Sen. Bob Dole's attack on the violence and sex in many Hollywood movies and in rap music (produced by corporations with movie-related and television-related business) has done two things he surely intended: It has won him rave reviews, and it has put the issue of what could be called depraved and demeaning popular culture on the public's front burner.
Even critics who say he ignored the issue till now and suspect him of hypocrisy are applauding. The liberal and black New York Times columnist Bob Herbert (whose white colleague Frank Rich accused Mr. Dole of racism for singling out black "gangsta rap" lyrics), said, "Good issue. Good speech. . . . However cynical his motives, Senator Dole has clambered aboard a legitimate issue."
The equally liberal Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio said, "It was the right thing to do." Her more moderate colleague at NPR, Cokie Roberts, said, "It was a good thing for him to do. I think most Americans agree with him."
Sen. Bill Bradley, the New Jersey Democrat who is thought to have presidential ambitions himself, said, "I applaud Senator Dole. By almost any measure, the airwaves have become the pathways for too much trash." Senator Dole must be humming to himself "Hoo-ray for Hol-ly-wood."
Not that all the reaction to Senator Dole's attacks on Hollywood was positive. Actor James Wood spoke for many when he said, "We are unequivocally discussing censorship. I think you cannot be cavalier about your trashing of the First Amendment. Some of these movies, some of these lyrics, they disgust me. They disturb me. But they are the price I must pay to live in a free society." Mr. Woods is a fine actor, but he is wrong on two counts. One: Senator Dole said specifically that he was "not talking about censorship. No federal laws." Two: Degraded popular culture is not the price one must pay to live in a free society. Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable, Paul Muni, James Cagney -- a lot of fine actors made fine movies in a free society whose public opinion did disallow degradation in entertainment.
The attention and public debate on this issue following Senator Dole's two recent Hollywood speeches show what a presidential contest can do. Dan Quayle's criticism of "Murphy Brown" when he was vice president didn't spark this much interest. Pat Buchanan's and Phil Gramm's earlier criticisms of Hollywood culture were greeted with ho-hums. But when the front runner speaks, people listen. We hope Senator Dole spells out more of his views on this issue and is joined not only by Messrs. Buchanan, Gramm and other Republicans, but those Democrats who have in the past also denounced filth in the popular culture, like, say, Tipper Gore and Bill Clinton.