Lieberman Legislation Takes On Hollywood

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In the new summer movie Crazy/Beautiful, actress Kirsten Dunst portrays a troubled 17-year-old high school student who abuses drugs and alcohol and engages in promiscuous sex.

The love story between Dunst, 19, and newcomer Jay Hernandez, is rated PG-13, and will likely lure plenty of teens to the box office. Filmmakers for the Touchstone release claim the movie was intended as a cautionary tale about the dangers of the promiscuous lifestyle.

But many parents, and industry critics such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., feel the foul language, nudity and behavior depicted in such movies are just another example of Hollywood's continued marketing of inappropriate adult content to young viewers.

A PG-13 rating means parents are "strongly cautioned" the film "may be inappropriate for children under 13." In fact, Disney, the parent company of Touchstone, ordered a major clean-up of the more-explicit, original version of Crazy/Beautiful, so the film, whose young stars and plot clearly target teen viewers, would avoid an R rating.

And that's a problem, according to many.

"The rating system is broken, not just for motion pictures but across the board," said nationally syndicated radio host Michael Medved, adding that rating systems for video games and music are equally problematic.

Lieberman convened Senate hearings Wednesday on legislation that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to hold studios responsible for films that are rated one way but deliver something else.

"If you voluntarily label a product as being unsuitable for kids and turn around and market it directly to kids in contradiction to your rating system then you should be held accountable," Lieberman said.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will also hear from actor Billy Baldwin and representatives of the motion picture industry. The legislation is expected to be rigorously opposed by the entertainment business, which opposes any type of government regulation.

"I think this legislation could be more accurately titled the death sentence bill for voluntary film ratings," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America.

The battle between Washington and Hollywood is nothing new, but has taken on a new dimension since Dan Quayle, then the vice president, criticized the television sitcom character Murphy Brown for glorifying single motherhood in 1992. But Quayle was a Republican, and it remains to be seen how Hollywood will fight an initiative from Democrats.

Some are calling for a universal rating code that applies to all forms of entertainment. Currently, the movie, music and video game industries all use different systems: the recording industry uses warning labels to indicate explicit lyrics, while video games use the letter "C" for child, "E" for "everyone" and "T" for "teens." On television, a "Y" indicates "Youth," "G" is for general audiences, and "M" for "mature" audiences. 

In films, "G" indicates movies appropriate for all ages and PG recommends parental guidance, while viewers under 17 need to be accompanied by an adult to be admitted to an R-rated movie. The PG-13 rating was introduced to identify the broad spectrum of films that might not be suitable for young teen viewers but would be appropriate for older teens.

"What we need desperately is a universal rating system," said Medved. "There is no reason for anyone in any branch of entertainment to oppose a universal rating system other than to hide what they're doing or mislead what they are selling to the public," he said.

Fox News' William La Jeunesse and Robin Wallace contributed to this report.