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How will entertainers react

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No longer can the entertainment industry hide behind the argument that no one has ever demonstrated a link between the content of their productions and the way people act. Earlier this week, four national health organizations issued a crystal-clear statement that violence in movies and on television has measurable and long-lasting effects on violent behavior in children.

The statement was based on 30 years of research and found that violence in entertainment leads to a desensitization and an increase in "aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors."

Faced with this kind of evidence, what will the entertainment industry do? Will it fall back on the time-worn argument that parents should use television rating codes and v-chips to keep their children away from harmful programming, or will it face up to its own responsibility for coarsening American culture and decide instead to provide uplifting and wholesome programming? Frankly, we're not holding our breath. Industry officials so far have declined to comment, and they have shown no willingness in the recent past to accept responsibility for the consequences of their shows.

The truth is, no parent, unless he or she is willing to move to a remote farm and remove all contact with the outside world, can keep a child completely free from the taint of popular entertainment. Children find it outside the home. They find it in video games. They encounter violent and aggressive attitudes in other children whose parents are not as careful about monitoring viewing habits. Decent families are in constant warfare against influences that would corrupt children. Why do movie and television producers feel it necessary to do this?

The statement, issued by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, raises some other rather obvious follow-up questions. If entertainment violence leads to violent behavior, what do vulgarity, explicit sexual content, nudity and amorality lead to? If a link exists between what the mind views over and over again and how the persons acts, it seems obvious that other observed behaviors have a similar effect.

Coincidentally, the report was released on the week when a guest of the Jerry Springer show was found dead in Sarasota, Fla. The show, which exposed a love triangle, aired on Monday. Authorities believe it may have led to the violence that caused the death. Springer embodies the worst of television violence and vulgarity, encouraging guests to fight and shout nasty things at each other while a studio audience offers encouragement.

It is his free speech right to do such things, Springer often says. But rights bring with them responsibilities. The time has come for entertainers to accept responsibility for what they have done to society at-large.