Clinton Pushes for Federal Study of Violent Media

In the wake of a rash of horrendous school shootings, President Clinton has ordered a federal study of marketing strategies used to promote movies, music, and video games. The Federal Trade Commission has been given a $1 million budget and 18 months to complete the study, which will be "designed to lift a veil on whether production companies deliberately use violent imagery and language to lure young consumers," according to a June 1 report by the Washington Post.

The President's recommendations came in response to a growing grass-roots movement against violence in entertainment. Appalled by the increasing frequency and degree of violence by young people, church groups and other concerned citizens have turned to Washington for help. The American Academy of Pediatrics is one of several medical societies that have long called attention to the relationship between violence in media and antisocial behavior. The AAP first published its findings about television and its negative impact on adolescents back in 1984.

Clinton's push for a federal study is seen by some observers as a mostly cosmetic maneuver intended to placate Americans shocked by school shootings without offending his friends in the entertainment industry. That industry is a heavy contributor to the Democratic Party, which is going to need plenty of support in the coming election.

Clinton directed his most damning comments at producers of video games. The video-game industry is "one of the least influential lobbies in Washington," according to Jeffrey Taylor and Bob Davis in the June 3 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Vice President Al Gore---most likely the next Democratic candidate for president---and his wife, Tipper, have recently ratcheted down their criticism of the music industry. Tipper Gore was a longtime activist against violent lyrics in pop music, and she was instrumental in establishing parental warning labels on CDs, records, and cassette tapes.

Interestingly, the television industry was specifically excluded from the FTC study, despite the overwhelming evidence of its effects on the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of young people. Conservative activist and former Bush administration cabinet member William Bennet observes that it is "odd to target video-game makers when most people think movies and television are the biggest part of the problem."

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, says his industry is "a fat, inviting target." Valenti claims that politicians know that when they attack the movie industry, their numbers go up. "They're looking for something to fix it quickly," Valenti says of the violence problem.

However, others in the business admit that the problem is a serious one. At a mid-May premiere party for The Love Letter, director Steven Spielberg's wife, actress Kate Capshaw, noted, "We have a role in creating images, and too many of these images are violent. We need to accept a share of the responsibility for desensitizing our young people to violence."

Capshaw's co-star Ellen DeGeneres, seen most recently on the big screen as a television producer in EDtv, was even more outspoken: "This industry is all about money---and violence sells. Industry leaders will talk about cutting down on violence, say all the right things, but they won't do anything about it. People pay to see violence, and the business of the industry is to give people what they want, no matter what the consequences."

The seemingly insurmountable task of changing the public's taste for violent entertainment will be more effective in the long run than any governmental interference, she implied. "You know when this will change?" DeGeneres asked rhetorically. "When people stop going to see violent movies."