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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Repeat After the Scapegoaters: It's Hollywood's Fault

September 13, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

Well, well, well. So our federal government is threatening anybody who makes those vile, violence-inspiring Hollywood movies, TV programs, music and toys.

The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission has just finished reviewing, Kinko'ing and releasing a 104-page report expressing outrage at the kind of "entertainment" available to adults and kids.

Oh, brother. Here we go again.

It is so predictable that the FTC has become oh-so sincere about cleaning up the filth, holding Hollywood accountable for America's behavior.

And it comes as no shock in an election year that our heroic presidential candidates are ready to lay the blame on movies, TV, music and toys for America's troubles, rather than on something like, oh, say . . . the federal government?

Our fearless leaders have obviously decided to use products as scapegoats, so they can brag about "protecting" generations to come from being exposed to potentially dangerous images.

Heaven knows, we have all found ourselves face-to-face with some pretty vivid things, haven't we? You know what I mean. Things that could have easily turned previously decent members of our society into deranged, depraved murderers and monsters.

Hey, I know I have.

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I can still remember watching a movie where hundreds of bloody, dead bodies are stretched out across a street. And another movie where a guy shoots and kills his mentally retarded friend. And another movie where a character is deliberately set on fire.

Of course, these movies were 1939's "Gone With the Wind," "Of Mice and Men" and "The Wizard of Oz," none of which, to the best of my knowledge, incited young viewers to commit murder or arson.

And there wasn't even a rating system back then. A kid could walk right into a theater, buy a bag of popcorn and watch George blow poor Lennie's head off, or see the Scarecrow jump and scream after he gets torched.

Today, the Federal Trade Commission would probably warn the makers of these films to label them as too intense for younger viewers.

I can also remember seeing plenty of irresponsible TV programs, with no federal regulations to guide me.

There was the one with the angry husband who kept threatening to belt his wife. And the one with the law officer whose gun kept going off, sometimes with a child nearby. And the one with the three unmarried people living together, the kind of thing that could corrupt a young viewer's morals.

These shows were "The Honeymooners," "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Three's Company," and I'm sure we'd have been a lot better off if a government agency had warned us about their potentially harmful content.

I remember listening to some pretty twisted musical lyrics as a kid too, as today's kids have.

One went something like: "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it." I guess parents shouldn't have let innocent children listen to this sort of trash.

Same goes for that jailhouse rock. The nerve, making jail sound like fun. That line about "you're the cutest jailbird I ever did see" is particularly deplorable. It's a clear attempt to romanticize criminals. Our federal government should have banned it from impressionable youngsters such as me.

Oh, and where was the FTC when past generations of American children were exposed to violent-themed toys and games?

Why, I still remember my friend Terry and me, meeting in his basement, our parents having no idea what we were up to. Terry would talk about killing somebody with a knife in the kitchen. Me, I'd vote for the bedroom and a gun.

The game was called Clue, and somebody plainly should have investigated its manufacturers (and our parents) for callous indifference to the sick, random violence we kids were exposed to, making a game out of murder!

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Like I say, here we go again. Any time someone who's influenced by a film, song or toy commits a crime, there comes a new call for labels, restrictions or bans.

"Son of Sam" once said he was influenced in committing murders by a dog. I guess that meant America should have done a better job of labeling dogs.

Read my lips: Violent people do violent things. Mentally disturbed people do disturbing things. It was ever thus, and it always will be.

Back when Julius Caesar got stabbed, or when Rome burned while Nero played the fiddle, there was no entertainment industry. So go find another scapegoat, would you? Stop blaming the fiddle makers.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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