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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

The Audience Waits for Answers From Hollywood

September 27, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

Unlike the accomplished liars and serial killers of the tobacco industry, Hollywood's studio executives will not be formally sworn in by Congress this morning when several are scheduled to testify about mature entertainment being aimed at immature audiences.

They won't be asked to raise their right hands and swear that they're telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me George Burns.

They won't need to line up, one by one, and repeat: "I do not think violent films cause violence." "I do not think violent films cause violence."

They won't risk being ordered to repay billions of dollars in damages to parents whose young children went to the movies and got exposed to women being chased through the woods by men in hockey masks carrying chain saws.

They won't have to put surgeon general's warnings on their product, that their films and CDs could be hazardous to mental health.

But they will be expected to answer some point-blank questions for a change. Questions as to whether they are willing to take any responsibility for their merchandise.

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Here is a partial list of questions that Sen. John McCain and his wrist-rapping Senate Commerce Committee band should consider asking today, in the interest of making Hollywood a happier place on Earth.

1. "If somebody in a movie gets shot, do we have to see the blood? Couldn't the victim just fall?"

2. "Couldn't somebody once in a while say 'what the heck,' 'holy cow' or 'you son of a gun?' without hurting the 'authenticity' of your movie?"

3. "Is it absolutely essential to the plot that an actress take a shower? Couldn't we just skip to the part where she's dressed, or let her stay dirty?"

4. "Didn't there used to be Hollywood movies where at least one character was a good person?"

5. "Do you people ever tell a rap artist he's gone too far?"

6. "When characters get shot in the leg or arm and it gets referred to as 'only a flesh wound,' did it ever occur to you that some people die of flesh wounds?"

7. "How come you still think it's funny to have a cartoon character stutter?"

8. "Don't you think it's about time those cops in your TV shows quit roughing up suspects in interrogation rooms?"

9. "Do you people ever tell anybody he's gone too far?"

10. "How many of you think characters who smoke cigarettes in your movies cause children who watch your movies to smoke cigarettes? Raise your hands."

OK, so maybe McCain and his D.C. question-firing squad will have some considerably more blunt questions on their agenda this morning.

Their priority shouldn't be the quality of entertainment in any case, but ways and means of keeping it away from under-age kids.

There are villains galore here.

Public enemy No. 1, for a starter, is the manager of your local cinema, who makes no attempt to monitor how many children under 18 are being sold tickets to movies that were not made for them.

Public enemy No. 2 is the manager of your neighborhood video store, who doesn't pay enough attention to R-rated movies being rented to any kid with a membership card.

Public enemy No. 3 is the manager of your local music store, who doesn't care about parental guidelines while a cashier rings up sales.

Public enemy No. 4 is the parent who doesn't know what a child is up to, America's favorite alibi.

Blaming entertainment in general is like blaming cavemen for fire. Not everybody puts it to bad use.

However, if the Hollywood big shots sit before Congress acting as sweet and innocent as Hayley Mills in her heyday, they should be ashamed. The audience needs some help. We're all in this together.

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Capitol Hill is finally getting cooperation, when it comes to Hollywood's disclosing how its product is marketed to the masses.

Legislators had been livid over the industry's reluctance to accept accountability for shamelessly pandering to children, for seeking a profit at any cost.

Hollywood can finally do its part. It's been the unwillingness to bend to any consumer's complaint that grates on so many. It's that no-business-runs-show-business attitude that the public resents.

Some will roll their eyes after the committee's hearing this morning and claim that the Hollywood types did nothing more than "tell them what they want to hear."

We're going to remember what they say today, though. And we just might hold them to it later.

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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.

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