Bad Fox, Worse Mouse

Until recently, the Time Warner conglomerate was the undisputed champ of corporate irresponsibility in the entertainment industry. A corporation earns that title mostly by routinely marketing what's just plain destructive for the public good, especially if the product is targeted to impressionable youngsters. It is the deliberate attempt to reach for what's certain to offend; to challenge decency; to insult. It is the desire to cater to that nihilistic market that will always be there and will never be satisfied no matter how many barriers are torn down.

In the early 1990s, Time Warner was the home of such sociopathic rap "artists" as Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Ice-T, each of whom advocated the murder of police officers. Add the non-violent but salacious Madonna and you had quite an unsavory stew. Now, Tupac is late and unlamented (at least by me), Snoop and Ice are past their prime, and Madonna has been otherwise engaged. In short, Time Warner is less obnoxious than it used to be.

Interestingly, its television subsidiary, the new WB network, is moving in the opposite direction, with programming aimed at the family market. On this front, it is juxtaposed by the giant News Corporation and its Fox television network, which continues to resist any temptation toward social responsibility.

At a time when television increasingly caters to the family audience with wholesome series like WB's 7th Heaven and CBS's "Promised Land," Fox has no family oriented programs whatsoever, already broadcasts such racy fare as "Melrose Place" and "Martin" at 8 o' clock, and now has announced it is moving the long-running celebration of gutter humor, "Married...With Children," into the 7 p.m. Sunday time slot, effective this month [note to editors: November]. The Bundys at dinnertime? That's the worst thing for digestion since Olestra. The shift is "a giant step backward," in the apt words of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who in the last Congressional session co-sponsored a resolution calling on the networks to air only family-friendly offerings in early prime time.

Amazingly, Fox is championing "Married?" as family-friendly. Referring to the schedule change, the network's entertainment boss, Peter Roth, asserted that "there's no reason to suggest or believe that we're doing anything that's offensive." (That's pretty much what the Clinton administration had to say about the 900 FBI files, too.)

Today there is a new titleholder for Most Irresponsible Entertainment Corporation: Disney. In the past two years or so, it has released the viciously anti-Catholic movies "Priest" and "The Prophecy." Disney's Touchstone Television produces, and Disney's ABC network airs, "Ellen," whose title character apparently will proclaim her homosexuality later this season - another first, if that's what you want to call it. The Disney World theme park hosts an annual gay and lesbian day; in 1994 the event was held without warning the thousands of families who came to the park that day.

These and numerous other actions have gained Disney a reputation for moral envelope-pushing. In late October, the company demonstrated that it is perfectly capable of political and intellectual outrage as well. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported that Disney was negotiating for the film rights to "Dark Alliance," an August series of articles by Gary Webb published in the San Jose Mercury News.

As with most conspiracy theories, there's a morsel of truth. Yes, two Nicaraguan exiles were involved with drug dealing in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles during the 1980s, and yes, they may have funneled some of their profits to the anti-communist contra forces in their homeland. What is also true, and ignored: the Nicaraguan resistance played no role in this rogue operation. The two exiles were drug addicts who squandered virtually all of their profits on themselves.

Moreover, Webb's crucial allegation - that this drug dealing was backed by the CIA - is wholly unsubstantiated. Several years ago, more than one journalist and a Senate subcommittee investigated similar claims and found nothing to support them. The whole stupid story should be Trivial Pursuit fodder, yet it's back again, and Disney is helping to breathe life into it.

Webb charges specifically that the crack cocaine epidemic in America's ghettos resulted from this nefarious CIA activity. Again, he provides no evidence, but never mind: it's a good plot. Presumably, blacks would be the target audience for the cinematic version of "Dark Alliance"; ironically, by releasing such a despicably misleading movie Disney would, in a sense, be distributing more poison to blacks than the CIA ever could.

One more news item. The Los Angeles Times reported on October 18 that Hollywood Records, a Disney label, has signed the heavy metal act Danzig, whose work, the Times said, is "laced with satanic themes." Danzig's previous label: American Recordings, part of the Time Warner empire. Yet another sign that the torch of corporate irresponsibility has passed.