Thursday, July 10, 2008

Trash TV: We Can Clean the Screen

This is an article by Steve Allen, creator of "The Tonight Show", that was in the September 1, 1999 issue of Family Circle Magazine, p. 124. As you read this article, keep in mind that it is almost a decade old, and that things may have gotten worse or better since then. Which do you think has happened?

Recently I went over to visit my son Bill and his wife, Marie. His children, 4-year-old Amanda, 12-year-old Bob, and 14-year-old Bradley, were watching TV with four or five of their friends. I joined them and was astonished to find that they were watching a video of a film called Scream 2. The movie was littered with shockingly vulgar language and graphically violent images. We’re not talking here about a high work of art, which might also involve shocking language and graphic violence, but about the kink of picture that has only one purpose: to make money.

When I asked Bradley how the video had gotten into the house, he explained that he had bought it a few days earlier from a nearby video store (as easily as the Columbine high school student was able to buy guns), even though it is an R-rated film and not supposed to be available for viewing by children under 17!

Videos aside, these days broadcast television itself is too often offensive. Though The Howard Stern Show might be the worst example, it’s certainly not the only one. Jerry Springer is recognized as a disgrace to television even by people in the medium. And there are other daytime talk shows that are almost as offensive. Dramas are often overtly sexual or filled with violence. As for situation comedies, children watching them must get the impression that there’s nothing the least bit questionable about having sex with casual acquaintances, making endless jokes about flatulence and masturbation, or using course language.

Television was once called an electronic baby sitter. Would you hire a baby sitter who deliberately brought X-rated entertainment into your home?

It’s important to establish that we’re not talking here about a matter of taste. We’re talking about actual psychological and moral harm done by a culture that exposes its children morning, noon, and night to forms of alleged entertainment that are deliberately vulgar and violent.

And I’m not speaking only as a concerned citizen, but also as an outraged grandfather – of 12!

The good news is that as the tidal wave of vulgarity, cruelty, and sleaze increases, so do the efforts to combat it. I’ve been speaking and writing about the issue for more than 10 years. Recently a number of organizations such as Parents Television Council, Morality in Media, The Dove Foundation, The Christophers, and others have been welcomed my participation in the campaigns they’ve been conducting.

Another hopeful note is that more major corporations – the sponsors, of course, of television and radio programming both good and bad – are beginning to pay closer attention to the placement of commercials by their advertising agencies. Our country’s corporate community, by itself, could solve this problem overnight if it refused to advertise on vulgar or violent shows.

Another positive sign is that I am by no means a lone show-business voice criticizing the ugliness that characterizes so much of modern culture. Of course Mother Teresa would have disapproved of programs like Dawson’s Creek and South Park, but so do many popular entertainers.

This is an issue that concerns Americans all across the political and philosophical spectrum. Citizens on the political right and left, religious believers, nonbelievers, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are disgusted by a lot of what now passes for entertainment on television. And they can all help to do something about it. You can help to do something about it.

The next time you see a program that includes vile and revolting elements, make a note of the station, the network, and the advertiser. Then send a brief letter of protest to an executive officer of the company sponsoring the program. You might ask if he or she would want his or her own children exposed to such things.

Tell these people that you are holding them personally responsible for corrupting the minds and morals of our nation’s children. Encourage your friends to write, as well. Appeals to decency and morality may – alas – fall on deaf ears, but if corporations fear marketplace repercussions, I assure you they will pay close attention.


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