If we're really lucky we may wind up with a society where the aesthetics are managed by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. He'll tell us what's good art and what's degenerate -- even if he hasn't heard or seen the stuff he rejects.
Recently Mr. Dole, a Republican presidential hopeful, chastised the entertainment industry for promoting violence, rape and casual sex in films and music. "We have reached the point where our popular culture threatens to undermine our character as a nation," Mr. Dole told supporters during a fund-raiser in Tinsel Town. To illustrate his point, Mr. Dole divided films and music into two groups: "friendly to families" and "nightmares of depravity."
Mr. Dole cited "Natural Born Killers" and "True Romance" as fuel for the depraved and "The Lion King," "Forrest Gump," and "True Lies" as fun for the family. He also singled out Time Warner and the recording groups Cannibal Corpse, Getto Boys and 2 Live Crew for crossing the line,"not just of taste, but of human dignity and decency."
One of Mr. Dole's aides conceded that his boss had not actually seenthe movies or heard the songs but had read the film reviews and lyrics.
Mr. Dole should check out the the script for "True Lies" -- an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie built around violence, misogyny and ethnic stereotypes.
I counted no fewer than 78 killings in this movie. It is a comic book of a film featuring an Asian villainess who works with a band of swarthy, white woman-threatening, Arab terrorists.
At various points in the movie, she is referred to as a "sick bitch" and a "psychotic bitch." And Mr. Schwartzenegger's sidekick refers to his second wife as a "sick bitch." Gangsta rap has been criticized because its lyrics describe violence and sex and women are described as "bitches" and "ho's." If it's wrong to use language that degrades women in a rap song, why isn't wrong to do the same thing in a movie?
It is also puzzling why Mr. Dole aimed his criticism at groups that have faded out of the music picture. The Geto Boys disbanded and 2 Live Crew hasn't released anything for at least two years.
In "True Lies," Schwartzenegger plays the part of a secret agent named Harry. Suspected of having an affair, Harry's wife, Helen, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is stalked by a covert team, led by her husband and subjected to some unfunny and humiliating pranks of a sexual nature. In one scene, Helen is forced to pose as a prostitute. In another scene, the hero's sidekick remarks, "Women. Can't live with them; can't kill them."
Maybe Mr. Dole thinks it's OK to exploit sex and violence as long as you're a Republican. Mr. Schwartzenegger is a leading GOP supporter and the movie was produced by a studio controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
In April, Mr. Dole was criticized for attacking the critically acclaimed movie "Priest" while acknowledging he had never viewed the film.
Imagine President Dole and the decisions he might make without having all the facts.
Perhaps Mr. Dole thinks he can get away with commenting about materials he hasn't inspected because he's been influenced by others. Arlene Croce, a well-respected dance critic, stirred a controversy when she wrote about "Still Here," a theater dance piece written and produced by Bill T. Jones, a major figure in the modern dance world.
Ms. Croce criticized the work without seeing it. Before that, another critic scolded the Nobel Prize committee for awarding the literature prize to Toni Morrison. The critic admitted that he had not read her books.
Public officials commenting on art they haven't witnessed is the inevitable result of a German- and French-influenced trend in criticism that holds that the critic's interpretation of a work of art is more artful than the actual work. It was only a matter of time before critics decided that it wasn't even necessary to investigate the work in question. These bad anti-intellectual lTC habits have been taken up by Mr. Dole and others.
Maybe it's not Hollywood or rap that need restraint but the politicians who are girding for another mean and vile election season. Lacking vision, they are exploiting fear and promoting issues that divide society. The hatred and viciousness that they raise is far more dangerous than any Hollywood film, however trashy, or any rap tune, however demented.
Ishmael Reed has written more than 20 books. "Airing Dirty Laundry" is his latest.