Decline of US culture reaches Senate agenda

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The Independent Online
THE US Senate is considering setting up a committee to investigate "the decline of America's culture" after the rash of shootings across the nation. In part, the idea reflects a conservative desire to shift attention away from gun control. But it is also a symptom of Americans' unease about their nation.

Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas is leading the initiative. "What we want to do is take the long view and the deep view of how did we get a culture the way it is today that has got so much violence and so much hatred, destruction and mayhem," he told Roll Call, a Washington newsletter.

The committee would, if approved by the Senate, hold hearings and bring witnesses to Washington to discuss the "decline." It would then make recommendations, which could emerge as new legislation, though the scope and scale of the inquiry is, as yet, uncertain.

The idea has caused unhappiness in the entertainment industry, which fears that it will be blamed for shootings as diverse as the neo-Nazi who fired on children in Los Angeles and the two teenagers who shot their classmates at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. At the time of that massacre, there was concern the killers had played violent computer games and listened to music that seemed to refer to violent events. There was a hysterical move to blame the US pop star Marilyn Manson, even though there was little evidence that his music had anything to do with the event.

Efforts to pass gun control legislation after Littleton collapsed when Republicans eviscerated it. Instead, they blamed culture. There was no similar argument in the 1980s when thousands of young blacks were being shot every year. Since then, the murder rate has plunged. But now that the violence has hit white suburbs, the Republicans are concerned.

There is a broader worry in America over the nation's culture, despite (or perhaps because of) the country's growing prosperity. Governor George W Bush, the leading Republican candidate for President, is campaigning on the slogan "Prosperity with a purpose," implying that the increase in income has not been matched by a sense of values.

Senator Brownback, a firm supporter of gun ownership, has hinted that he believes censorship may be necessary to restore American culture. "The real seat of power in our country is not Washington, but Hollywood," he said. "For what is on television, in the movies, and over the airwaves - the stories and songs of America - mould and shape hearts, minds and attitudes far more than what happens here.

"There are those who defend some TV shows on the grounds that they merely reflect the realities of life, holding a mirror to society," he said. "But TV is less a mirror than a mirage. The world of TV character is - fortunately - far more violent, conflicted and perverse than the life of the average American."

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