Now that Bob Dole's staged his drive-by shooting of Hollywood, who knows where he's headed next? Fantasy Land, perhaps? How about a basketball court in East Baltimore, or an emergency room in Prince George's County?
At last count, exactly no one in America had died specifically from watching a movie or listening to a song, though Dole would have us believe otherwise, while tens of thousands die from use of various weapons, whose proliferation Dole wishes like crazy that no one would notice as he attempts to kill various gun control legislation and suck up to the big-money boys in the National Rifle Association.
Dole, currently running for president in a way that neither Phil Gramm nor Newt Gingrich can without blushing, took his shots at movies and music the other day in words that were correct, mostly. The violence in these media does sicken us to our souls. Where Dole goes astray, though, is mistaking cause for effect.
At their sharpest edge, movies and music are a kind of journalism. They reflect the nature of society at any given moment. It's possible to cringe at the relentless rhythmic thudding of gangsta rap -- and I do cringe; if this is music, then so is the sound of sneakers kicking against a playground fence -- and yet still recognize that the lyrics are a cry of rage which stand for something important.
Dole doesn't like the notion of lyrics romanticizing cop killers? Who does? But if he'd poke his head out of his Senate office, he might notice a fellow named Jeffrey Gilbert, arrested in the killing of a Prince George's cop named John Novabilski.
Gilbert, in the course of being questioned by police, somehow sustained a few injuries. He got a concussion. He was bleeding between his skull and his brain. His eyes were blackened and his nose broken, and he had bruises from the top of his head to his right foot. Also, he'd been punched so ferociously that his right eyeball had burst the thin bone on which it rests.
Gilbert is nobody's hero. He's got an arrest record that includes drug trafficking. But police have a slight problem: They found the handgun that killed Novabilski, plus a pistol stolen from him after he was shot, on some other guy, named Ralph McLean, who died in a gunbattle with police. So charges against Jeffrey Gilbert have now been dropped.
Does anybody say the killing of cops is justified? Of course not. Are we making a case that cops are routinely brutal? Negative. But maybe a gangsta rap song that talks of killing cops comes out of the fury of a situation like Gilbert's, and maybe we ought to feel angry about police who lose control, and not only some songs that shriek about it.
Then we have Dole waging his brave struggle against the movie industry. Phil Gramm can't do it, since he got caught trying to enter the soft-porn business. This is the same Gramm currently sweet-talking the religious right and endorsing their Contract with the American Family. (Point No. 8: Restricting Pornography. Oops.)
Then there's Newt Gingrich. He's a little vulnerable in the cultural wars business, too, since he's got a novel coming out -- copies have already been circulated to the press -- with embarrassingly racy sex scenes. So much for the old joke about Republican couples sleeping in separate beds.
So Bob Dole presents himself as the guardian of America's morals. Again, slight problem: If movies and music are a mirror's image of the culture, Dole's aiming at the mirror, and not the real thing.
The real thing happened over and over in recent days: On an East Baltimore basketball court, a guy fires into a fellow's stomach, hip and buttocks. On St. Georges Avenue in North Baltimore, a guy is shot in the forearm and shoulder. On North Hilton, in West Baltimore, a guy is shot in the stomach. And in safe Columbia, two furniture outlet workers are shot during a robbery attempt.
Were these people shot with movies? Nope, same as ever, with a gun. Were they provoked by movie violence, or maybe something else in the American fabric, something related to an economy where the gap between haves and have-nots is greater than any nation's in history, which translates itself into a daily sense that the game is rigged and a kind of blind fury sets in?
Bob Dole's mistake is thinking that life mirrors art. He forgets where movies and music got their sick ideas in the first place.