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Valenti’s violence battle starts in classroom

MPAA prez reiterates that ratings system works

WASHINGTON — Speaking before a skeptical audience of state attorneys general worried about kids and violent movies, Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti said on Wednesday he’ll soon ask the White House to consider a new elementary school class that teaches right from wrong.

Valenti faced a tough task in addressing the attorneys general — in the wake of several more school shootings — who are holding their annual meeting in Washington.

Last year, the attorneys general approved a resolution condemning Hollywood for the effect of violent R-rated movies on kids.

South Carolina attorney general Charlie Condon, who spearheaded the resolution, subsequently tried to rally colleagues around the idea of pursuing a deceptive advertising case against the entertainment industry, but dropped the effort late last fall.

The MPAA cringed at such a notion, since it was a similar effort that resulted in states banding together and suing the tobacco industry.

Valenti said he’s well aware that some movies are over the top in terms of gratuitous violence. He said he has been urging directors and producers to tone it down.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is it gratuitous?’ ” Valenti said. “I define gratuitous as more than enough. If so, take it out.”

Valenti said a new MPAA initiative cracking down on the marketing of violent R-rated movies to kids has gone a long way in addressing problems highlighted in a Federal Trade Commission report issued in September.

One result — fewer movies are receiving an R rating from the MPAA.

“It means directors, producers and distributors are voluntarily editing their films,” Valenti said. “I’m not saying this is perfect by any means, and there are still some movies that are unseemly and awkward. Sometimes these movies are so bad, we have to subpoena people to the box office.”

Several of the attorneys general weren’t wowed by Valenti’s pitch, and sharply questioned whether Hollywood really cares.

“The industry shouldn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator. It de-sensitizes kids and it’s an assault,” said Michigan attorney general Jennifer Granholm.

One hit movie not mentioned at the buffet luncheon — the gruesome “Hannibal.” The R-rated movie has cleaned up at the box office.

Rating system working

Overall, Valenti said the MPAA ratings system does its job in informing parents. After that, there’s little anyone can do if parents don’t monitor what their kids watch.

“Hollywood cannot be a national nanny,” he said.

At the same time, children need more support in terms of building a moral foundation, Valenti said. Hence, his idea for a class that would be offered to grades K-5, perhaps for one or two hours a week. The syllabus would cover what’s right and what’s wrong.

Valenti made a similar pitch to the Clinton administration, but he said he never heard back regarding his idea. Now he’ll try again with President Bush.

In both Washington and Hollywood, there are proponents of splitting the R rating category, much like the PG and PG-13 ratings. Valenti has largely resisted such an effort.

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