D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke's proposed legislation to make it a misdemeanor for owners of videotape stores to disclose the kinds of tapes rented by customers sounds like a good idea, although it comes too late for Judge Robert Bork, whose list of rented movies was recently published in the City Paper.
But before you take too much comfort in the thought that this will never happen again, take heed: It is still possible to get a rough idea of what kind of movies you and your neighbors watch just by listening to the videotape advertisements and checking out the kinds of tapes that store managers put on the front shelves.
If you live in a predominantly black section of Southeast or far Northeast Washington, for example, then the ad for the new Erol's Anacostia store is aimed at you.
"A complete selection of horror thrillers and martial arts . . . . "
"More than 90 percent of our martial arts rentals are to young blacks," said a videotape store manager. "I guess it's a way to let off steam."
How about over by the U.S. Marine Corps barracks off Eighth Street SE?
"We get a lot of requests for gay movies out of that area," said another video store manager. "Maybe it's just for laughs, but it does seem odd watching these huge crew-cut guys walk out with an armload of 'blue boy' films."
The same is true at video stores around Dupont Circle and along Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues NW.
"Adult films are our biggest items," another video store manager said. "And I would say straight-looking guys account for most of the rentals, which are of the gay variety."
Up on Capitol Hill, at a video store near a yuppie neighborhood, a store manager says adult films are also the most popular -- with women being the biggest renters.
"They used to be embarrassed just to browse," a store manager said. "Now they all claim the tapes are for their husbands."
This is not to suggest that Washington is a city of voyeurs -- although, most videotape store managers agree, anything goes -- as long as it does not involve children and animals.
Indeed, mainstream new releases such as "Star Trek IV," "The Color Purple," "Black Widow," "Police Academy" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" are favorites across the city.
At a video store near Second Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, it's kiddie classics. "A lot of senators' wives come in here, and they don't even want their kids looking at the boxes that adult films come in," said the store manager there.
At stores near homes for elderly people, the films of choice are "On Golden Pond," and "An American Tail" for when the grandchildren visit.
At this point, or maybe even much earlier, some of you may be wondering: Who cares what movies people are watching?
The answer is obvious: Nobody cares what you watch -- until they find out what you watch.
With a veritable explosion in adult films and violent movies upon us, the publication of what specific people are watching could be quite embarrassing and most surely politically damaging if an elected official is involved. What the City Paper did in obtaining and publishing Judge Bork's movie list was outrageous, although it could have been worse had he been checking out movies like "Debbie Does Dallas," still an all-time Washington favorite, store managers say.
A provision in the bill introduced by Clarke stipulates that records and information about videotape rentals can be made public only with the written consent of the customer, when subpoenaed under court order, or when necessary for a video store's legal action to collect fees for delinquent accounts.
Given the way the taste in rental movies in D.C. seems to be running these days -- and the media penchant for publishing such things -- I can only recommend that people pay their bills on time.