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Why the film industry chose former Sen. Chris Dodd to run the MPAA

Former Sen. Christopher Dodd is the new chairman and CEO of the film industry's MPAA, taking a position filled for four decades by the flamboyant Jack Valenti.

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Dodd, who served five terms as senator, chaired the US Senate Banking Committee and established a high profile on family and children's issues, even writing the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. But he also was investigated by a Senate ethics panel over allegations that he received improper discounts for mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corp. In August 2009, the committee found "no credible evidence" that Dodd had violated any rules, but criticized Dodd and Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota for not avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

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Dodd's role as the face of the motion picture industry carries one major downside: “He is now in the central arena of the culture wars," warns Steven Schier, political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

"Social conservatives have long viewed Hollywood as the source of much that is wrong with American culture,” Professor Schier notes. “Dodd will need to defend the industry from their unyielding criticism, which will be voiced by their allies in Congress.”

Dodd has large shoes to fill, says Peter Lehman, Director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture at Arizona State University. Jack Valenti, who died four years ago, served as head of the MPAA for four decades after leaving President Lyndon Johnson's White House.

"We live in a world of constantly renewed cycles of anxiety about the effects of media, especially film, [on attitudes towards] sex and violence,” says Professor Lehman. When film undergoes a period of technological innovation – like what is happening now, with new 3-D formats and more sophisticated visual effects – these concerns tend to intensify.

“The issues are much more nuanced than the frequently crude, cause-and-effect public discourse about them,” says Lehman. “I'm optimistic that a former senator and presidential hopeful like Christopher Dodd can provide mature leadership during discussion of and policymaking about such crucial aspects of the motion picture industry.”

Adds Professor Snow, “He’ll never be a Jack Valenti, but in time he may serve the MPAA well."

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