Assault on Pop-Culture Violence ; Report Detailing How Movie-, Music-, and Videogame- Industries Market Violence to Kids Renews Call for Controls

Article excerpt

Young Americans love the movies. R-rated movies, violent movies, horror movies, sexy movies - they like them all, and consequently pour billions of dollars into the pockets of Hollywood stars and producers.

Now the marketing of violent movies to America's kids by Hollywood could become one of the hottest issues in the 2000 campaign for the White House.

The Federal Trade Commission, following a one-year million- dollar study, found that motion picture companies intentionally direct their marketing plans for violent, R-rated movies to children under 17.

Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, citing the FTC report, immediately vowed to pass new laws to regulate the entertainment industry unless movie companies and other firms began abiding by their own rating codes. "If I'm entrusted with the presidency, I am going to do something about this," he said.

The FTC report, in addition to motion pictures, also looked at the marketing efforts for video games and music. The results were similar. Music with explicit content as well as games with a "mature" rating often were marketed to children under 17.

FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky told a press conference on Monday: "I don't want the Federal Trade Commission to be the thought police." But he says: "This situation must be addressed."

Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, suggests the impact of violence in movies is being overstated. He said: "If we are causing moral decay in this country, we ought to have an explosion of crime. The exact opposite is happening."

Mr. Valenti praises Hollywood's rating system: "For almost 32 years, this industry has been the only segment of our national marketplace that voluntarily turns away revenues at the box office to redeem the pledge that we have made to parents."

The drumbeat of criticism, however, is growing louder. David Grossman, author of "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill," says: "Ultimately we're going to see change on this in one of three ways: education, legislation, or litigation." He adds: "The First Amendment does not include the right to sell pornography to children. Inevitably, where we are headed is to treat these violent images the same way we treat pornographic images."

The FTC study was no shock to Robert Knight of the Family Research Council in Washington. What is new, he says, is that "the industry has been caught targeting kids." Up to now, Mr. Knight says, the rating system acted as a "heat shield" that protected the entertainment industry because it was assumed that violent images and music were directed primarily at an adult audience. The FTC study refutes that assumption.

Mr. Pitofsky at the FTC says the entertainment companies were "entirely cooperative" in supplying thousands of documents that detailed their marketing efforts. …