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Do you know what your kids are watching on TV or hearing on the radio? While channel surfing, they may come across an episode of Ally McBeal, in which Ally has anonymous sex in a car wash; the cartoon series South Park, in which one of the characters is a talking piece of excrement; the public airing of dirty laundry on The Jerry Springer Show; the inane, obscene rantings of Howard Stern; or the glorified violence that seems to be the staple of every primetime action show.
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. Though he's quick to applaud the few good shows now on TV, he is dismayed that these small islands of quality are almost lost in the sea of mediocrity and outright vulgarity that characterizes current television fare. 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!"
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]?
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 www.mediaappeal.org. 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
THE REV. DR. JOAN BROWN CAMPBELL,
general secretary, National Council of
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-Kan.)
JIMMY CARTER, former U.S. President
LYNNE V. CHENEY, senior fellow, American
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
GERALD R. FORD, former U.S. President
WILLIAM GALSTON, professor and director,
Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy,
School of Public Affairs, University of
ELIZABETH FOX-GENOVESE, professor of
humanities, Emory University
MANDELL I. GANCHROW, M.D., president,
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations
NORTON GARFINKLE, chairman, Oxford
ROBERT P. GEORGE, professor of jurisprudence,
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
ANDY HILL, president of programming,
Channel One Network
GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, professor emeritus
of history, City University of New York
MARK HONIG, executive director, Parents
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
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHINSON (R-Tex.)
REP. HENRY HYDE (R-Ill.)
NAOMI JUDD, entertainer
JACK KEMP, co-director Empower America
SEN. JON KYL (R-Ariz.)
RABBI DANIEL LAPIN, president, Toward
CAROL LAWRENCE, actress, singer
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-Conn.)
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-Ariz.)
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
SAM NUNN, former U.S. senator from
NEIL POSTMAN, professor, New York University
ALVIN POUSSAINT, M.D., director, Judge
Baker Children's Center, Boston
GEN. COLIN L. POWELL (ret.)
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF (ret.)
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.
|Do We Deserve Our Freedom?||32|
|The Role of Network Executives||73|
|A Cause That Is Neither Conservative Nor Liberal||77|
|An Ironic Twist||85|
|Pushing the Envelope||88|
|Late Night Raunch||90|
|Just Shoot Me||93|
|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|
|2.||The Denial of Responsibility||129|
|The Issue Is Misconstrued||130|
|The Fragility of Civilization||133|
|Influence of Media on Children||139|
|The Suburbanization of Television||151|
|Advertisers Are Part of the Problem||154|
|Misplaced Industry Concern||159|
|Sen. Joe Lieberman||163|
|3.||The Audience for Garbage||165|
|Only Some Audiences Want Smut||173|
|4.||The Offenders: A Closer Look at One Teen Idol||179|
|Statement to Time-Warner||213|
|5.||Shock Jocks and Confrontation TV: Howard Stern and Jerry Springer||219|
|6.||Popular Music and Recordings||243|
|Music and Violence||268|
|The Problem of Violence||278|
|Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill||292|
|An Ancient Legal Principle||319|
|The Print Media||329|
|The Function of a Parent||338|
|Questioning versus Simply Rejecting Authority||340|
|National Public Radio||345|
|Social Unrest and Delinquency||350|
|Dove Foundation Study||355|
|Strengthening Moral Values||362|
|The Power of a Letter||366|
|Picketing and Boycotts||368|
|The Religion Solution||369|
|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|