NEW YORK – From Britney Spears' sexy gyrations to Marilyn Manson's violent lyrics, American kids contend with a barrage of explicit images every day.
But should children be protected from such sensory assaults? And if so, who has that responsibility?
Many artists say that burden lies with parents. Others believe entertainment industry executives should more strictly police their products. Most experts say the responsibility must be shared.
In an hour-long Fox television network special to air on Thursday night (9 p.m. EST), host Bill O'Reilly will talk to a wide range of entertainment industry figures in an effort to answer some of those questions. Among his guests are members of the ICP (Insane Clown Posse), Marilyn Manson, Hollywood exec Jack Valenti and child psychologists.
On the one side are those who say children have impressionable minds and are bound to pick up on the sexual and violent imagery in today's entertainment.
"Put a piece of Play-Doh on a table and it picks up everything. Kids are Play-Doh," said Josephson, founder of the California-based Josephson Institute of Ethics. "They don't even know what they've picked up."
And there is plenty of questionable material for kids to pick up on in today's movies and music, according to Josephson and others. A recent study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., showed the 50 top-grossing films in 1998 and 2000 averaged seven scenes of sexual material, and 15 violent scenes per film.
But the most violent movies of 2000 included many more violent scenes, the study said. The Patriot had 159 violent scenes, Gladiator had 110 and Mission Impossible II had 108.
Movies are only part of the problem, activists say. The Internet, radio and music are filled with explicit references to guns, murder, suicide and sex. "It's not only one influence. It's a whole cultural thing," said Josephson. "It's the combination of things, from Temptation Island to Fear Factor."
But members of bands like ICP don't think they negatively influence their teen-age fans.
"We're entertainers," ICP member Shaggy said in response to accusations his group's lyrics are overly violent. Bandmate "Violent J" added, "I don't know what's entertaining about it. But I'll bring you to a concert and show you everyone singing along."
"If those two nerds at Columbine would have had clown makeup on [like me] ... I wouldn't have felt bad about it at all, because I honestly believe ... even if they were our biggest fans, people are insane," said Violent J. "People are on their own."
Shock rocker Marilyn Manson does take some responsibility for his work, but said the problem is a larger cultural phenomenon.
In one of his songs, he utters the morbid lyrics, "You'll understand when I'm dead." Couldn't such glorification of death encourage kids to commit acts of violence or to harm themselves?
"I think that that's a reflection of television in general. If you die and enough people are watching, then you become a martyr," said Manson. "When you have things like Columbine and you have these kids that are angry and they have something to say and no one's listening, the media sends a message that if you do something loud enough and it gets our attention, then you will be famous for it."
Of course, some explicit albums are marked with a warning, just as Hollywood rates its films. But filmmakers have been accused of marketing even R-rated films to kids under 17.
"There were some movies, frankly, that I wouldn't defend if my life and career depended on it," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association. "But for the most part, responsible producers are really trying now, not to deliberately target children."
But Fox News spoke to several teens under 17 who, without supervision, went to see American Pie 2, a film full of sexual references and jokes about drinking. Valenti admitted under-aged audiences can be a problem for the movie industry, but said it's ultimately the parents' responsibility to monitor their own children.
"There's a lot of stuff out here in this country that parents have to make judgements about, what they want [their children] to read, to see, to hear, " said Valenti. "There's a lot of responsibility on the parents."
So what are concerned mothers and fathers to do? Experts say protecting kids from these images is nearly impossible today.
"To be a really responsible parent today, you would have to be fighting with your child from the moment he or she got up in the morning to the moment he or she went to bed at night," said Susan Linn, a psychologist with the Harvard Medical School.