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Moviegoers in line disagree with Dole's finger-pointing


PITTSBURGH -- It hardly mattered whether they had come to the Showcase Cinema to see "Casper," "The Bridges of Madison County" or rough and tumble movies like "Braveheart," "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Die Hard With a Vengeance."

Most moviegoers interviewed yesterday as they filed into the suburban theater complex disagreed with Bob Dole's finger-pointing at Hollywood and the recording industry as causes of a morality meltdown in America. If society has gone awry because of "casual violence and even more casual sex," as the Senate majority leader asserted in a speech on Wednesday in Los Angeles, patrons of all ages were more likely to blame parents and family breakdowns stemming from economic causes than to blame moviemakers and recording artists.

And most, as they waited to see one of the 12 films showing, agreed that in general the violence and sex in movies and songs imitated life, rather than vice versa.

"I thought his speech was really bad," Kristy Larsen, a 17-year-old high school junior, said as she and two friends waited to see "Johnny Mnemonic."

"People can make up their own minds," she said. "I saw 'Natural Born Killers' seven times. I really liked it. But I didn't go out and shoot someone after seeing it."

"Natural Born Killers," the story of a couple on a killing spree as they cross the country, was one example of movies and recordings that Mr. Dole called "nightmares of depravity" for their depictions of gratuitous sex and violence. He also cited the movie "True Romance" and the rap groups Cannibal Corpse, Geto Boys and 2 Live Crew. Aides to Mr. Dole said he had not seen the movies he cited but had read about them and had also read offending rap lyrics.

Mr. Dole, the leading Republican presidential candidate, maintained that the entertainment industry's sex and violence had so permeated the country that they were eroding morals, civility and, as a result, the family structure.

While many moviegoers said they agreed that the country was suffering a moral decline, most also said that little impetus came from the industry.

Several suggested that the movie rating system should be updated to include more detailed warnings for films with unusually graphic violence and sex. Marlena Mitchell, 28, an optometrist who had just seen "Braveheart," said she would have welcomed such an alert for "Pulp Fiction," which she found too gory. "I would like to have known it was going to be that violent," she said.

Like Mr. Dole, neither she nor anyone else interviewed favored any form of censoring entertainers. Several suggested that movie and record producers "tone it down," but none proposed anything stronger. Discretion, they said, should be exercised by individuals, and guidance for young people should be provided by parents.

"Entertainers can't control what you do," said Alex Donovan, a 15-year-old friend of Miss Larsen. "Politicians blame things on movies because they can't control what's going on. They use movies as a scapegoat."

"They want to say it goes back to family values," Miss Larsen said. "But family values have been shot to hell."

"Like with my family," young Donovan interjected. "My mom passed away two years ago, and my father's struggling with a third-shift job, starting work at midnight. I'd like to see him more, but he's just trying to get by, trying to survive."

Marian Tomaszewski, a 40-year-old health and physical education teacher who had come to see "While You Were Sleeping," said she had not read about Mr. Dole's speech. But like other middle-aged people interviewed, she said she agreed with his contention that movies were too violent and morality in America was slipping. The evidence, she said, is right there in her school, where boys who are not yet teen-agers bring guns into classrooms.

But that behavior occurs not because of violent movies or suggestive lyrics, she said: Creative efforts only mirror the real world, in which she sees parents who have abdicated their responsibility to provide their children leadership, guidance and discipline.

A few people said they were certain that art was influencing behavior. Ray Kushner, a salesman from McKeesport, Pa., said he strongly agreed with Mr. Dole. Mr. Kushner said he was struck by the degree to which young people without parents or those with only minimal adult supervision were affected by what they saw and heard, especially on television.

"I don't believe in censorship, but there should be some ethical standard," he said.

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