Disney's Cutting-Room Conscience


Walt Disney Co., which has thrived on its ability to mine the magic within a child's imagination, should be commended for appreciating its impact on the darker side of formative minds as well.

The moviemaker has announced it would take the virtually unprecedented action of pulling a scene from a movie it had already released because young men were aping it -- and killing or injuring themselves in the process. A scene in the film, "The Program," showed fictional college football players exhibiting their toughness by lying in the middle of the road as cars raced by. The scene also was struck from commercials for the movie on TV.

Two Pennsylvania teen-agers were struck by a truck while mimicking the stunt; one of them died, the other was badly injured, as was a Long Island boy who attempted it with some 50 other kids looking on.

Some people will rail against the post-release editing of this film as an abridgment of free expression. To its credit, Disney didn't hide behind that argument. There is room between censorship and sensitivity, and the idea this strangely, seductive scene conveyed to young men, who regularly mistake machismo for maturity, resulted in harm.

Interestingly, as Disney took this action, MTV pulled its 7 p.m. showing of the cartoon, "Beavis and Butt-head," because of complaints that it was inappropriate for young children who watch early-evening TV and that it motivated a child to light a fire which destroyed his home and killed his sister. In an unrelated speech, Attorney General Janet Reno criticized entertainment producers for glorifying gunplay and violence.

Admittedly, this area is as gray as gun metal: Parents must take responsibility for what their families cull from the mass media whose eclectic offerings, with the advent of 500-channel cable, will only swell. But neither can the entertainment world hide behind the guarantee of free expression, which was, after all, created to strengthen the fabric of this nation, not weaken it.

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