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Sunday Cover Story: I know what you did last Tuesday

On Oct. 24, a typical Tuesday in the world of entertainment, America's teens had access to a barrage of violent images, vulgar tirades and explicit sexual content

Sunday, October 29, 2000

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

PARENTAL ADVISORY: Some potentially offensive words, mild compared to many things PG staff members heard and saw, have been repeated in stories in this section to create and accurate and comprehensive report.

(Anita Dufalla, Post-Gazette)

Members of the media and concerned parents, we assembled in a Roman Catholic church in Aspinwall to watch a slide show on the evils of the pop culture filling the eyes and ears of our children.

op music had been the devil's playground since the days of Elvis and Little Richard, but there was more to worry about now, my friends, than gyrating hips. Teen-age sexuality, masturbation, Satan, suicide, drugs, booze, the objectification of women -- it was all there in the grooves. And if it wasn't the songs, it was the provocative video or the pornographic album art.

If they hadn't looked before, parents were certainly going to leave St. Scholastica Church and go snooping through their kids' record collection for the likes of WASP, Venom, the Scorpions, the Dead Kennedys and King Diamond, and even keep an eye out for Sheena Easton, Prince and Madonna.

WASP? Sheena Easton? Prince? What year are we talking about?

It was 1987, and our master of ceremonies for the evening, a man named Bobby Dee, was a fellow soldier, with Tipper Gore, in the Parents Music Resource Center. The mission was to put parents on alert and urge the entertainment industry to exert a little self-control while slapping Parental Advisory stickers on the product.

For all their sincerity and good will, you'd be hard-pressed, 13 years later, to call the PMRC's mission anything but a one-step-up, two-steps-back kind of success. Did they not realize that the records with the advisories would be the ones that all the kids wanted?

These days, if you mean business in the market, you'd better have a sticker. Gangsta rap and what we once called death metal have become mainstream. Limp Bizkit, duly stickered, comes out blazing on the No. 1 record in the country, "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water," using the f-word 46 times on the first song. Wondering what the label, Interscope, thinks of that? Well, the lead singer, Fred Durst, is a vice president at the company. Bizkit and fellow Family Values bands like Korn regularly top the charts, along with rappers like Eminem, DMX and Jay-Z. In the live arena, Ozzfest -- Day of the Disenfranchised -- has become the most popular summer tour, selling out the Post-Gazette Pavilion four years in a row. As for Marilyn Manson, Tipper never even fathomed the likes of him. And think teen pop is a safe haven? Did you see what Britney Spears wore at the MTV Video Awards?

Conservative fears are not limited to pop. Back in '87, they warned us about "Porky's" and "Revenge of the Nerds," never imagining the Farrelly brothers. Now, among the biggest theatrical concerns for teen-agers over the past few years has been what's in Cameron Diaz's hair in "There's Something About Mary" and what exactly Jason Biggs is doing with that apple confection in "American Pie." Both were quality comedies and among the most popular of their summers. And if teen-agers and their younger siblings didn't sneak into theaters, they've probably caught them on video or cable.

Everyone and their grandma saw "Titanic," a PG-13 movie that managed to turn on young girls with its tragic love story and young boys with its nudie scene of Kate Winslet. The movie also featured a pretty hot sex scene, the f-word and a horrific shot of a dead baby floating in the water.

It's not just the movies, it's the marketing and placement that have become questionable. During an episode of "Rugrats" on Nickelodeon, kids saw a preview for "Reindeer Games," with Ben Affleck running around shooting at people in a Santa Claus suit. Talk about your loss of innocence.

The introduction of ratings on TV shows, those little things in the top left corner that no one notices, has given networks a chance to make things more edgy. Fox and the WB were the first to cross the line when they put racy shows like "Melrose Place," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek" on in the 8 o'clock hour. At least they can say they warned ya. "Friends," the No. 1 rated sitcom, certainly lets it all hang out at 8. And one of the most over-the-top shows of recent years, "South Park," comes on at 10 on Comedy Central and warns that it isn't suitable for any audience. It's just so funny ...

No one would argue that there is not a lot of provocative stuff out there. What no one has been able to determine is what this steady diet does to body and soul. When police entered the bedrooms of the two young killers at Columbine High School, we weren't surprised to learn that they were into industrial metal bands like KMFDM, movies like "The Matrix" and gory video games like Doom. But clearly not everyone who listens to that music, watches those movies and plays those games goes on to build an arsenal and try to wipe out the student body. And we've seen a teen-ager or two with no interest in pop culture try to do the same.

A recent report from the Federal Trade Commission that President Clinton requested in the wake of the Columbine massacre found that 80 percent of films rated R for their violent content were deliberately advertised and marketed to children under 17. At the congressional hearings last month, Hollywood executives acknowledged that they've marketed R-rated movies to kids as young as 9.

But the report also concluded that "Scholars and observers generally have agreed that exposure to violence in the entertainment media alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act and that it is not the sole, or even necessarily the most important, factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes and violence."

Nonetheless, Hollywood is in the hot seat once again during Campaign 2000. Al Gore, desperately needing to sell the people on his decency and family values, put "attack Hollywood" front and center in his campaign. His choice of Sen. Joe Lieberman, a longtime crusader against the entertainment industry, sent a clear message, at least until the Hollywood fund-raising parties confused it.

George W. Bush, the easy-goin' country music guy, has been less vocal about the entertainment industry while raising more money in Hollywood than any Republican presidential candidate in history. Bush is a former board director of Silver Screen Management, a film company that produced about 50 movies, including "The Hitcher," a 1986 film with a scene that depicts a woman being tied to two trucks and then ripped in half.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Gore has raised $976,390 and counting from the TV, music and movie industries to Bush's $755,492. Four years ago, Republican hopeful Bob Dole raised just $193,000 from those sources.

In light of all the political pressure on Hollywood to clean up its act, executives, wanting to police themselves, agreed to use restraint in how R-rated films are marketed.

Mel Harris, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said at the hearings, "Parents believe they should be the ones on the front line in deciding what films their children should see. They realize that every child is different and that a parent is best positioned to know whether his or her child is mature or sophisticated enough to handle a particular message. We believe the current movie rating system, augmented by the additional information that we and others provide to the public, gives parents the information they need and want to make an informed decision."

The American Family Association doesn't buy it. Based in Tupelo, Miss., this conservative religious group, through its Web site and 350,000-circulation magazine, continues to call for boycotting Disney, as well as targeting advertisers who patronize shows they don't like, be it "Ellen" or Howard Stern.

"The bottom line with Hollywood is money," said AFA spokesman Allen Wildmon. "They could care less about morals or about what their so-called entertainment is teaching. They use the worn-out excuse that it is up to the parents, as if they have no responsibility to society whatsoever. It's an arrogant, elitist attitude. You can't tie a kid to a bedpost 24 hours a day. They say if you don't like what's on, just turn it off. Such a simple stupid statement. It's like saying if you see your neighbor's wife being raped, just turn your head and walk on by."

Sure enough, unless you're Ellen Burstyn in "The Exorcist," you can't tie your kid to the bedpost, so you better know what's out there.

Ever feel helpless about keeping track of the images and information reaching your teens every day? A number of the Post-Gazette's Arts and Entertainment critics have done some of the homework for you. They took one day in entertainment -- this past Tuesday -- and examined what was available for teen consumption.

TV: Pushing the limits at all hours
Radio Talk: Howard Stern reigns; what more do you need to know?
Teen Magazines: Hopelessly devoted to sexual content
Internet: Get a date, read the lyrics, and even study
Film: Rating system provides no guarantee that you'll approve of what you see
Videotapes: PG-13 rating for movie doesn't always apply to previews, too
Video games: The player is at the controls
Music: You'll want to wash their mouths out with soap

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