Learning to Live with Sex and Violence

National Review, November 1, 1993.


Many years ago, at a supper club in Chicago, I asked a waiter (decked out, as I recall, like some character from the Arabian Nights) why they served their steaks on flaming swords. “Simple,” he replied. “The customers like it and it doesn’t hurt the meat.”

I thought of this recently as I watched a Senate committee solemnly (but less flamboyantly) respond to complaints from its customers, a few angry parents, by serving up what it would have them believe is a solution to the problem of violence on prime-time television. Prohibiting or somehow regulating it was, of course, out of the question. The senators had it on the authority of Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, that government has no business prescribing “what people read, listen to, or watch.” Thus, rather than allow the networks to take the high ground by invoking the First Amendment, Senator Paul Simon (D., Ill.) and his fellow committee members accepted a promise from the network executives to attach warning labels to their products, labels similar to those attached to cigarettes and sex films: “ATTORNEY GENERAL’S WARNING: Mayhem may be bad for your body,” or “Due to some violent content, parental discretion advised.”

American Enterprise Institute