Question: What figment of some entertainment conglomerate's imagination brutally kills 15 police officers? For the answer, wait until the end of the column.
Given the continuing controversy over Body Count's "Cop Killer" song, next week's Time Warner Inc. shareholders meeting in Beverly Hills, Calif., is likely to be more dramatic than anything in "Wall Street," and certainly more lively than any recent heavyweight title fight. After all, most stockholders tend to be politically, as well as fiscally, conservative, so sparks should fly as the Time Warner board of directors, which refuses to withdraw "Cop Killer" from the marketplace, handles queries about a growing boycott movement being organized by law enforcement groups around the country.
Perhaps Time Warner-owned HBO could televise the shareholders meeting live. Maybe Axl Rose, a Time Warner artist who is currently a fugitive from justice, could open the ceremonies singing his metal ditty "Step in the Ring." The main problem may be finding a big enough ring, or one with enough corners for the various factions to go to between rounds.
In one corner, Ice-T and his thrash-metal band, Body Count, who have seen "Cop Killer" described more often than not (always inaccurately) as a "rap song." The correct term is metal mayhem. The "Body Count" album (which at one point was going to be called "Cop Killer") remains at No. 49 on the pop charts, the same as the week before, when the media fuss had elevated it 13 spots. Its highest position, back when it first came out, was No. 32, and the album had apparently peaked after 10 weeks on the charts -- until those boycott calls started coming in from Texas. Entertainment Weekly magazine reports that discomfort among record executives at Warner Bros. led to the album's title change, though the words "Cop Killer" are etched on the chest of the menacing man drawn on the cover: With its gun-and-chains motif (and parental advisory sticker), it's a standard metal cover.
In another corner, the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (largest in the country), which is asking its pension fund board to divest itself of Time Warner stock worth $100 million; its Boston counterpart is seeking similar action on the $3.5 million in stock that it holds. Meanwhile, calls for a boycott of Time Warner and its various companies continue to pick up steam.
In yet another corner, the National Rifle Association, which has run full-page ads in several papers headlined "While Time Warner Counts Its Money, America May Count Its Murdered Cops." The ad warns that the NRA "will deploy its full legal and financial resources against Time Warner and its marketing accomplices on behalf of the interests of any police officer shot or killed by someone shown to be influenced by this incitement and provocation."
Says NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre: "We feel we're out there promoting safety and these corporations and the media are out there preaching violence. ... If one cop is killed by some teenager motivated by this album, where are they going to put that in their profit-and-loss statement? It gives a whole new meaning to 'That's entertainment.' "
LaPierre also says Time Warner is hypocritical. It invokes First Amendment protection in refusing to withdraw "Cop Killer," he says, but two of its magazines -- Time and People -- "turn down our ads and censor us." LaPierre points out that Time Warner withdrew country singer Holly Dunn's "Maybe I Mean Yes" in response to feminist groups' charges that the song implied the acceptance of date rape. "There is a precedent for doing this," he says.
And in a far-right corner, the Washington-based Freedom Alliance, headed by former Reagan administration aide Oliver North. Last week the group hired Jack Thompson, the Florida attorney best known for his relentless pursuit of obscenity charges against 2 Live Crew and retailers of that group's albums. Thompson is attempting to have charges brought against Time Warner based on federal laws against "seditious conspiracy" and "advocating overthrow of government ... by the assassination of any officer of such government." Both are felonies punishable by 20 years in jail and a $20,000 fine. Thompson says the latter law targets anyone -- Time Warner included -- distributing material advocating "the killing of any police officer at either the state or local level, and it needn't be any specific police officer." He says he feels that "Cop Killer" violates not only federal but state statutes (usually for criminal anarchy, incitement to riot and sedition). Thompson holds that such speech is not protected by the First Amendment.
The lawyer's problems with Time Warner go beyond Body Count, of course: He's been on the corporate giant's case since its Atlantic subsidiary picked up 2 Live Crew for national distribution. And he's not been pleased with another Sire/Warner Bros. act, Madonna, calling much of her recent work "pornographic. ... Time Warner is engaged in illegal activity here. If they were dumping toxic waste into Lake Erie, the EPA would enjoin them." Thompson will be at the shareholders meeting, probably accompanied by a number of police widows. "We're going to do substantial damage," he vows.
No word on whether any of these groups will ask for recalls on Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" (after all, he did not shoot the deputy), Woodie Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd" or albums by such obscure rock groups as Millions of Dead Cops and Cop Shoot Cop.
Quiz answer: "Terminator," in which the title character, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, methodically slays 15 police officers (plus nine civilians -- talk about body count) while saying only 65 words. Arnold, of course, is head of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and a Republican insider with long-rumored political aspirations in California. Last week, when pal President Bush said he stands "with those who fight criminals," Bush may have been thinking of Arnold in "Red Heat" and "Kindergarten Cop." Then Bush added, "I also stand against those who use films, or records, or television, or video games to glorify killing law-enforcement officers. It is sick." And perhaps illogical, as well, unless you can figure out a way to stand with someone and against him at the same time. Could make for a wonderful photo opportunity.