Music Business Targeted by California Assemblyman

Do offensive lyrics in pop music contribute to violent behavior and teen suicide? Some lawmakers believe so, and think public investment in the entertainment business is immoral.

Keith Olberg, a Republican Assemblyman from the desert community of Victorville, has introduced a bill in California's legislature that would require the state to unload its investment in the entertainment industry. Known as the "California Family Protection Act," Olberg's bill would require California's Public Employees Retirement System, the world's fourth-largest investment fund, to divest itself of an approximately $2 billion investment in companies like Disney, Time Warner, Seagram Ltd., EMI, Viacom, and Sony.

Olberg firmly believes the entertainment industry is largely to blame for many of society's ills. "Chasing the almighty buck at the expense of decimating our culture" was how he described investing in the industry. "Preferring profits over the safety of women and children is repulsive," he said.

The Recording Industry Association of America, The Motion Pictures Association of America, and various artists, producers, and free-speech groups have lined up in opposition to the bill. RIAA president Hilary Rosen said artists should be free "to create fantasy, mirror reality, or just make their own statement" without having to submit their creations to state bureaucrats for approval. One provision in Olberg's bill would tie song lyrics to specific sections of the state's criminal code.

The Family Protection Act is getting support from Ben Bratt of the Sierra foothills town of Pollock Pines. Bratt's 13-year-old son Ben comitted suicide last year while listening to the Sex Pistols. His father said the young musician, who hanged himself with "an amplifier cord," was heavily influenced by death rocker Marilyn Manson.

Social-agenda legislation is often used to apply economic pressure, as in the isolation of South Africa during its apartheid era. In California, most efforts have failed to force the state to divest in companies in countries that produce drugs, oppress workers, or flagrantly pollute. CalPERS has always followed a neutral, or "blind," investment policy, putting its money wherever it would grow the quickest.

The passage of Olberg's bill would require the establishment of a new bureaucracy to surpervise the content of songs and movies---an extremely unlikely eventuality. A similar law in Texas was recently declared unconstitutional.