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Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 2000/ 14 Tishrei, 5761

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports


"Gratuitous" government is worse than "gratuitous" violence

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THIS JUST IN: The government discovered that moviemakers want people to see movies. Worse yet, they do so through the use of "gratuitous violence."

That's right, the Federal Trade Commission, in essence, discovered this shocking news. In their recently released report on the marketing practices of Hollywood, the FTC asked, "Do the (entertainment) industries promote products they themselves acknowledge warrant parental caution in venues where children make up a substantial percentage of the audience? Are these advertisements intended to attract children and teenagers?" The FTC soberly concludes, "The answers are plainly 'yes.'"

The report says, "As Thom Mount, president of the Producers Guild of America, acknowledged after Columbine: 'It is not that violent pictures create more violence, but the constant litany of gratuitous violence (emphasis added) is destructive of the fabric of the culture because it lowers our threshold for sensitivity to the issue.'" What, pray tell, is "gratuitous violence"?

As opposed to just good ol' violence? Columnist Robyn Blumner says, "When someone uses 'gratuitous' before the word 'violence,' you can already tell where the argument is going."

Is it using more violence than necessary to make the point; violence shown in too graphic a manner; the use of visual violence instead of a verbal description of a heinous murder; the depiction of multiple killings when fewer dead bodies would nevertheless make the point; the selection of a subject who led a violent life instead of making a movie about a less violent character; making a movie about a fictitious mass shooting rather than a movie about the Holocaust? You see the problems.

Did the shark in "Jaws" have to be that hungry? Why did "Psycho's" Janet Leigh opt for a shower rather than a nice sponge bath? Yeah, when you think about it, lots of films pour on the violence. What about those movies with no socially redeeming value? You know, like "Raging Bull," "Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List," "Rocky," "Platoon," or "Glory"? Certainly these "gratuitously violent" films should be recalled. And it's time to repossess those Oscars.

What about the critically well-received "The Untouchables," starring Kevin Costner? In one scene, the good guys wanted a bad guy to talk. He refused. Outside, the bad guy's partner lay dead. Sean Connery, standing outside, knew that the reluctant bad guy did not know that his partner had been killed. So Connery cleverly picks up the corpse and begins yelling at it, you better talk, you better talk or I'll shoot! Connery suddenly fires a shot into the head of the already dead man. At this point, the stoolie enthusiastically spills the information.

This, ladies and gentlemen, represents a classic case of "gratuitous violence." After all, Connery shoots a man who is already dead. Born-again is one thing, but dead-again? Now, in the theater, we "desensitized" viewers laughed aloud at Connery's trickery. And remember the scene where Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro, takes a baseball bat to the head of an incompetent henchman? (Surely De Niro could have recommended a good career-guidance counselor.) OK, tommy guns are one thing, but death by Louisville Slugger? Somebody do something -- quick!

"Gratuitous violence"? In the "Wild Bunch," which many consider one of Hollywood's finest Westerns, director Sam Peckinpah used slow motion to show the shooting, the blood, and the gore. "Gratuitous violence"? Is the slow-motion blood more "gratuitous" than blood filmed at regular speed?

Consider this passage: "He brought him down with a glinting jagged rock, massive, top of the heap behind the rampart's edge. No easy lift for a fighter even in prime strength, working with both hands, weak as men are now. Giant Ajax hoisted it high and hurled it down, crushed the rim of the fighter's four-horned helmet and cracked his skull to splinters, bloody pulp ... " The source? "The Iliad," by Homer. C'mon Homer, why not just have Ajax call in a hostage negotiator?

Never mind that the FTC failed to establish a link between "gratuitous violence" and violent conduct. "Exposure to media violence alone," concedes the FTC report, "does not cause a child to commit a violent act." But the government considers parents too feeble to make their unhappiness known. Enter the government "taste police" who, after all, care more about your kids than you do.

The arrogance of the federal government, spurred on by politicians bent on "doing something," simply astounds. Why, even MTV restricted certain Madonna videos, finding them too graphic for their regular rotation. Even MTV assumes viewer limitations. Limits result from the collective, unpredictable, unquantifiable, subtle and not-so-subtle interaction between advertiser, consumer, consumer taste, the marketplace, and the nation's religious and moral and ethical convictions. These combine to form an ever-evolving consensus on what is and is not appropriate, rendering government action not only unnecessary but destructive of our freedoms.

So, let's tackle the real problem -- "gratuitous" government.


JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of the newly released, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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