CINEMA Turned On? Turn It Off

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, . . . or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press AMENDMENT I CINEMA Turned On? Turn It Off Switching channels may be one cu

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Why ban porn? What harm does it do? According to the moral right wing, lots. "Erotic material is addictive, like drugs or alcohol," says Paul McGeady, general counsel for the watchdog lobby Morality in Media. "A husband says he wants to see what all this is about and buys a porn videocassette. But he is not satisfied with one that shows ordinary intercourse. Then he fantasizes that he is doing what he sees on the tape. Finally, he turns to his wife and wants to act out kinky sex. She says, 'Get lost!,' and the marriage breaks up." Nor is porn the only villain, in the opinion of Dr. Thomas Radecki, chairman of the National Coalition on Television Violence. He contends that 25% to 50% of violence in society is due to the culture of violence established on TV and in the movies.

Violence is done in movies; violence is done to movies. At one stage or another, Hollywood films are censored by just about everybody. The studio bosses decide whether, and then how, a film should be made. The industry's ratings board has slapped proscriptive X ratings on the original versions of such seriously intended films as Taxi Driver, Cruising, Scarface and Angel Heart until the sex and violence were trimmed. The big theater chains and most pay cable services show no X-rated films. Most newspapers and TV stations, making no distinction between pornography and a serious film for adult tastes, refuse all advertising for X's. To Director Adrian Lyne, whose 9 1/2 Weeks was truncated to avoid the toxic X, self-censorship is as bad as the government variety: "People are avoiding making certain types of movies, and that's real unhealthy." Instead of intense eroticism, Hollywood peddles giggle-and-jiggle movies: sex with a smirk.

And the consumers of these R-rated sex comedies are often teenagers who, theoretically, must be accompanied to R-rated films by an adult. Rock Musician Frank Zappa, a formidable foe of those who would censor rock lyrics, gets the movie industry's inside joke: "Is there any kid who hasn't seen an R-rated movie ((without his parents))? What was supposed to be a warning has turned into a marketing tool." Teens who stay up past 8 p.m. can watch R-rated films on pay cable, and at midnight, Manhattan minors can watch Robin Byrd, the G- stringed host and self-described "X-rated Ed Sullivan" of Manhattan's lube tube. "My show is for adults," she says. "If children watch it, it's because parents aren't doing their job." So it would seem. In 1985 Manhattan Cable (a subsidiary of Time Inc.) offered its 228,000 subscribers the option of a "lock box" so parents could scramble Channel J. Only 19 boxes were installed.

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