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Just how violent is "Natural Born Killers," Oliver Stone's box-office smash? Pretty violent. But violent enough to keep up with today's headlines? A sickening wave of news stories about our children cold-bloodedly killing and being killed suggests it is not.

Refreshingly, this movie doesn't unduly blame the media for the rising tide of violence. Rather, it provocatively, and uncomfortably, shows how the forces of the media and the violence alive in the land are increasingly intertwined. "We are married, mates," Australian trash journalist Wayne Gale (actor Robert Downey Jr.) says to mass killers Mickey and Mallory.

If we are to be a society where freedom from violence is a right granted to all our children, we must find ways to stop the mayhem.

For starters, citizens-communicators like us chief among them-must commit more time and energy to the problem. And communicators, thank goodness, seem increasingly concerned. An Advertising Age Instant Fax Poll, taken at the time of congressional hearings on TV violence last fall, drew the largest response of any Instant Fax Poll this magazine has conducted.

Mr. Stone's movie has more than a few flaws. But that's not the central matter, for the movie or for society. The main point is that Mr. Stone, always bravely and often hypnotically, confronts us with our increasingly violent nature. Witness the arrests last week after the life-imitates-art crime spree of Elliott and Gilbert, two young ex-cons from Ohio who went on a deadly interstate rampage. Or consider Michael Jordan's father. Or Nicole Simpson.

The killing of our children-as highlighted by 11-year-old Chicagoan Robert Sandifer, who died at the hand of the street gang on whose behalf he himself killed others-is especially tragic.

This is a violence-ridden society and, as Mr. Stone's movie convincingly argues, things are getting worse. We must act to stem this flood. Or our times increasingly will be measured in blood.

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