Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2000 / 13 Elul, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE CLINTON administration, in a bit of cynical-but-brilliant election-year meddling has just released a Federal Trade Commission report, initiated by Clinton after the Columbine massacre. The report concludes (drum roll, please) that Hollywood is targeting its big-budget movies at the audience that makes big-budget movies profitable, aka kids.
The chief beneficiary of the report is the Gore-Lieberman ticket which has (shrewdly) made "family values" a Democratic issue for the first time in more than a generation. Gore is dusting off his old anti-Hollywood positions, after a decade-long hiatus during which he collected millions of dollars from Hollywood moguls and attacked Republicans who had the same position.
Nonetheless, it's about time the Democrats recognized that criticizing Hollywood isn't fascist or a threat to free speech. Marketing "R" or "NC-17" movies to kids is bad corporate citizenship. Helping parents gain control of what cultural products their kids consume is a good idea.
So, as someone who would gladly shave with a cheese grater for the rest of his life if it meant seeing Gore lose this election, I say good for Gore and Lieberman. They are on the right side of the issue.
But they've come a little late. The truth is that wanton violence in the movies has declined in recent years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, high-body count films were far more common than they are today.
The Schwarzenegger-Willis-Stallone killing-spree genre is a recipe for failure with today's audiences - and actors (few of Hollywood's rising stars accept action-movie roles). Last year, only one film out of the top 10 had shoot-em-up killing in it. And that was "The Matrix," a movie in which the bloodshed was minimal and wildly stylized.
Big movies these days are almost all pretty restrained in their use of violence. More importantly, they use violence to further a moral point. Often, gore (no pun intended) provides useful social commentary.
My friend Tevi Troy, writing in Reason magazine in 1992 - during another great uproar about Hollywood violence - points out that in the 1960s and 1970s, series like the "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish" films grew out of the public's understandable outrage with a criminal-justice system that couldn't take criminals off the streets. One reason why such films don't do too well today may have to do with our stunningly low crime rates. Or we could just be bored with them.
So, if violence is nothing new to movies, what is? I think the real problem with Hollywood is not the sex, violence or the drugs (which are just the modern versions of wine, women and song). It's how they're used and why.
Hollywood has become married to the pernicious notion that authority is, by definition, corrupt. Since "A Rebel Without A Cause," Hollywood has grown ever more enamored with the idea that society can make no legitimate moral claims on an individual.
Some of the most destructive films of the 1990s have been the most critically acclaimed. Take "American Beauty." About a man (Kevin Spacey) who quits his job, his wife and his family because he has a crush on a high-school girl, "American Beauty" was hailed as one of the greatest movies of the decade.
Indeed, almost every major Oscar-winning film this year, from "American Beauty" to "Boys Don't Cry" to "Girl, Interrupted," had main characters who were glamorized or celebrated because they defined morality according to their own personal desires and ambitions.
The Columbine massacre was blamed on the availability of guns and the prevalence of violence in our culture. But guns and violence have been around for a long time. What's new is the idea that glamorous and cool people can create their own morality, no matter the