Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio - Raising the Standards of Popular Culture / Edition 1

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As a key player in the creative excellence that made TV's Golden Age so memorable, Steve Allen is disgusted and outraged by what he sees on television today. Whereas talent and quality were the benchmarks of the early years of television and radio, pandering to the lowest common denominator in pursuit of advertising dollars and audience share is the main focus of today's programmers and performers.

More disturbing than the issue of artistic quality is the effect that such low cultural standards are having on our children. Every day America's youth is being exposed to hideously inappropiate speech and behavior by role models in TV, film, radio, and the music industry. Concern about this crass promotion of sexuality and violence to children is not just an obsession of the religious right. A growing number of people in the entertainment industry, as well as citizens from all walks of life, are disturbed by the coarsening of American entertainment with its glorification of violence and casual, no-consequences sex.

To fight this slide toward Gomorrah a campaign called "The Parents Television Council" has been launched, the goal of which is to improve the quality of television and all other facets of the entertainment industry. As honorary chairman, Steve Allen describes not only what the council is doing to raise our cultural standards, but more importantly what all concerned citizens can do to help. Allen argues against complacency; adults may ignore the content of television programming and other entertainment, but children are certainly paying attention and imbibing the not-so-subtle violent and sexually charged messages.

The question, says Allen, is: What kind of a society will we bequeath to our children, one dominated by media conglomerates that push anything for a quick buck, or one that reflects the highest standards of our heritage? It's up to us to do something about it, to raise a chorus of protest that echoes the words of the TV anchorman from Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At the forefront of television's Golden Age in the 1950s, Allen reigned for decades as a top TV comedian. However, his serious side has always been evident in his 54 books from his autobiographical Mark It and Strike It (1960) to Ripoff: The Corruption That Plagues America (1979). In recent years, Allen became increasingly disturbed by the entertainment industry's declining cultural standards and "the general ugliness and immorality of much of popular culture." He made his position clear in letters, lectures and articles and by serving as the honorary chairman of the 600,000-member Parents Television Council. Here, he conducts an "admittedly unscientific study of modern television programming," yet offers an array of statistics, survey findings and clippings to back up his assertions targeting TV writers, programmers, performers, network executives and corporate giants. Tracing a pattern of denial, he moves on to "late night raunch," public-access channels ("actual pornography of the most explicit sort"), "family-friendly" sponsors responsible for sending prime-time "depravity into the home" and violence in children's programming. At the core of the book are lengthy attacks on Madonna, Howard Stern, Jerry Springer and rap music. Dismissing "the suggestion that networks can police themselves," he concludes by surveying such solutions as letters, picketing, boycotts and religion. An appendix lists 21 key organizations. (Apr. 15) Forecast: Allen undoubtedly would have promoted this book had he lived to see it published (he died last October at age 78). Still, his name and credibility will attract attention. Current controversies on media sex and violence could put this title in the spotlight, and word-of-mouth among members of conservative organizations like the Dove Foundation will fuel sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The Buffalo News
...a righteous and passionate condemnation of the enertainment industry's lack of standards. ...a stirring and convincing indictment that only takes on more power from beyond the grave of a man who was a television pioneer and social activist. ...a survival manual for adults trying to cope with the medi'a saturation bombing of their children with images and words of violence and sex. ...remarkably timely.--The Buffalo News, Sunday, April 15, 2001
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573928748
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 419
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Allen (1921-2000) was known as television's renaissance man. He authored more than fifty books and composed over 8,500 songs. Allen was the creator and original host of the Tonight Show and the award-winning PBS series Meeting of Minds. You can learn more about this legendary entertainer by visiting his official Web site at
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Like a child acting outrageously naughty to see how far he can push his parents, mainstream television this season is flaunting the most vulgar and explicit sex, language, and behavior that it has ever sent into American homes.
—New York Times
, April 1998

Can you find more than an hour-and-a-half of TV that you'd want your kids [to watch]?
—Susan Sarandon

On Wednesday, July 21, 1999, an important blow was struck for responsibility and decency when the following appeal was publicly announced by a group of respected leaders at a media conference in our nation's capital:

American parents today are deeply worried about their children's exposure to an increasingly toxic popular culture. The events in Littleton, Colorado, are only the most recent reminder that something is deeply amiss in our media age. Violence and explicit sexual content in television, films, music, and video games have escalated sharply in recent years. Children of all ages now are being exposed to a barrage of images and words that threaten not only to rob them of normal childhood innocence but also to distort their view of reality and even undermine their character growth.
These concerns know no political or partisan boundaries. According to a recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, 76 percent of adults agree that TV, movies, and popular music are negative influences on children, and 75 percent report that they make efforts to protect childrenfrom such harmful influences. Nearly the same number say shielding children from the negative influences of today's media culture is "nearly impossible."
Moreover, there is a growing public appreciation of the link between our excessively violent and degrading entertainment and the horrifying new crimes we see emerging among our young: schoolchildren gunning down teachers and fellow students en masse, killing sprees inspired by violent films, and teenagers murdering their babies only to return to dance at the prom.
Clearly, many factors are contributing to the crisis—family disintegration, ineffective schools, negligent parenting, and the ready availability of firearms. But, among researchers, the proposition that entertainment violence adversely influences attitudes and behavior is no longer controversial; there is overwhelming evidence of its harmful effects. Numerous studies show that degrading images of violence and sex have a desensitizing effect. Nowhere is the threat greater than to our at-risk youth—youngsters whose disadvantaged environments make them susceptible to acting upon impulses shaped by violent and dehumanizing media imagery.
In the past, the entertainment industry was more conscious of its unique responsibility for the health of our culture. For thirty years, television lived by the National Association of Broadcasters [NAB] Television Code, which detailed responsibilities to the community, children, and society and prescribed specific programming standards. For many years, this voluntary code set boundaries that enabled television to thrive as a creative medium without causing undue damage to the bedrock values of our society.
In recent years, several top entertainment executives have spoken out on the need for minimum standards and, more recently, on the desirability of more family-friendly programming. But to affect real change, these individual expressions must transform into a new, collective affirmation of social responsibility on the part of the media industry as a whole.
We, the undersigned, call on executives of the media industry—as well as CEOs of companies that advertise in the electronic media—to join with us and with America's parents in a new social compact aimed at renewing our culture and making our media environment more healthy for our society and safer for our children. We call on industry leaders in all media—television, film, video, and electronic games—to band together to develop a new voluntary code of conduct, broadly modeled on the NAB code.
The code we envision would affirm in clear terms the industry's vital responsibilities for the health of our culture; establish certain minimum standards for violent, sexual, and degrading material for each medium, below which producers can be expected not to go; commit the industry to an overall reduction in the level of entertainment violence; ban the practice of targeting of adult-oriented entertainment to youth markets; provide for more accurate information to parents on media content; commit to the creation of "windows" or "safe havens" for family programming, including a revival of TV's "family hour"; and, finally, pledge significantly greater creative efforts to develop family-oriented entertainment.
We strongly urge parents to express their support for this voluntary code of conduct directly to media executives and advertisers with telephone calls, letters, faxes, or e-mails and to join us at And we call on all parents to fulfill their part of the compact by responsibly supervising their children's media exposure.
We are not advocating censorship or wholesale strictures on artistic creativity. We are not demanding that all entertainment be geared to young children. Finally, we are not asking government to police the media.
Rather, we are urging the entertainment industry to assume a decent minimum of responsibility for its own actions and take modest steps of self-restraint. And we are asking parents to help in this task by taking responsibility for shielding their own children and also by making their concerns known to media executives and advertisers.
Hollywood has an enormous influence on America, particularly the young. By making a concerted effort to turn its energies to promoting decent, shared values and strengthening American families, the entertainment industry has it within its power to help make an America worthy of the third millennium. We, as leaders from government, the religious community, the nonprofit world, and the private sector, along with members of the entertainment community, challenge the entertainment industry to this great task. We appeal to those who are reaping great profits to give something back. We believe that by choosing to do good, the entertainment industry can also make good, and both the industry and our society will be richer and better as a result.

STEVE ALLEN, author, entertainer
WILLIAM J. BENNETT, co-director, Empower
      America DAVID BLANKENHORN, president, Institute
  for American Values
SISSELA BOK, distinguished fellow, Harvard
      Center for Population and Development
      Studies FREDERICK BORSCH, bishop, Episcopal Diocese
      of Los Angeles
BILL BRIGHT, founder and president, Campus
      Crusade for Christ
L. BRENT BOZELL III, chairman, Parents Television
      general secretary, National Council of
JIMMY CARTER, former U.S. President
LYNNE V. CHENEY, senior fellow, American
      Enterprise Institute
STEPHEN R. COVEY, co-founder and vice
      chairman, Franklin Covey Co.
MARIO CUOMO, former governor of New
JOHN J. DiJULIO JR., professor of politics,
      University of Pennsylvania
PAMELA EAKES, founder and president,
      Mothers Against Violence in America
DON EBERLY, director, the Civil Society Project
AMITAI ETZIONI, professor, George Washington
VIC FARACI, senior vice president, Warner
      Brothers Records
GERALD R. FORD, former U.S. President
WILLIAM GALSTON, professor and director,
      Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy,
      School of Public Affairs, University of
      humanities, Emory University
MANDELL I. GANCHROW, M.D., president,
      Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations
NORTON GARFINKLE, chairman, Oxford
      Management Corp.
ROBERT P. GEORGE, professor of jurisprudence,
      Princeton University
GEORGE GERBNER, telecommunications professor,
      Temple University, dean emeritus,
      Annenberg School for Communications,
      University of Pennsylvania
PATRICK GLYNN, director, Media Social
      Responsibility Project, George Washington
OS GUINNESS, senior fellow, Trinity Forum
ROBERT HANLEY, actor, writer, director;
      founder and president Entertainment Fellowship
STEPHEN A. HAYNER, president, InterVarsity
      Christian Fellowship
ANDY HILL, president of programming,
      Channel One Network
GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, professor emeritus
      of history, City University of New York
MARK HONIG, executive director, Parents
      Television Council
JAMES DAVISON HUNTER, professor of sociology
      and religious studies, University of
KATHLEEN HALL-JAMIESON, dean and communications
      professor, Annenberg School
      for Communications, University of Pennsylvania
NAOMI JUDD, entertainer
JACK KEMP, co-director Empower America
SEN. JON KYL (R-Ariz.)
RABBI DANIEL LAPIN, president, Toward
CAROL LAWRENCE, actress, singer
E. MICHAEL McCANN, district attorney,
      Milwaukee County, Wisc.
MICHAEL MEDVED, film critic, radio host
THOMAS MONAGHAN, chair, Ave Maria
RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS, president, Institute
      on Religion and Public Life
ARMAND M. NICHOLI JR., M.D., associate
      clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard
      Medical School
SAM NUNN, former U.S. senator from
NEIL POSTMAN, professor, New York University
ALVIN POUSSAINT, M.D., director, Judge
      Baker Children's Center, Boston
GLENN TINDER, professor emeritus of political
      science, University of Massachusetts
      C. DELORES TUCKER, chair, the National
      Political Congress of Black Women
JOAN VAN ARK, actress, producer, director
JIM WALLIS, editor, Sojourners magazine;
      leader, Call to Renewal Program
DAVID WALSH, president, National Institute
      on Media and the Family
JERRY M. WIENER, professor emeritus of psychiatry
      and pediatrics, George Washington
ELIE WIESEL, professor of humanities, Boston
JAMES Q. WILSON, professor emeritus, UCLA
ALAN WOLFE, professor, Boston University
DANIEL YANKELOVICH, president, the Public

    Although networks and production studios deny responsibility, their reasoning is no more complex than that which made the executives of America's tobacco companies lie through their teeth for decades when they were privately perfectly aware that their product was addictive and injurious to health as well. Even after it had been clearly established that well over 400,000 Americans were dying every year from the effects of tobacco smoke—with uncounted millions throughout the rest of the planet—the lying continued. Do not be confused, therefore, by the evasive denials now emanating from those who create and market our various forms of public entertainment.

    Parents and other concerned adults are under a moral obligation to provide themselves with basic relevant information. For example, according to the A.C. Nielsen Company the average child (age 2 through 11) watches nearly four hours of television per day. In August 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under the age of two not be permitted to watch television at all, on the grounds that doing so deprives them of social interaction which is critical for early brain development. The same physicians' organization recommended that older children sleep in media-free bedrooms to reduce their exposure to questionable references. And yet more than half of all children in America have a television set in their bedrooms. A 1994 study by the Center for Media and Popular Culture reports an average of fifteen violent acts being televised per channel per hour between 6 A.M. and midnight, an increase of 41 percent in only four years. In his 1999 national address on media violence after the student massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, President Clinton reported that "by the time the typical American child reaches the age of eighteen, he or she has seen 200,000 dramatized acts of violence and 40,000 dramatized murders." And there are scores of reliable studies suggesting that television violence may contribute to aggressive behavior.

    My purpose in writing this book, therefore, is to provide responsible adults with the ammunition they need to wage a successful cultural war for the attentive consciousness of America's children.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Introduction 13
1. The Problem 17
Do We Deserve Our Freedom? 32
Starting Point 68
Troubled Country 70
The Role of Network Executives 73
A Cause That Is Neither Conservative Nor Liberal 77
Sumner Redstone 83
An Ironic Twist 85
Shasta McNasty 86
Pushing the Envelope 88
Shock-Jock Fired 89
Late Night Raunch 90
Pornography Available 91
Just Shoot Me 93
Awards Shows 94
The Tabloids 97
Peoria 101
Children 102
The Occasion of Sin 107
The Parents Television Council 110
Reaction to Action Should Be Revulsion 114
Self-Policing of Popular Entertainment 118
What Would You Think? 125
Weak Argument 127
2. The Denial of Responsibility 129
The Issue Is Misconstrued 130
The Fragility of Civilization 133
Judging 138
Influence of Media on Children 139
The Unabomber 142
Not Sex 144
Normal 146
Media Advisors 150
The Suburbanization of Television 151
Sexual Harassment 153
Advertisers Are Part of the Problem 154
Misplaced Industry Concern 159
Sen. Joe Lieberman 163
3. The Audience for Garbage 165
The Young 166
Children's Programming 171
Only Some Audiences Want Smut 173
4. The Offenders: A Closer Look at One Teen Idol 179
Madonna 180
Statement to Time-Warner 213
5. Shock Jocks and Confrontation TV: Howard Stern and Jerry Springer 219
Howard Stern 220
Jerry Springer 239
6. Popular Music and Recordings 243
Music and Violence 268
7. Violence 277
The Problem of Violence 278
Statistics 288
Evading Responsibility 289
Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill 292
8. Censorship 303
Censorship/Humanism 317
An Ancient Legal Principle 319
9. Conclusion 323
The Print Media 329
Pax Network 337
The Function of a Parent 338
Questioning versus Simply Rejecting Authority 340
Bertrand Russell 342
National Public Radio 345
Restraints 346
Social Unrest and Delinquency 350
Dove Foundation Study 355
Better Alternative 358
Strengthening Moral Values 362
Humanitas Prize 365
The Power of a Letter 366
Picketing and Boycotts 368
The Religion Solution 369
Distribute Literature 370
Keep Files 370
Jack Valenti on Teaching Morality in Schools 371
Federal Trade Commission 372
More Good News 376
And Still More 378
The Power of a Star 379
Appendix A Resource Organizations 383
Appendix B Media Contacts 399
Recommended Reading 407
Index 411
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