted its ammunition to Hollywood, while the real target hasn't been hit. When it comes to imposing advertising or safety standards on gun manufacturers, the government has curiously held its fire. Meanwhile, gun makers have placed youth squarely in their marketing sights with revolver and shotgun ads in youth publications such as Boys Life.

That being said, no one should rightfully condone marketing violence, in any form, to minors. The entertainment industry, like every other facet of society, must be mindful of the signals it puts out. But many of its members, who are quietly trying to be part of the solution, are getting overlooked in the finger-pointing stampede. For example:

* In the area of entertainment content, "Law & Order" did an episode last season about gun manufacturers' accountability for the damages their products inflict. An "ER" episode last season focused on a gun buyback program. The recent movie "It's the Rage" dealt with firearms turning angry confrontations into lethal ones. Several more productions are underway to tackle the dangers of having guns in a home with children.

* Several prominent producers, writers and directors are participating in an effort spearheaded by the Entertainment Industries Council Inc. to get beyond stylized shootouts to less glamorized, more reality-based firearm depictions. These creators are brainstorming with us on alternative forms of conflict resolution--thinking up ways to create drama and involvement that aren't gun-reliant.

* In the area of marketing, entertainment executives responsibly announced, in conjunction with the recent congressional hearings, new marketing standards for adult entertainment products, many that have been quietly in the works for months.

It's clear there is room for improvement, and there are those within our industry who are aggressively addressing the issues of gun violence, firearm safety and injury prevention as they are depicted in entertainment products, making sure they are handled accurately and responsibly.

It seems, however, that to Washington, the R in the ratings system now stands for the threat of Regulation. If anything, the Federal Trade Commission has shined a light on the need for parents to guide their children's entertainment diet by using the ratings systems that the entertainment industry has provided them. It only takes a few extra moments for a parent to call Moviefone or visit the appropriate Web sites to find out why a movie has been given its rating.

The reality is, no matter what entertainment creators and marketers do to take action to address this issue--no matter what changes take place in our creative and marketing practices--none of it will make our children bulletproof. After all, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn't mow down those Columbine students with a reel of film. They used a TEC-9, not an R or PG-13.

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