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No suprise here: Hollywood aims for audience among pre-teen set

Posted: Monday, October 16, 2000

How fitting. One of the federal agencies in charge of regulating meat has released a report on something else that can be cold, bloody and raw: American pop culture.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, entertainment executives are marketing trashy movies and video games to kids as young as 10. Which means government officials have finally figured out what parents have known for years -- that an industry willing to glorify casual sex, graphic violence and endless profanity has no qualms about trolling for customers among the pre-teen set.

It took FTC officials 15 months to complete their report. They could have saved some time just by flipping on a TV set, where prime-time ads for inappropriate fare are commonplace. You don't even have to go to the theater to know that "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps" features scenes of sodomy and oral sex -- they're in the TV ads. "The Klumps" is rated "PG-13," which means Hollywood execs think it's just fine for your eighth-grader.

Then there's "Scary Movie," a heavily advertised, sophomoric spoof of the "Scream" thrillers (three slaughterfests to date and counting). This R-rated romp boasts "gross and constant sight gags about sex organs," the Washington Post reports, not to mention "all manner of objectionable material including (but not limited to) obscenity, drug use, violence, nudity and sex."

Surely there's a special Academy Award for such a feat.

As for gore, let's just say the folks who rebuked director Sam Peckinpah for staging a bloody climax to 1969's "The Wild Bunch" must long for the days when Bill Holden manning a Gatling gun in some Mexican backwater was as bad as it got.

From the gruesome beheadings in "Sleepy Hallow" to the torture murders of "The Cell" (where a serial killer uses a barbecue spit to disembowel a screaming victim), the local multiplex is looking more and more like the autopsy room at the city morgue.

The Post's review of the movie "Bait" sums up the situation: "Contains the usual staples: sex, violence, obscenity." Yes, it's rated "R," which means anyone under 17 who wants to see it is supposed to be with an adult. But let's be serious: Theaters that actually bar younger teens from R-rated fare are more the exception than the rule.

And don't expect your kids to have trouble buying video games such as "Carmageddon," where you flatten pedestrians with your car, or "Doom," where you gun down your opponents. They disintegrate in a mass of blood and limbs, of course -- otherwise, how could it be any fun?

You don't have to be the community bluenose to find all this objectionable. "America's moviemakers have probably tortured and murdered more women and than all serial killers combined," notes film critic Rita Kempley. "Worse yet, they have done so with the same sadistic, psychosexual gusto that they attribute to the monsters they so obviously celebrate."

Some entertainment executives worry that the FTC report will lead to government censorship. But parents shouldn't be looking to government to do what is essentially their job.

Others can help. K-Mart has announced plans to require IDs before allowing people to buy violent video games. Wal-Mart plans to do the same. And some theater chains are vowing to enforce ratings.

But if parents want to protect their kids and avoid censorship, they must be the ones pressuring Hollywood to change. It's the only way to guarantee a happy ending to what has so far been a sad, sad story.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washing-ton-based public policy research institute.



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