Middle America funds violence, smut industry

MIKE ROYKO

October 12, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

Back when Linda Lovelace became the first really big porn star, the owner of a neighborhood movie theater in Chicago decided to get in the smut market. He switched from regular movies to hard-core pornography.

His business picked up. But he hadn't anticipated the angry response from the decent people who lived in the bungalows and three-flats of his working-class neighborhood.

Civic and church groups held meetings. They organized protests, throwing up picket lines outside the theater, which embarrassed the men who slinked in and out for their vicarious kicks.

The protesters goaded their alderman into joining their crusade. He arranged for city building inspectors to check the place for violations. Because no older building in Chicago can pass a close inspection, the owner found himself in Building Court.

There were fire threats, death threats, a couple of stink bombs and other forms of harassment.

So the theater owner finally caved in to the community pressure. He announced that he would dump the dirty movies and immediately begin showing only G-rated films. Wholesome family entertainment.

The protesters were elated. They had defeated sin and smut. Good, clean movies, about dogs and kids and happy families, began flickering on their neighborhood movie screen.

Only one small problem: Hardly anybody came to see the good, clean, wholesome movies. There were so few customers that the theater owner didn't take in enough to pay his projectionist, much less the cashier and the utility bills.

So after a few months of showing good, clean, wholesome family movies to very few families, he went back to X-rated movies and started turning a profit.

The moral of that story, if there is one, is that you should give the people what they want, but they don't always want what they say they want, so give them what they'll pay for.

And that's something that doesn't seem to have occurred to the goodness-and-decency crowd, which is on another one of its rampages.

Despite what Dan Quayle says, it isn't some sort of liberal cultural elite that is supporting the glop shown in movie theaters, on TV, and the horror novels that top the best-seller lists.

No, the majority of the customers are from middle America. You know, the salt of the earth. Or are we to believe that only Harvard professors are snatching up the National Enquirer in the supermarkets?

Something called the American Family Association, which operates out of Tupelo, Miss., is taking out ads in newspapers asking people to sign petitions that will be sent to the top executives at the movie studios, TV networks and record companies.

The ads say: "Shame on movies, records and TV! We are outraged! And we're not going to put up with it any longer."

Sorry, but you are going to put up with it because the market is there, the customers are there, the demand is there.

Or maybe the decency crowd thinks that millions of people are being snatched from the streets, dragged into theaters, and forced at gunpoint to watch "Beverly Hills Cop," "Terminator," "Fatal Attraction," "Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," "Pretty Woman," "Total Recall," or "Silence of the Lambs."

Sure, instead of all that gore and sex, they'd rather watch "84 Charing Cross Road." What? You didn't see "84 Charing Cross Road"? Too bad. You missed a sweet, sensitive, intelligent little movie that got critical raves. But nobody was mutilated or bedded, so it was in and out of the theaters before it made enough money to pay for one gruesome special effect in an Arnold Schwarzenegger bash.

That's why so few movies like "84 Charing Cross Road" are made. The general public doesn't want them. It doesn't want them in the theaters, on rental cassettes, or on their cable movie channels. There's more money to be made with exploding heads and bouncing beds. That's not my opinion. That's what the box-office figures tell us.

The other night, an actress appeared nude in a network show called "Civil Wars." The rating reports say that 9,870,000 households had their TV sets tuned to that show.

Why did she appear nude? Obviously, to get more viewers. It was a blatant appeal to the prurient nature of Americans. And it worked. The rating reports say that the previous week, when the young woman kept her bloomers on, 8,570,000 households were tuned in.

That means that the viewers of about 1.3 million more TV sets were attracted to a glimpse of a naked woman. Were these viewers all fiends or degenerates? Probably not. It would be tame stuff for the average fiend or degenerate. Most likely, they were just your typical salt-of-the-earth middle Americans. Just like the ones who buy all those weird Stephen King novels.

Or just like the nice people who prefer talk shows that feature 300-pound cross dressers to those about the disposal of nuclear wastes. Or the nice people who get their daily dose of infidelity, impotence or incest from their favorite soaps.

Unless we want censorship, which would require a change in our system of government, we're stuck with the law of supply and demand.

We can argue about what came first: the supply or the demand. My guess is that the demand has always been there, but supply didn't catch up until man's genius gave us the technology to bring a mediocre naked actress into our homes.

So I don't think the American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., is going to change the cultural tastes of millions of Americans or the economic appetite of the entertainment industry.

Now, one of the hottest movies being shown in Tupelo, Miss., is "Innocent Blood," which is about a highly erotic female vampire.

Goodness, I didn't know that they even thought about neck-biting bimbos in Tupelo.

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