Violence issue called conundrum

While most everyone agrees that there is too much violence in film these days , few people know exactly what to do about it.

That was the consensus of a five-person panel brought together Wednesday night to talk about artistic freedoms.

The event, sponsored by a number of organizations, including the Writers Guild of America, West, and the American Civil Liberties Union, also featured 15 minutes of “Damned in the USA”–the documentary that the Rev. Donald Wildmon and his American Family Assn. is trying to stop from being shown in the U.S.

“I’m an anti-censorship extremist, but I am bothered by the violence issue. It really concerns me as a writer,” noted Roger L. Simon, novelist and screenwriter (“Enemies, a Love Story”).

“Ninety percent of the violence that is portrayed is mind-numbing and destructive. But what do we do? We certainly don’t want to turn it over to the government. It’s a real conundrum.”

One solution, suggested by Ed Donnerstein, an author and professor, is to be more aggressive in teaching people about media literacy.

“We need to make the long-term commitment to educate our children in the area of critical viewing,” said Donnerstein. “That would lessen the impact of what is seen.”

Father Ellwood Kieser, president of the Humanitas Prize Organization and a producer, said he believed the religious community should be putting more of its energy into educating people about what is good media.

“I don’t think boycotts are necessarily the best use of the religious community, but I don’t want to demonize Rev. Wildmon,” Kieser said. “He certainly has a right to organize those boycotts. But we should be educating the public so they want the good stuff.

“Unfortunately, this industry is caught in a system that puts priorities on ratings, the buck and the box office,” he said. Linda Williams, author of “Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the ‘Frenzy’ of the Visible,” told audience members that it’s become increasingly problematic to decide what’s appropriate viewing.

“Community standards are radically in flux right now,” she said. “For one thing, women are now consuming pornography … this used to be a man’s market. And ideas about what really constitutes sex are changing in the public perception. What it really comes down to is what one person finds erotic is what they believe is acceptable, but what others find erotic is considered pornography,” she said.

Father Kieser said he believes pornography is “any kind of portrayal of human communication that diminishes the sacredness of the human body.”

Williams quickly retorted that there really is no consensus on what constitutes pornography because different sexual images represent different things to the diverse cultural community that now constitutes the United States.

The panel also addressed the Rodney King trial and Ice-T’s song “Cop Killer.” Ron Hampton, director of national affairs for the National Black Police Assn., said his org is one of the few police groups to support Ice-T’s right to publish the song.

“In his song, he was telling the truth about police violence for most people of color,” Hampton said. “I believe there is something wrong with our society that our only strategy to fight force is with force…”

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