Two weeks ago, President Clinton asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to conduct a study to determine whether firms in the movie, music recording and video game industries are marketing violent materials to young people.(2)
The President's request came in response to concerns about the instances of senseless violence that have become a plague to an entire generation of young people. The school shootings in Littleton, Jonesboro, West Paducah and Conyers have brought this issue to the surface of public consciousness. Beyond those dramatic episodes, we are aware of the grim statistics that seven youngsters are gunned down every day in the United States.(3) The ...view middle of the document...
I am confident that we can join forces effectively on this challenging issue as well.
In her book Mayhem, Sissela Bok asks the critical question:
Is it alarmist or merely sensible to ask what happens to the souls of children nurtured, as in no past society, on images of rape, torture, bombings and massacre that are channeled into their homes from infancy?(4)
I believe the answer is that by desensitizing young people to the consequences of violence, by making violence seem commonplace and ordinary, by a cumulative celebration of the effectiveness of violence, we make violent behavior more likely to occur. I acknowledge, as one must, that violent movies, video games and recording lyrics are not the only reason for a culture of violence among young people. While the issue is not entirely free from doubt, many studies show that there is a causal connection between entertainment content and behavior.(5)
That was why I welcomed the legislation, sponsored by Senators Hatch, Brownback and Leiberman, that calls on the FTC and the Justice Department to review these issues,(6) and why I was particularly pleased when President Clinton asked us to begin this effort, even in advance of legislation.
As an aside, some may think of the FTC as only an economic law enforcement agency and may see us as an unlikely choice to study the marketing of violent entertainment material to young people. In fact, the assignment makes good sense and fits a core concept of the FTC's role.
When the FTC was established in 1914, President Wilson envisioned the agency as "an indispensable instrument of information and publicity, as a clearinghouse for the facts by which both the public mind and the managers of great business undertaking should be guided."(7) The idea was that the agency would work with the business community on emerging issues of national interest and report findings to Congress and to the public to assist informed discussion. Congress acted to codify that vision by giving the FTC specific authority to conduct such studies and collect information.(8)
In its early years, the Commission completed many useful studies, including one that led to the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission.(9) After World War II, the Commission conducted path breaking studies on industrial concentration that led to the amendment of controlling merger statutes.(10) And it was one of the earliest investigators of the health hazards of cigarettes - a subject that you know more than a little about - which led to mandated health warnings.(11)
We have tried to restore that tradition in recent years. Currently, we have studies and investigations going forward on possible invasions of privacy on the Internet,(12) possible health warnings for cigars,(13) and the marketing of alcohol products.(14) Our goal is to establish our credentials as an agency capable of conducting a thorough and objective investigation of important business and marketing issues.
Now, the FTC and the DOJ...