by David Sisler

In a signed column in Time magazine, Richard Schickel depreciated Senator Bob Dole's criticism of the entire entertainment with two words. The Senator was, according to Schickel, having a "hissy fit."

Great term, "hissy fit." It isn't in any dictionary I own, but it gives an immediate picture of an ineffectual, and perhaps even more damning, an inappropriate response to a situation which is perceived as trivial.

You can see Bob Dole now, red-faced, hysterical, jumping up and down, and alternately holding his breath and then screaming at the top of his lungs. Or to use another of Schickel's sarcastic descriptions, the entertainment industry caused Mr. Dole "to spring a gas leak."

Critics of Mr. Dole's remarks say it was politics as usual. The Senator spoke out only to garner votes in his drive for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, they say.

Did Bob Dole go to Los Angeles and blast the entertainment industry in an attempt to influence people to vote for him? Of course.

Does that mean that the issue which he spotlighted should be discounted because it was electioneering? If so, discount every advance made in the civil rights movement and every other attempt to lift Americans out of suffering and misery, because some politician, somewhere, at sometime, spoke out about those--and more--issues in his or her election campaign.

Cries of demagoguery were raised when Mr. Dole declared that Hollywood should police itself. Why is it, I wonder, that we automatically label those with whom we disagree as demagogues?

But enough of that. The rhetoric over motives clouds the issue. To quote the Bard, "Something is rotten," and the decay is not necessarily confined to Denmark.

Richard Schickel says that "films [which] make us feel ... shock [and] pain ... put us in touch with the secret life burbling beneath the pious American surface." If that is really why producers and directors make their films, and not just to make money, then we need some new movies. That "burble" is polluting our society.

You've heard the quote. A 15-year-old boy said, "I liked the part in Pulp Fiction where the guy points a gun and says a prayer from the Bible and then kills everybody. You hear the gun go brrr. It's cool."

Will that boy be inspired by Pulp Fiction to buy a gun and kill people? Probably not. And I probably would not die if I fell into a hog pen, but I'd sure smell bad for a very long time. That is the gut issue--this stuff stinks and it makes all of us smell bad.

But is it possible someone will follow the film's character and attempt mass murder? Yes. Look, if this stuff does not influence behavior--and Hollywood's defenders say it does not--why do they bother to put a little clip on screen before the feature which urges you to buy popcorn? You just cannot have it both ways. Either movies influence behavior or they do not.

Constitutional experts say the entertainment industry has the right to produce any type of movie, book, or record it chooses. There is, however, no constitutional prohibition against declining to produce or to broadcast objectionable products.

Al Cafaro, president of A&M records listened to a potential album track by rap artist Intelligent Hoodlum and said, "It was nothing we could be a party to. I told him I couldn't release it." Intelligent Hoodlum took that song off the record.

When 1993 statistics showed that violent crime had risen 200 percent in one year in their city, executives at Kansas City's KPRS-FM stopped broadcasting violent, misogynist and sexually explicit music. Following the format change, KPRS rose from third to first place in the local ratings.

KPRS proved we do not have to settle for the lowest common denominator. It is an old drum, but it still plays a good tune: If I don't buy the tickets, and you don't buy the tickets, if we stop buying the songs, if we stop buying the books, if we will start changing the channels and switching stations, the entertainment industry will produce a different product.

And then I see the new round of television commercials which attempt to sell the product with bathroom humor and I am not overly optimistic.

One ad executive defends the new approach by saying, "America's sensibilities are loosening up." It's not our sensibilities which are loose. It's our morals. As a nation we have diarrhea of the soul. The patient will not get any better until he changes his diet.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 6/24/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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