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Jewish World Review April 6, 2000 /1 Nissan, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser -- NEW DATA confirm both the continued coarsening of American popular culture and the public's concern about moral values. So where are the presidential candidates? Hiding.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) used to deplore "if it feels good, do it" morals, but he's stopped. Vice President Al Gore hasn't systematically criticized donor-rich Hollywood for more than a decade.

Yet, two new reports confirm that the entertainment industry is spewing out cultural pollution at an accelerating rate and another shows that, even as many U.S. social indicators improve, the rate of unwed motherhood continues to rise.

The Parents Television Council reported last week that incidence of prime-time sex, violence and foul language had tripled over the past decade.

Casting a wider net, the Center for Media and Public Affairs reported that broadcast TV programs last season averaged 22 sexual situations every hour; basic cable channels, 12 per hour; premium cable, 45 per hour and music videos, 93 per hour.

Both studies demonstrated not only that the quantity of sex and swearing was mushrooming, but that its content was getting steadily more graphic and crude.

PTC, reviewing the first four weeks of programming in 1989 and 1999, found that references to oral sex went from zero to 20; masturbation, from 2 to 17; and "kinky" sex from 13 to 60.

The worst words used in 1989, and not often, were "hell," "damn" and "bastard." In 1999, "b---h," "suck," "screw" and "p--s" were as frequent as "damn" once was. And networks were now even experimenting with bleeped uses of the f-word.

The very first scene of the season premiere of Fox's "Ally McBeal" last fall featured the title character having sexual intercourse with a total stranger, PTC noted.

The sleaziest single show on broadcast TV, it found, is UPN's "WWF Smackdown!", which in one episode featured two professional wrestlers raping a woman and then joking about it in a packed arena.

Do politicians have any influence over this garbage? Well, the outcry that followed the Columbine massacre seemingly has helped. Violence on TV, PTC reported, is not increasing.

At a PTC press conference, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said he is drafting a letter to the Federal Communications Commission calling for an inquiry to determine whether broadcast networks are violating the requirement that they "serve the public interest" in order to be licensed.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said that the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing later this month to consider the same question.

The correct answer is that the networks are chasing big money by serving up dreck - and advertisers are paying it. The "public interest" is the last thing either cares about. Bush and Gore should weigh in on that.

And as it pushes standards ever downward, the entertainment industry endlessly congratulates itself on its "courage" - as two Academy Award recipients did for producing movies sympathetic to abortion and transvestitism.

President Clinton, who has done so much to degrade the culture, chimed in to praise last year's Best Picture winner, "American Beauty," as "awesome."

This is a film that trashes American life -although at least Best Actor Kevin Spacey's character does behave better toward an underage paramour than Clinton did.

As the Center for Media and Public Affairs study made plain, broadcast TV is partly getting raunchier because of competitive pressure from cable, where government seems to have no influence.

"The distinguishing feature of premium cable's sexual material," the center said, "is its graphic visual nature, showing nude and semi-nude simulated intercourse and other couplings in graphic detail."

In the much-lauded HBO series, "The Sopranos," about every other word begins with "f," and last week's episode explicity showed the central character having sex with a woman who'd previously been identified as a born-again Christian.

The latest bipartisan Battleground survey shows that "restoring moral values" is the task the public most wants the next president to perform.

What the public wants, exactly, isn't clear. But it can't simply mean avoiding oral sex in the Oval Office and advocating campaign finance reform.

The Centers for Disease Control just reported that 32.8 percent of U.S. births in 1998 were to unwed mothers. In 1992, the figure was 29.7 percent.

A recent Columbia University study showed that in the early 1970s, fewer than 5 percent of 15-year-old girls and 20 percent of 15-year-old boys reported having had sexual intercourse. In 1997, those numbers had grown to 38 and 45 percent, respectively.

In a February Talk magazine article being pushed on fellow Republicans by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, Lucinda Franks reports that in dozens of interviews, teenagers reported that "oral sex - which in true Clintonian fashion, the kids don't think of as Real Sex - begins considerably earlier than intercourse."

What should a presidential candidate say or do about all this? Well, something.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
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09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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