Trapped in the Web: An Open Letter to Bob Dole
by Craig Fischer

Dear Bob:

Let's be blunt: your Presidential campaign is off to a fizzle of a start. Personally, I wanted Pat Buchanan to get the Republican nomination so I could watch the moderate and right wings of the party rip each other apart. But you're the Man of the Hour, if not of the next four years, and I suspect you'll be addressing some hot-button issues--including media violence--in an attempt to bring some much-needed zip to your campaign.


You've spoke out against media sex and violence before, even as you've handled the issue inconsistently. I remember your scathing condemnation of Money Train after the copycat firebombing of a New York subway ticket booth; I also recall your endorsement of True Lies as a family film, despite its infidelity plot and shots of Jamie Lee Curtis in lingerie licking a bed post. (How much does Arnold donate to the party?) But you usually denounce popular culture's "destructive messages of casual violence and even more casual sex," as in a speech you gave in Los Angeles, the belly of the beast, on May 31:

A line has been crossed--not just of taste, but of human dignity and decency. It is crossed every time sexual violence is given a catchy tune. When teen suicide is set to an appalling beat. When Hollywood's dream factories turn out nightmares of depravity. You know what I mean. I mean Natural Born Killers. True Romance. Films that revel in mindless violence and loveless sex.

And later in the speech you note that "a numbing exposure to graphic violence and immorality does steal away innocence, smothering our instinct for outrage. And I think we have reached the point where our popular culture threatens to undermine our character as a nation." But I don't buy your connection between media "violence and immorality" and a weakened American "character," and I hope you'll read on as I voice my objections.

Blood-Letting Liberalism

Unlike you, Bob, I enjoy some violent movies. I'm not too crazy about hoax documentaries like the Faces of Death series or Snuff, because their low production values make them seem gritty and real. But I love Hong Kong action films like Hard Boiled, a movie whose climax, a prolonged gun battle in a hospital where patients are mowed down like dry grass, makes me laugh and laugh. And I have a ball with American films--like From Beyond, Evil Dead II and Reservoir Dogs--that traffic in similar over-the-top aesthetics.

As I watched Re-animator for the first time and marveled at the sight of a severed head giving oral sex to a women strapped to a morgue table, I realized that I absolutely adore movies that spill over the bounds of good taste.

Re-Animator (1985, Vestron Video)

My fascination with these movies is a little disturbing--what drive in my unconscious do these films speak to, anyway?--but I haven't yet felt the need to cut anyone's ear off.

I have an even more shocking confession to make, Bob. I'm liberal, I teach college, and my politics inform my teaching. Now I understand that putting "liberal" and "teach college" in the same sentence is enough to make a staunch Republican like yourself foam at the mouth.

Surely I must be part of that cabal of "tenured radicals" who brainwash our kids into accepting the evils of premarital sex, abortion and water fluoridation. Well, not quite; I don't have a tenure-track job, I'm not paid very well, and I haven't the faintest idea how to hypnotize my students into believing what I believe. Conservative education critics rely on a "Monkey see, monkey do" theory to explain the relationship between a teacher and his/her students... which, come to think of it, is mighty close to your own theories about the effects of movie violence, Bob. But the theory crumbles like cardboard when we understand that our students are people, with enough intelligence and independence to evaluate facts, argue points, and make up their own minds about important issues.

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