- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

The Federal Trade Commission has decided not to pursue legal action against the entertainment industry's inappropriate marketing practices directed at children, so a reminder is in order: "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck," Jesus once said of the children around him.

Most of today's "entertainment" industry moguls should step into the millstone fitting room because of their efforts to demoralize the next generations.

The purveyors of "popular culture" regularly, systematically ignore this scriptural warning, the FTC recently confirmed: "Individual companies in each industry [movies, recorded music, electronic games] routinely market to children the very products that have industries' self-imposed parental warnings or ratings with age restrictions due to violent content. Indeed, for many of these products, the commission found evidence of marketing and media plans that expressly target children under 17," said recent FTC Senate testimony.

The FTC found that 80 percent of R-rated films the commission studied targeted children under 17. And some violent R movies were promoted to children as young as 12.

All the music recordings with explicit lyrics studied considered children under 12 as within the target audience. Twenty-seven percent overtly targeted children as young as 12.

Seventy percent of the Mature-rated, violent electronic games in the sample were marketed to children under 17 and as young as 12. One marketing plan said the target market was "Males 17-34 due to M rating (the true target is males 12-34)."

The FTC report, "Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording, and Electronic Game Industries," proves entertainment industry elites know exactly what they are doing. They wink-wink, nod-nod their way to profits at the cost of our children's souls.

The filth factor goes far deeper than simply violent content. Violence varies from a depiction of combat in the context of an epic struggle to gratuitous slashing. But add foul language, gratuitous sex and nudity, and the "entertainment" industry is taking society well on the way to the dark ages.

Is a movie made more compelling because of the f-word, or improved by graphic sex scenes or other crudities? By targeting minors, this content corrupts society both today and tomorrow.

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil." Yet, this is exactly what we see in movies, TV programs, music videos, pop music, electronic games and the like. They often glorify untruth, the ugly and the evil. Ladies and gentlemen, try on your millstones.

Hollywood fatcats hide behind the First Amendment and the FTC is letting them get away with it, but the Constitution was never intended to protect what courts have extended it to. The Founders meant for the First Amendment to safeguard vigorous debate of important questions political, religious, social, philosophical, ethical. The First Amendment fostered a marketplace of ideas in which truth would rise to the top. That is why defamation fell outside the legal bounds.

Commercial speech enjoyed less protection and may be regulated. But obscenity broadly defined fell outside the scope of First Amendment protection. The First Amendment legal standard used to hold as illegal any content that would corrupt a child. Larry Flynt's, Hugh Hefner's or Eminem's filth in the name of "expression" is unworthy of the First Amendment.

The situation in which popular "musicians" can advocate the rape of women or the murder of police officers, but a child is intimidated out of doing a school project on a Bible story would have been unthinkable to the Founders.

Yet last summer, an 8-year-old Florida girl was stopped from singing "Kum Ba Yah" at a Boys & Girls Club day camp. The club director told the Associated Press: "We just can't allow any religious songs. You have to check your religion at the door."

What a country. Not even in the mind of George Orwell would such a reversal take place in a society. At least the Soviet Union was consistent it outlawed any free speech. But America now protects filthy "artistic expression" but prohibits public religious expression.

The U.S. poverty rate has fallen for the third consecutive year and median household income rose for the fifth year in a row. We have great material wealth, but depleted moral capital. What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?

When it comes to inappropriate entertainment targeted to minors, we can do better. Industry leaders can act responsibly and lead. They should remember what Edmund Burke said: "It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do.

When considering entertainment content, industry leaders might apply these criteria: whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. That's a great place to start.

James R. Edwards Jr. is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute and holds a doctorate in communications.

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