Hollywood Babble On

Easy, Senators! There’s enough money for everybody.

Last week's Hollywood-bashing by the U.S. Senate was little more than the kickoff of a culture war for votes.

Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrats' general in charge of morals, sermonized that the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado "was a warning that the culture of carnage surrounding our children may have gone too far, and that the romanticized and sanitized visions of violence our children are being bombarded with by the media have become part of a toxic mix that has actually now turned some of them into killers."

What the modern-day Moses who's No. 1 among senators in donations from the insurance industry ($197,419 this year and last, more than $420,000 since 1989) didn't say was what a killer fundraiser he is from the industry that he preaches against.

He also didn't acknowledge that the Hollywood he vilified gives plenty of money to Republicans who are trying to pin this morality tale on the donkeys.

In fact, Senator John McCain, who chaired last week's September 13 moralistic anti-Hollywood hearing, is the top congressional recipient in 1999-2000, from either party, of money from TV/movies/music donors, with $365,193. Hillary Rodham Clinton's second at $360,700, the pious Utah senator Orrin Hatch seventh at $95,000, Hillary's foe Rick Lazio eighth at $88,342, and Lieberman 17th at $35,100.

Lost amid the hypocritical moralizing by both parties was the most entertaining part of the Hollywood scuffle: DePaul University professor Michael Eric Dyson opening a can of whup-ass on the U.S. Senate.

Last in line among the witnesses, Dyson delivered a scolding that was more dramatic than 99 percent of Hollywood's product. No one from the mainstream press wrote or broadcast a word of it last week.

Five hours after Lieberman's hypocritical polemic, Professor Dyson took issue with it—and showed the hearing for the pre-election scare tactic that it was. Helpfully translating hip-hop vulgarities into messages that might reach these old white men, he tried to argue that the senators were missing the point of the roots of violence. "Violence is old," he told the senators. "Violence pervaded America way before Columbine. As LL Cool J said, 'Columbine happens in the ghetto every day.' "

Social scientists have been telling Congress for years about the possible causes of violent behavior, about the horrors of the juvenile justice system and the real-life violence that traumatizes adolescents who are mostly black or Latino. Do white kids become violent because they're exposed to, say, violent video games? No one knows.

The most recent—and perhaps the most thorough—study of the video games that people play was conducted last year by Australian professor Kevin Durkin and an associate. The study, sponsored by the Australian government, found that "there is little evidence to support fears that playing computer games contributes substantially to aggression in the community." The Aussie study hasn't made news in the Western Hemisphere.

Lynne Cheney, wife of the GOP's vice presidential candidate, suggested that the real purpose of the hearing was a chance for politicians to take the high ground.

"There is a problem with the products they market, no matter how they market them," Cheney said during her ass-chewing of Hollywood, a perfect sound bite for the midday newscasts. Not missing her chance to smear film honcho and prime Democratic fundraiser Harvey Weinstein just hours before Weinstein was to host a big party for the Democrats, Cheney said for the cameras, "Shouldn't people of stature go to Harvey Weinstein, who is the cochairman of Miramax, for example, and ask him to pledge in the future he will not fund works that debase our culture and corrode our children's souls?"

Yes, and shouldn't people call in the bankers and insurance companies who throw campaign soirees for Cheney's husband and give them a public caning for such practices as redlining and charging high fees, creating economic circumstances that are probably much more corrosive?

Dyson testified last on the last panel of speakers at the dog-and-pony show. That meant he had plenty of material to sample and throw back at the senators. Replying to McCain's partisan dig at Hollywood's imminent fundraisers for Democrats, Dyson told the panel, "We wouldn't simply point our fingers at Hollywood. My God! If we're going to talk about the ways that corporate capitalism has undermined the best interests of the citizenry, we've got to start with the United States Senate."

None of the senators seemed too interested in pursuing that subject. Why would they be? Everyone knows that big business generally favors Republicans while it graces both parties with millions of dollars. For obvious reasons, they didn't want to talk about money from bigtime Hollywood, either: According to the Center for Responsive Politics watchdog group, Republican Party committees have gotten $3.7 million in hard and soft money during the current election cycle from the TV/movies/music industry. That's more than they have received from lawyers/law firms, Big Tobacco, utilities, or commercial banks.

Natural Born Killers: a favorite of Columbine killers Harris and Klebold, who inspired the FTC report

Alan Horn: chief of Warner Bros. movie studio, which released Natural Born Killers. Warner Bros. Is part of the Time Warner conglomerate.

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