The only redeeming feature of President Clinton's latest
opportunistic assault on a perfectly legal and utterly legitimate
industry, the entertainment and video game makers, was hearing actor and
director Rob "Meathead'' Reiner, scourge of the tobacco industry and
chief sponsor of the California initiative that raised tobacco taxes to
pay for more meddling bureaucracies, sputtering on NPR that his industry
isn't like those evil tobacco merchants of death. "We're not advertising
[R-Rated] pictures to children, we're just advertising our pictures,''
he complained. "Of course some children are going to see the ads, but
that doesn't mean we're targeting children.''
It would have been nice if the interviewer had asked him whether the
tobacco industry might have said the same thing about Joe Camel. But
most American newsies are so addicted to the idea that government
programs are to be given the benefit of the doubt -- even the military
these days -- that such a question wouldn't even occur to most
reporters, even when the government is attacking their own industry.
(Do you doubt that news shows are part of the entertainment
industry? Maybe you haven't watched a local "news'' program lately.)
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It would have been even nicer to hope that Rob Reiner and some of his
ilk might be on the verge of learning the lesson that, as P.J. O'Rourke
has put it, giving money and power to government is like giving booze
and car keys to teenage boys. Or that some dim memory of Dietrich
Bonhoeffer's comments about Hitler ("First they came for the Jews but I
wasn't a Jew so I didn't complain ... and when they came for me there
was no one left to complain") was struggling to surface somewhere into
the semi-conscious minds of executives across Hollywood.
One doubts it, however. To teach self-avowed "liberals'' that
encouraging government to wield power for "nice'' purposes is
potentially dangerous shouldn't be that difficult, but in practice it
has proven almost impossible. So Hollywood has joined the tobacco
industry and the gun industry as the latest target of demonization by
ambitious politicians and bureaucrats who have learned from long
experience -- at least up to now -- that no claim is too ludicrous, no
manifestly self-serving attack on people who make their living providing
goods and services (which people are free to choose not to buy) to cause
the majority of the people to question their motives.
And why not? A government engaged in raining death and destruction on
innocent people from 15,000 feet and bragging that it's doing more and
more of it every day can claim that it's terribly concerned about what
other elements in society are doing to promote violence and not be
greeted by a coast-to-coast horse laugh of gale force sufficient to
sweep the capital into the Atlantic. Why shouldn't they believe they can
gull the rubes to an infinite degree?
They're clever, of course. Hollywood will be a juicy target. There
may not be any smoking guns documenting secret conspiracies to sell sex
and violence to youngsters while pretending not to do so. But it is a
truism that almost any movie or TV show labeled "adult entertainment''
is of such a level of intellectual vapidity and prurience as to appeal
to almost nobody above the intellectual age of 13 or so. Genuine adults
-- a category that excludes most entertainment executives -- have little
or no interest in such juvenilia and everybody knows it. The
entertainment industry is not quite as hypocritical as the government,
but it's hardly lacking in that dubious quality.
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But that doesn't mean it should be attacked by the government or that
the First Amendment should be weakened for others because Hollywood is
full of hollow hypocrites. It is especially ironic that the government
-- an institution that, as George Washington tried to warn us, is itself
the embodiment of force and rules only by violence or the threat of
violence -- should pretend concern about the effect of simulated
violence on helpless and tender-minded youth. Some conservatives, of
course, will applaud this assault on Hollywood. Some people in other
industries -- tobacco, guns, fast food, Internet -- will breathe a sigh
of relief and silently or even publicly
cheer the government on in its assault, grateful that today's target is
somebody other than them.
That is a mistake. Only a tyrannical government would be strong
enough and all-pervasive enough to remove violence from entertainment
for actual human beings. Such a government can only be a natural
predator on the liberty of every citizen, a cancerous and life-choking
growth on the health and wellbeing of peaceful and productive society.
If you want to reduce violence, reduce government. To ask government to
reduce violence is to ask the impossible -- it can pretend to do so only
by violent means. To stand aside and not complain while it practices
extortion on yet another industry is the attitude of a natural slave.