Civil Liberties


How much bad behavior does Hollywood cause?


In a stunning, courageous admission that they no longer have any serious work left to do, attorneys general in two dozen states recently sent a letter to the Motion Picture Association of America asking that Hollywood minimize smoking in movies so youngsters won't be gulled into lighting up. Taking a page from movie gangsters, who tend to threaten vaguely rather than make explicit demands, the attorneys general didn't insist on a specific remedy. Rather, according to a spokesman for one of the signatories, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, they were merely expressing "concern for the health of our kids."

The attorneys general referenced a June study from Dartmouth Medical School that claimed 10-to-14 year olds who watched movies with a lot of smoking were more likely to smoke than those who viewed less on-screen puffing. Whether this study actually proves anything is very much open to debate, but that's really beside the point, isn't it? Everyone—with the possible exceptions of irresponsible scholars such as Mary Sternheimer (author of the new It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture's Influence on Children) and Jib Fowles (author of The Case for Television Violence)—already knows that movies are the main source of bad behavior in contemporary society. Indeed, even major power players in La La Land, such as screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who's written that filmmakers are "accomplice[s] to the murders of untold numbers of human beings," have effectively turned state's evidence.

Which leaves one to wonder: Why are the attorneys general limiting themselves to reducing only smoking in movies? There is any number of other equally pressing social problems that are caused by movies that need to be addressed. The list is endless, but it certainly includes the following:

1. Car chases can solve problems. At least since the groundbreaking car chase in 1968's Bullitt—in which Steve McQueen also dangerously glamorizes cops who play by their own rules—virtually every movie features the sort of unsafe motoring that keeps the nation's driver ed teachers up at night. Only a tool of the automotive industry would deny that even impressionable adults ranging from O.J. Simpson to South Dakota Congressman Bill Janklow have been negatively influenced by what they've seen on the big screen.

2. Mutation is a viable path to self-improvement.. In movies ranging from Spider-Man to The Hulk to Daredevil, the protagonists benefit from exposure to radioactivity and other sources of gene-altering materials. If TV shows/films such as Jackass routinely induce high school honor students to roll down concrete embankments in shopping carts—and by all accounts they do—then how long is it before we read about valedictorians bombarding themselves with home-brewed gamma rays and blinding themselves with stolen nuclear materials in the hopes of gaining superpowers?

3. Career criminals can pull off one last heist before retiring. How many youngsters have entered the underworld believing in this version of the golden parachute? It's a dangerous, long-lived motif that formed the core most recently of 2001's The Score, which starred Robert DeNiro as Nick Wells, a thief whose confusing dream is to run a New York jazz club called Montreal. Not only is Nick coaxed into a final job before getting out of "the business" for good, he is successful at screwing over his double-crossing partners and walks away fabulously wealthy. That's clearly the wrong sort of message to be sending, and not just to would-be jazz club owners. Would septuagenarian New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg have emerged from retirement for one last run after scandal-plagued incumbent Robert Torricelli dropped out of the race in 2002 absent movies such as The Score? Not likely.

4. Couples should work together professionally. This problem is less a function of movies per se and more of the larger Hollywood publicity machine through which personal lives are packaged for public consumption. As the latest offering by real-life love birds Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, Gigli, attests, this Hollywood fantasy inevitably leads not only to relationship friction, but to audience punishment as well. A neutron bomb of a flick, Gigli left theaters standing even as it vaporized audiences. As Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor could attest, a relationship may or may not be able to survive infidelity, violence, and alcoholism. But no relationship can long withstand work projects that garner reviews such as "scene after scene makes you want to take a shower" (as one reviewer wrote of Gigli).

5. Crusading attorneys and paralegals are attractive, romantic, selfless do-gooders—and we need more of them. Whether it's Al "And Justice For All" Pacino chewing scenery like Marlon Brando at a Sizzler buffet, Tom "A Few Good Men" Cruise unconvincingly demanding "the truth," or Julia "Erin Brockovich" Roberts indefatigably, foul-mouthedly, and falsely unearthing corporate corruption, such films glamorize the very profession that supports attorneys general with nothing better to do than intimidate and harass an entertainment industry that has broken no laws. If even one impressionable youth has gone into law because of such movies, it's one too many.