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Think tanks wrap-up

Aug. 17, 2002 at 2:32 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.


The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES -- Cancer Shtick: Is smoking in movies really responsible for the murder of millions?

by Nick Gillespie

It goes without saying that cancer isn't funny.

Which should make us appreciate all the more the latest literary achievement of Joe Eszterhas, the notorious screenwriter of such enjoyably trashy flicks as Basic Instinct and Showgirls and the recent presidential sex novel, "American Rhapsody."

Now the man who scripted filmdom's most memorable leg-crossing scene has not only announced that he was diagnosed 18 months ago with throat cancer, he has penned one of the most deftly drawn and (unintentionally) hilarious examples yet of a self-aggrandizing Hollywood player.

Eszterhas, it turns out, is not simply partly to blame for rotten fare such as the 1993 Jean Claude Van Damme stinker "Nowhere to Run." No, he and his pals in La-La Land are "accomplice(s) to the murders of untold numbers of human beings." While intensely personal, Eszterhas' public act of contrition perfectly captures the delusion that underwrites virtually all attacks on popular culture: that audience members have no minds of their own.

"I've written 14 movies," explains Eszterhas in a New York Times op-ed titled "Hollywood's Responsibility for Smoking Deaths."

"My characters smoke in many of them, and they look cool and glamorous doing it ... what (I and my colleagues in Hollywood) are doing by showing larger-than-life movie stars smoking onscreen is glamorizing smoking ... A cigarette in the hands of a Hollywood star onscreen is a gun aimed at a 12- or 14-year-old. The gun will go off when that kid is an adult. We in Hollywood know the gun will go off."

Eszterhas, who declares that "smoking should be as illegal as heroin," is of course absolutely correct that smoking is a massive health risk. And he is surely to be pitied for suffering a cancer that has led to the removal of much of his larynx.

Yet his urgent claim that Hollywood is the motive force in what he considers the nation's bad moral hygiene is not only laughable but contemptible: It transforms consumers of popular culture -- you and me, that is -- from active, thinking individuals into passive, drooling automatons. As one like-minded source has put it, " It's simple: if stars make responsible choices, young people will copy them."

"My hands are bloody; so are Hollywood's. My cancer has caused me to attempt to cleanse mine. I don't wish my fate upon anyone in Hollywood, but I beg that Hollywood stop imposing it upon millions of others," pleads Eszterhas.

Here's a news flash to the genius behind "Flashdance:" The entertainment industry is incapable of imposing anything upon audiences. Despite the claims of its creators and its detractors, Hollywood hardly wields such omnipotent powers to shape human behavior, whether for good or ill. People actively process what they consume and make decisions for themselves.

Indeed, if people actually aped what they read, viewed, and listened to, then violent crime rates by kids, ostensibly the most impressionable audience segment, would have soared over the past 30 years -- a period in which popular culture inarguably became more violent and graphic. But the rates are in fact lower than they were in 1973, when the federal government first started collecting such data. Something similar is going on with sex, too, despite increasingly provocative movies, music, and television shows.

As for smoking, Eszterhas may want to check out the annual National Institute on Drug Abuse's annual Monitoring the Future Study, which tracks tobacco use rates among kids. He'd find that over the course of his screenwriting career, smoking among kids has generally stayed the same, rising and falling a bit, even as representations of smoking allegedly increased. More interestingly, he'd find that ever-larger percentages of kids have perceived "great risk" in smoking a pack or more of cigarettes a day (roughly three-quarters of 12th graders believe that, the highest figure recorded since 1975, the first year of the survey).

People start smoking and keep smoking (or not) for all sorts of reasons. But the fact remains that it is a choice made by an individual, not one foisted on them by movie stars.

"Basic Instinct" is no more responsible for kids smoking than the seamy 1978 labor film "F.I.S.T" (another Eszterhas product) was for the subsequent decline in union membership. Hollywood and Eszterhas may have a lot to answer for -- "Sliver" immediately comes to mind -- but the slaughter of innocents is not among their sins.

(Nick Gillespie is the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine.)


The National Center for Public Policy Research

(NCPPR is a communications and research foundation dedicated to providing free market solutions to today's public policy problems, based on the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility. NCPPR was founded to provide the conservative movement with a versatile and energetic organization capable of responding quickly and decisively to late-breaking issues, based on thorough research.)

CHICAGO -- Ten second response: Senator Joe Lieberman says money belongs first to government, not the people

by Tom Randall

-- Background: Touring the State Fair in Iowa, where the first presidential vote will be held in 2004, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) criticized President Bush's proposal to make the current temporary tax cuts permanent, saying, "That's not spending restraint. Tax cuts are spending."

-- Ten Second Response: To say tax cuts are spending implies all money belongs to the government. It doesn't. Taxes are the people's property, which government takes from them.

-- Thirty Second Response: Karl Marx, the founder of communism, would have believed taxes were spending because under communism all money and other forms of property first belong to the state. It does not. Money in America belongs to the people who work hard for it. Taxes are the money government takes from the people. To say, "Tax cuts are spending," demonstrates the warped notion of freedom held by many in Washington.

-- Discussion: The notion that property belongs first to the state not only goes against everything our Founding Fathers fought for, it refutes everything Americans and others fought and died for in the long Cold War against communism. Property, like power, in this and any free country, is not handed down from on high by the federal government. It is what a free people voluntarily hand down to the government that belongs to, and owes its existence to, them. Two quotes make the distinction clear:

"That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed" -- The Declaration of Independence, Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776

"In this sense, the theory of communists may be summed up in one sentence: Abolition of private property." -- The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848.

Very different worldviews.

(Tom Randall is the director of the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research.)


CHICAGO -- Ten Second Response: Four American Eco-Terrorists Indicted in Oregon

by Tom Randall

-- Background: A four-count indictment against four American fire bombers was handed down August 14, 2002 in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon. The four -- Jacob Sherman, Angela Cesarion, Jeremy Rosenbloom and Michael Scarpetti -- are accused of fire bombing three trucks belonging to Schoppert Logging, Inc. near Estacada Oregon, according to a report by Bryan Denson in the September 15 issue of the Portland Oregonian.

U.S. Attorney Mike Mosman said investigators found similarities between this bombing and a string of bombings by the ecoterrorist group, Earth Liberation Front, beginning in 1996 and continuing even now, after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

-- Ten Second Response: Ecoterrorists are exactly the same kind of cowardly extremists who attacked America on September 11.

-- Thirty Second Response: Members of the Earth Liberation Front and all those who follow ELF's exhortations to bomb, burn and put American lives at risk, supposedly in the name of protecting the environment, are no different than those who attacked us on September 11. Congress should impose the strongest penalties for such crimes and the FBI and U.S. Attorneys should enhance efforts to apprehend these cowards. Everything necessary to aid in this effort must be put at the disposal of law enforcement.

-- Discussion: Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) has repeatedly introduced a bill to provide stiffer penalties for ecoterrorism acts, including the death penalty for attacks in which someone is killed. So far, the bill has not been granted a vote in either the House or Senate.

(Tom Randall is the director of the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research.)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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