How Real Is Al Gore's Tinseltown Tantrum?

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Vice President Al Gore (R) with President Clinton and actor James Belushi

You've got to hand it to Joe Lieberman: After less than two months on the Democratic ticket, he's managed to convince Al Gore to take a stand on Hollywood violence. And that's saying quite a bit, especially when one considers that Gore was hardly a placard-waving supporter of his own wife's attack on music-industry standards. So why the newly whetted appetite for confrontation? Must be a little bit of running mate magic — or, more likely, the scent of an issue ripe for exploitation.

Gore's timing was not coincidental: On Monday, the same day the vice president released his statement directing the entertainment industry to voluntarily end advertising to children, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report slamming Hollywood for marketing adult content (in other words, sex and violence) to kids. According to the study, which the White House commissioned in the wake of the Columbine shootings, 80 percent of R-rated movies are targeted at children under 17, and two thirds of the marketing plans for R-rated movies specified targeting those minors. More than two out of three M-rated ("mature") video games are aimed at kids as well — generally through teen-specific magazines, television shows and movie trailers.

Helpful as the FTC numbers may have proved to be in making up his mind to go after Tinseltown, the vice president's team didn't really need them. Myriad polls show that parents, especially mothers (read: women voters) are distressed by the level of violence in movies, television shows and video games ostensibly meant for adults but increasingly viewed by children. And there's no better way for Gore to address these concerns and earn a quick moral one-up on his opponent than to issue a kid-glove warning to the industry: "OK, guys, I need you to shape up and stop marketing these adult products to kids. I'm really serious here — oooh, thanks for the check, Mr. Redstone — and I hate to say this, but if you all don't clean up your act in six months, I'll... I'll... OK, I'm not really sure what I'll do. But I'm going to have to think of something."

Chances are, of course, six months into a Gore presidency the same Hollywood producers and actors who spent so much time schmoozing President Clinton will be settling back under the covers in the Lincoln bedroom. Realistically, the Democratic party is far too entangled — ideologically and financially — in the entertainment industry to extricate itself now.