Morality play: Senator Joe goes to Hollywood

MEMO TO: Democratic delegates

FROM: Peter Bart

SO HERE’S THE SKINNY: The showbiz community venerates Bill Clinton but doesn’t “get” Al Gore. Now that Gore has added to the confusion by anointing Sen. Joe Lieberman as his veep, one is impelled to ask: Why did you guys decide to convene in L.A. to begin with?

Hollywood comprises only one section of Los Angeles, to be sure, but you delegates doubtless will be streaming westward to dine at Spago and mingle with the celebrities at the countless glitzy fund-raisers. Much as your new leaders may disdain the entertainment industry, it’s still a bountiful source of money, and its glitterati help jazz up a political dinner.

So in return you’ve given us Senator Joe, a man who cites divine intervention more often than Pat Robertson and who viscerally distrusts the ability of citizens to determine their own sources of entertainment.

WITNESS THE FOLLOWING: In the past couple of years, Senator Joe has urged that station license renewals be tied to the “moral tone” of programming. He wants the Justice Dept. and the Federal Trade Commission to act as “prosecutorial agencies” with subpoena power to probe whether movie advertising is misleading. He says he is weighing legislation to make it illegal for stores to sell “inappropriate” videogames and other material to children.

And he seriously proposes that a supposedly racy show like “Friends” be shown only in movie theaters or on very latenight TV.

And his remarks have been growing ever more shrill. Uncomfortable in what he calls “this very secular century,” Senator Joe insists that the “new values transmitters are the TV producers and the movie moguls … who’ve been mainlining murder, mayhem, sex and vulgarity into the minds of our children.”

And there’s no doubt he’ll jump all over a soon-to-be released report from the FTC that will be critical of Hollywood’s marketing techniques.

Senator Joe has been trying to gain Hollywood’s attention for his proposals, dropping by the offices of network heads and studio chiefs to deliver his sermons, but with meager results.

“I find myself frustrated by the entertainment industry,” he admits. “They’re not coming to the table.”

Maybe you delegates should remind your new veep that his “table” isn’t particularly inviting. The trouble with Senator Joe is similar to that of his fellow “culture warriors” such as Donald Wildmon, the moral trumpeter tyrant from Tupelo. Like zealots everywhere, they feel they know what’s best for our eyes and ears. God told them so.

SOME OF YOUR PARTY leaders are comparing the odyssey of Senator Joe, an Orthodox Jew, to that of John F. Kennedy, who confronted anti-Catholic prejudice when he announced his run for the presidency.

Here’s the difference: In Kennedy’s public pronouncements, he reiterated his support for the separation of church and state, emphasizing that he was a truly secular candidate.

And Senator Joe? In the first 90 seconds of his press conference with Al Gore, he managed to invoke God 13 times.

Now, people in the entertainment business are understandably wary about ethnic sensitivities, so there’s been an epidemic of “no comments” from industry leaders regarding Senator Joe’s posturing. Talk to the power players off the record, however, and you get a very different reaction. Senator Joe scares the hell out of people.

I’M SURE AL, Tipper and Senator Joe will be treated cordially as they wend their way among the Hollywood illuminati. After all, there are still a lot of hard-core Democrats in Hollywood Tinseltown whose loyalty has been further strengthened by Gore’s courage in selecting a Jewish running mate.

That courage should be applauded, but if you happen to run into Senator Joe this week as you wend your way through the party circuit, please ask him this question:

Does he really intend to summon up divine intervention to decide what is “appropriate” for Americans to read or watch or listen to? Surely that question should make for light party chatter.

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