LEADING ARTICLE:Less Tarantino, more Chatterley

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The Independent Online
During the last American presidential election, Dan Quayle, George Bush's star-crossed vice-president, took on the lefties in Hollywood and the media. His most famous target was the popular sitcom, Murphy Brown, whose main character became a single mother, despite clear indications from the Republican Party that this was undesirable. Quayle came over to the American voter as ranting and ridiculous.

Last week, however, they were at it again with an attack by Republican presidential frontrunner, Senator Robert Dole, on the lack of moral responsibility of American film-makers, book-writers and song-singers. "When you debase America, debase society, there ought to be a line drawn," thundered Dole. Hollywood has hit back, accusing Dole and others of embarking on the slippery path to book-burning and silenced film. The Mc-word has been used.

But this time Dole has struck a note. A lot of Americans are wondering whether there really is absolutely no link between the brutalisation of their society and the endless parade of evisceration, mutilation and execution that passes for much of today's film output. Can it be true that what film-goers watch has no effect on behaviour whatsoever, when the advertising industry spends billions of dollars on exactly the opposite assumption? Americans do not believe it.

The public debate, as in Britain, still consists of a shadow contest between liberal luvvies and censorious conservatives, with no common ground. But what is becoming clear is that there are some particularly vulnerable people who can be influenced by what they see on screen. The existence of this admittedly small group should, however, be enough to cause those who make a lot of money from screen violence to consult their consciences. A bit of self-restraint is in order.

The mistake the right makes is to lump violence together with sex. Sex is a completely different matter - and, contrary to the views of the moralisers, there is nothing like enough of it on television and in the cinema. By way of illustration, answer this simple quiz: in Hollywood films of the past five years, how many times has the actor Tim Roth (a) had nookie or (b) killed people? Whereas decapitating people is always illegal, immoral and unusual, sleeping with them is often pleasurable, beneficial and certainly universal. One is bad, the other is good.

So c'mon, Bob, convince us of your democratic credentials and make your battle-cry, "make love, not war".

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