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In the Public Interest


Corporations and Violence
By Ralph Nader
May 5, 1999



Following last week's tragic homicides at Columbine High School and the mourning over the loss of life there, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate majority leader Trent Lott announced they would convene a national conference on youth and culture.

That's good. Such a conference is sorely needed.

But it must not be an empty dialogue. Our country needs better. Throughout the last week, politicians and the media have searched for the causes behind the disaster in Littleton, Colo., and have been quick to ascribe it, in part, to the violence in video games, music, the Internet, pop culture, Hollywood, movies, and television.

Such comments, though understandable, do not go far enough. They stop at the symptoms, fall short of the cause. They fail to grasp the central fact of our commercial corporate culture: it is produced by corporations that are getting rich by promoting products to teenagers, corporations governed by profiteering that impels them to respect no boundaries in their exploitation of teenagers' vulnerable minds.

Every day hundreds of companies work in pursuit of one goal: manipulating children and teenagers to purchase video games and music and watch movies and television endlessly and mindlessly.

In their quest for larger audiences and greater profits the commercial media predictably races to the lowest and basest standards, with ever more blatant displays of violence, sex, crassness, and nihilism on television, cable, movies, radio, video games, and music. Our society, even 10 or 20 years ago, would not have tolerated such youth-beamed depravity. These are the motivations that relentlessly drive the creation, production, and marketing of ever more Doom, Quake, Basketball Diaries, Marilyn Mansons, Mortal Kombat I and II and III and IV, Jerry Springers, Howard Sterns, South Parks, and the rest of it.

This poison has got to stop. Enough is enough.

There is a crying need in this country to redraw the lines, establish the boundaries, declare to the media industry in no uncertain terms: "Thus far and no farther." It is time to say that our children matter more than this brutalizing entertainment. There are few critiques that Congress or President Clinton could start that would have such a salutary effect upon our children and, therefore, on our nation's future.

After all, the people own the public airwaves and should be given the time to challenge such video muck. It is easy to point the finger at the Marilyn Mansons. But they are merely instruments. Speaker Hastert and Senate majority leader Lott ought to focus on the deeper problems. Behind every Marilyn Manson are corporations and corporate executives who cynically draw their large compensation packages from the fruits of such work.

The Hastert-Lott national conference on youth and culture will be a charade unless they discuss the corporations and the powerful, moneyed interests that produce this dominating corporate culture and vigorously insinuate it into the minds and pockets of American youth.

Will Speaker Hastert and Senator Lott have the courage to trace the problem to its source, to focus their national conference on youth and culture upon the commercial rewards that give rise to this destructive culture, and on how we might alter these dynamics? Can they enable corporations and civic institutions to produce a culture that nourishes and doesnŐt harm its teenagers? If so, they will provide an important service for this country, its parents, and their children, who are surrounded by debasement and conscripted into violence by methodical, calculating corporate huckstering that our teenagers may not understand.

There is nothing Congress could do that is more important than making America's children safe again from the interests that would rob them of their childhood. Many teenagers and children are powerless to defend themselves against the clever media magnates, their advertising and marketing firms, and their hostility or total disregard for teenagers' health, happiness, and well being. Families and children need help. The question is, will Speaker Hastert and Senator Lott help them?