A proposed ban on bad jokes

A bit of the emerging debate over how the entertainment industry should change after the Sept. 11 tragedies moved to Britain this week.

One of America's most respected veteran directors, Robert Altman, spoke out against Hollywood violence from London, where he is making a new movie.

"The movies set the pattern, and these people have copied the movies," Altman told The Associated Press. "Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they'd seen it in a movie."

Added the director of "M-A-S-H" and "Nashville": "How dare we continue to show this kind of mass destruction in movies....

"Maybe," he noted, "there's a chance to get back to ... grown-up films. Anything that uses humor and dramatic values to deal with human emotions and gets down to what people are to people."

Meanwhile, British comic actor Rowan Atkinson ("Mr. Bean" in the TV series and movie) spoke out in a letter to The (London) Times against proposed laws that make it a crime to incite religious hatred. Atkinson worries that artistic freedom could be compromised.

"Having spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background, I am aghast at the notion that it could, in effect, be made illegal to imply ridicule of a religion or to lampoon religious figures," Atkinson wrote, as quoted by AP.

For telling a bad joke, Atkinson said, "you should be ridiculed and reviled. [But] the idea that you could be prosecuted for [it] is quite fantastic."

A spokesman for the British government denied that the "carefully framed" bill, to be introduced next month, would diminish free speech or artistic creativity.

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