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Dole v. Hollywood

YES, presidential politics just might have had something to do with Senate majority leader Bob Dole deciding to speak out against excessive sex and violence in the entertainment industry.

And, yes, the selective examples of moral turpitude he cited didn't step on the toes of any well-known Hollywood Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis, who have been known to make a movie now and again where bullets and bodies fly every which way around the screen.

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But that doesn't mean Senator Dole hasn't got a point. He does.

The cherished First Amendment right of free speech is not the issue here. No one is suggesting censorship. But free speech can also be used to deplore insidious, unsavory words and images that blare out of a boom box or are projected 30 feet wide on a movie screen. Restrictive laws or court decisions will never be the ultimate answer to ending the widespread fascination, especially among the young, with today's forms of Grand Guignol - shock theater. But that doesn't mean nothing can be done.

For example, conservative former Education Secretary William Bennett and C. DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, have joined hands across the political spectrum as private citizens to urge Time Warner to get out of "gangsta rap" music.

In any community, citizens can urge the local megaplex to enforce the industry rating system to ensure that youngsters don't attend inappropriate films. Some chain stores have voluntarily decided not to carry gansta rap; they can be thanked and rewarded with patronage. Citizens also can be careful about what they choose to see on the screen or buy at the music counter. Enough "voting with dollars" would send an irresistible message to the entertainment industry.

Mr. Dole is hardly the first politician to suggest that Hollywood show some self-restraint (President Clinton, for example, mentioned it in his State of the Union address earlier this year). He shouldn't be the last. The senator says he just wants to get a discussion going.

As long as the dialogue doesn't degrade into demagoguery, it is a worthwhile exercise in free speech.

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