Shocked, Shocked!


Chicago. -- Bob Dole is doing it for political gain. Does that shock you? There is something very entertaining about the entertainment world attacking Senator Dole for impure motives when he criticizes the slash-and-rape-and-bomb and yuk-it-up recordings and movies.

Well, of course he is doing it for political motives. That is a promising sign. There is some hope for a society that rewards people for attacking sleaze. Why doesn't it happen more often? Tipper Gore got roughed up for her criticism of rough language used by groups with names as obscene as "Dead Kennedys." Maybe that scared people off. If so, Senator Dole deserves even more credit.

After all, he is not attacking a show like "Murphy Brown," which was drearily smug but hardly an incentive to teen-age sex. Mr. Dole is on much solider ground when he attacks movies like "True Romance" or groups like the Geto Boys. I wish he would go after the TV talk shows that bring us incestuous folks to titillate us with their teary and defiant stories.

The criticisms of Senator Dole were entirely predictable. 1) Anyone can stop seeing or hearing the sleaze by refusing to buy it or tune it in. 2) No one knows if pornography causes crime. Telling others not to watch something is either, 3) censorship, which is opposed to the First Amendment, or 4) Busybodyism, which is opposed to civility.

There is some truth to the first two charges. But 1) the bombardment with violent and prurient images is not in fact under the individual's control. It seeps into ads, magazines, billboards. If no societal prejudice is expressed against this, even purveyors of it with some moral qualms feel they will pay no costs in the esteem of their fellows.

2) Violent and lecherous imagery may not cause crime, but it certainly lowers the standards of dignity for men, women and children, as we see in the coarsening of daily exchanges and in the intrusive, violative nature of accusations and investigations. It is harder and harder to say that anything is off-limits in our society, which means that we are all harassed, even short of crime.

3) To express disapproval of others' standards is not a violation of the First Amendment but an exercise of it. Censorship is what governments do. Censure is what thinking citizens do when faced with anything vile.

4) Telling others not to be racist, foul-mouthed peddlers of smut is not being a busybody but a guardian of decency. Remember decency?

Having said all this in defense of Mr. Dole, I append only one remark. His defense of assault weapons is a far more obscene pandering to base instincts, and far more provocative of violence, than any movie Hollywood has ever released.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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