Brownback, Lieberman claim sleaze up 30%

Hollywood got another trip to the woodshed Wednesday, as a pair of U.S. senators chastised industry execs for ignoring pleas earlier this year to tone down sex, violence and vulgarity in films and on TV.

“This is an industry that’s stiffing us, an industry that’s simply not responding to these appeals from across the country,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) said during a press conference in Westwood, complaining that Hollywood appears unwilling to do anything that would adversely affect its bottom line.

Brownback, who was accompanied by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), said they had come to Los Angeles to personally “speak truth to power,” although he acknowledged that they had no meetings set up with industry execs.

He said also that “violence and sleaze” on TV had actually risen by 30% since a new television ratings system was instituted in January 1997, and that the V-chip system set up a year later would be equally ineffective unless parents exercised some real control over what their children watch.

Brownback said that in order to “change the toxic culture of vulgarity” it was imperative that showbiz execs and producers acknowledge their influence and responsibility and impose on themselves a voluntary set of standards that would guide their creative choices.

Both senators insisted that they were not seeking to impose censorship on the industry or its products, but noted their frustration with the fact that Hollywood, as Brownback put it, “has ignored us.”

The two elected officials backed up their latest entreaty with a full-page ad in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times headlined “An Appeal to Hollywood.” The ad was sponsored by the Media Social Responsibility Project, the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies and George Washington U.

“Children of all ages now are being exposed to a barrage of images and words that threaten not only to rob them of normal childhood innocence but also to distort their view of reality and even undermine their character growth,” the ad said in part.

It suggests, among other things, that the industry “establish certain minimum standards for violent, sexual and degrading material … beyond which producers can be expected not to go” and that studios and producers commit “to an overall reduction in the level of entertainment violence.”

Signatories to the ad included former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo; retired generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell; presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); and actress and producer Joan van Ark.

Washington’s attempts this year to constrain the excesses of the entertainment industry were prompted largely by the April 20 massacre of 13 people, and the suicide of their two teenage killers, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Lieberman said he and Brownback had come to Hollywood’s doorstep “not to blame or criticize or vilify, but simply to ask this great industry for its help in protecting our children from harm.”

But Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Jack Valenti, reached later Wednesday at home in Washington, said that the senators’ charge that violence in entertainment causes violence in the real world “collides with reality.”

“Movies today are far less violent than they have been in the past,” Valenti said, pointing out that the biggest movie in the country at the moment is “Toy Story 2.”

“The most popular movies are not violent,” he went on. “The country is safer today than it has been in a decade. Crime is down in the major cities, and juvenile crime is palpably down. The National Safety Council even said that the safest place for kids is the schoolyard.”

Valenti does not doubt Lieberman and Brownback’s sincerity, and he called both men his friends.

“But the fact is,” he said, “if movies are as powerfully persuasive as they say they are, then they ought to give credit to movies for reducing the crime rate.”

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