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The fantastic four almost immediately dug into each other over whether Hollywood and the video-game industry were responsible for turning Little Johnny into Little Johnny Hinckley.
"I'm the example of why we're having this discussion," McFarlane announced at the offset, somewhat proudly, and argued: "I cannot, as a creative person, sit in my room and ponder what some psycho is going to get out of my work."
Thompson, who's sued the makers of the video game Doom and the film The Basketball Diarieson behalf of parents of murdered Kentucky teens, countered that a "market solution" must keep potentially damaging material from children, lest the entertainment media face government controls.
"I don't want the government to do anything about this. I don't want the government to overreact," he warned. "The problem isn't what you do wrong [as parents]; the problem is what other parents do wrong."
Valenti, the most sharp-tongued of the group with a pocketful of rehearsed zingers, responded: "I've listened to you [Thompson] patiently, and a little bit annoyingly -- I wish I was as sure of one thing as you are of everything."
"You don't know me," the lawyer sulked.
In defense of the film industry, Valenti cited a recent New York Times investigative series which concluded that mental illness and lack of psychological treatment, not popular media, are to blame for rampage killings such as Columbine. "Throughout history," he lectured, "whenever a tyrant appears, he always arrives as your protector."
Saunders summarized the panel's single point of agreement: "We need to be relatively restrictive about what children should see, while keeping a robust First Amendment for adults."
It was a weak conclusion, mainly because the panel's points and arguments had all been conventional -- all practiced volleys against familiar serves.
The one true stumper came from a listener who called Valenti disingenuous for saying there's no link between popular entertainment and violent behavior when, right here in the Valley, suburban teens are holding Fight Club-style brawls.
After initially doubting the veracity of the claim, Valenti used a standard last-resort disclaimer ("I don't believe I have a right to tell anybody what kind of movie to make") followed by a joking reference to Fight Club being a loser at the box office.
Valenti earlier made a similar comment dismissing the influence of The Basketball Diaries. Both times he got a snicker from the audience. Valenti's dismissal of less-than-successful films was quite telling -- a product's content is unimportant if it doesn't make money.
Valenti would doubtless argue that a film's profit is a measure of public exposure, and that failure teaches a lesson to filmmakers who glorify violence. But violence sells more often than not, and Valenti's singular focus on the box office grosses, rather than film content, is typical of the Hollywood mindset that results in both excessively violent movies and excessively vapid ones.