While most responsible people will agree that parents should have the ability to shield their children from gratuitous sex and violence on television, certain fanatical groups proclaiming themselves to be arbiters of decency pose a clear threat to the future of free speech on television.
One such group, the Parents Television Council, was the focus of a recent TIME Magazine article. Members of the PTC record every hour of prime-time network television and scour the tapes for inappropriate content, which is meticulously entered into a computer program called the Entertainment Tracking System.
The PTC encourages visitors to its Web site to submit form letters about programs such as ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.’
The complaint section is already filled out in excruciating detail. All you have to do is enter your contact information, which means that you can now voice your displeasure in mere seconds without even having viewed the questionable material.
Opportunistic politicians are taking note. The House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would increase indecency fines from $32,000 to $500,000. Other pending legislation threatens to bring cable and satellite broadcasts under FCC control.
However, these much-maligned television programmers are not merely smut-peddling perverts seeking to corrupt young minds. Programs that attract viewers attract advertising revenues. Consequently, programs that get watched are unlikely to get canned, no matter how crude.
If there is a preponderance of trashy shows today, it’s because that’s what the people want. For every outraged American sending form letters to the FCC, there are several who are content to bask in the semipornographic glow of the boob tube.
Perhaps television programming has gone downhill. Shows like ‘Bachelorettes in Alaska’ and ‘Fear Factor’ have little redeeming social value, catering almost exclusively to voyeuristic impulses.
But not all bad programming is obscene, just as not all obscene programming is bad. Condescending and intellectually vacuous children’s programming, while palatable to even the most prudish among us, may be more harmful to our children than an exposed female breast.
Films such as ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘Psycho’ and ‘Chinatown’ are regarded as high points of American culture, though all are unlikely family fare.
Should we, as a society, be forced to watch ‘Air Bud: Golden Receiver’ over ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ just because a parent may not want his or her child to view the latter?
Instead of merely recording every ‘damn’ and ‘bitch,’ watchdog groups should consider calling for a general increase in the quality of programming for children and adults alike.
Can children’s programming and adult programming coexist on the airwaves? Are there viable ways for parents to protect their children from offensive television content short of banning all such material? Yes. In fact, such technology probably exists in your television set.
Since 2000, all televisions with screens 13 inches or larger contain V-Chip technology, which allows parents to set limits on what they feel is appropriate for their children to watch, and it takes only about as much effort as sending off a form complaint letter.
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