Entertainment industry figures lashed back Thursday at Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's charge that Hollywood was producing "nightmares of depravity," although some acknowledged a need for the exercise of caution.
Dole, a GOP presidential contender, leveled his attack in Los Angeles Wednesday night at a reception for political donors, charging that "the mainstreaming of deviancy" by Hollywood is a danger to the nation's culture as he took on movies, TV and music.
"I was stunned by his attack," said Aaron Spelling, whose company produces "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210." "I have nothing against Mr. Dole. I just wish they would find something else to pick on besides movies and TV."
Steven Bochco, producer of TV's "NYPD Blue," said, "It's always ironic to me that in the exercise of constitutional rights, you get people who are bellying up real close to censorship. I'm sure he'll say he's not advocating censorship, but it gets you into that murky territory."
Several top action stars who are Republican, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, declined comment. But conservative talk personality Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show Thursday:
"I am ecstatic. But I might ask the question, did Bob Dole turn himself on to this or was he advised to focus on this as an issue? Does Dole believe in it in his heart or is it posturing? I frankly think that Dole does mean it. But it's only as a presidential nominee that he's actually taken it on with such force."
Dole criticized such movies as "Natural Born Killers" and "True Romance" and the recording groups Geto Boys, 2 Live Crew and Cannibal Corpse, saying they "revel in mindless violence and loveless sex." He also criticized the Time Warner record division, which produced the rap album "Cop Killer" by Ice-T several years ago and puts out other rap music.
In an interview, Ice-T noted that he left the company two years ago and that it was "a huge story. . . . With AIDS and unemployment and so many other terrible problems in this country to deal with, how can Bob Dole make music an issue in this campaign? What he's doing is nothing but a pathetic political ploy. . . . Rap music is an expression of protest. It's no different from what Bob Dylan did with folk music or the slaves did with the blues."
Quentin Tarantino, who wrote both "Natural Born Killers" and "True Romance," said that Dole's "saying this is a knee-jerk response. . . . It's a cheap laugh. . . . My biggest problem with his statement is that it is so disingenuous. How can you take seriously someone talking about art he admittedly hasn't seen?"
Larry Lyttle, president of Big Ticket Television, a unit of the Spelling Entertainment Group, agreed that TV has a responsibility to "protect precocious minds." But he added:
"Obviously, Hollywood-bashing is very much in vogue. It's been going on for years. We're a society driven by pop culture, and the pop culture chauffeur is Hollywood."
Steve Tisch, co-producer of "Forrest Gump," and Robert Rehme, co-producer of "Patriot Games" and "The Hunt for Red October," both found it ironic that Dole would decry make-believe violence in movies and television when, at the same time, the senator wants to overturn the ban on assault weapons.
"I think maybe more people than Sen. Dole gives credit to know that violence in movies is fake and violence on the street is very real," said Tisch, a longtime Democrat.
"[Dole] said that Hollywood was mainstreaming deviant behavior," Tisch added. "That's an absurd statement. I don't think Hollywood has mainstreamed deviant behavior at all. Unfortunately, too much of what Hollywood does in film and TV is reflective of society."
The Dole flap rekindled memories of the 1992 attack by then-Vice President Dan Quayle on the TV series "Murphy Brown" because its lead character, played by Candice Bergen, was having a baby out of wedlock. A continuing debate followed on the "family issues" point that he raised.
Beth Sullivan, creator of the CBS family series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," acknowledged that "we need to be encouraging all areas of responsibility, including government. I tend to agree our culture is in a shaky state but that isn't any one particular industry's fault. . . . I saw a little bit of [Dole's speech] on CNN and was appalled. An important distinction needs to be made between responsibility and repression."
British director-screenwriter Clive Barker, whose film "Lord of Illusion"--which he describes as a violent horror movie--is due later this summer, noted:
"We're watching the same nonsensical attacks that we've seen many times before. But at least Mr. Dole has the good grace to admit that he's never seen the films or listened to some of the songs he's attacking. We have to account for the fact that there are genuine concerns singled out in Mr. Dole's speech."
Writer Lionel Chetwynd, a self-described conservative, said he agreed with Dole about "Natural Born Killers" but added that "he cannot paint all of Hollywood's product with a handful of titles. I'm angry," said Chetwynd, who wrote the biblical miniseries "Joseph" for the TNT cable network. "We're shooting 'Moses' now," he said.
Pointing to some of Hollywood's admired films more in the mainstream, Chetwynd cited "The Lion King," "A Little Princess," "Braveheart," "While You Were Sleeping" and "Forget Paris."
"I'm going to send [Dole] the videocassette of 'Joseph,' " said the writer.
The attack by Dole was at least the third major assault on Hollywood product by government leaders in the last three years. In addition to the Quayle and Dole criticism, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) headed an anti-violence drive that caused a summit meeting to be held by top entertainment leaders in 1993 and caused wide discussion in TV circles.
Reaction to Dole's remarks in the music industry was predictably negative, with a number of insiders complaining that the criticism appeared to be a political ploy.
Jay Berman, chairman of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the nation's major record corporations, said:
"His complaints are nothing new. This is a free speech issue, and while it would be very easy to stop artists from creating and producing material, that raises issues about First Amendment protection.
"If Sen. Dole wants to talk about families and family values, I think he needs to explore the responsibilities that go with the turf. The industry voluntarily stickers albums that contain explicit lyrics with a warning label. Parents need to exercise a measure of control over what their children buy or listen to."
Dole's critics noted the absence from his remarks of Willis, Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Republican. All are known for action movies laced with violence. Willis' latest "Die Hard" film is in theaters now.
Spelling said that "Melrose Place" eliminated an explosion scene because of the recent Oklahoma City bombing, "but no one complains that 'Die Hard' blew up everything in the world."
Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Judith Michaelson, Chuck Philips, Claudia Puig and Robert W. Welkos, and free-lance writer Judy Brennan.