A Decent Proposal for Kids and TV

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By John Kelly
Thursday, December 8, 2005

Many's the time I've come across that little box in the A Section of The Post that reads "Today in Congress" and just turned the page, silently muttering, "Thanks for the warning."

But I was so intrigued by a listing last week that I had to put down my coffee and high-tail it over to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. I didn't want to be late for the Commerce Committee's "open forum on decency."

I wore pants, which seemed the decent thing to do. And I got a seat near the front. My instincts told me that some of the folks testifying would want to illustrate just how indecent our society had become --

"Senator, is this the sort of filth we want our young people exposed to?" (Cue "Girls Gone Wild XVII: Stoli-Addled Nail Technicians!") "Or this?" (Cue "MTV's Spring Break Bratislava: Whipped Cream Olympiad!") "Or this ?" (Cue "Live From Las Vegas: 3-D Celebrity Porn Star Texas Hold-'Em Striptease Pay-Per-View!")

-- and I wanted to make sure I could see the flat-screen TV without craning my neck.

Unfortunately, it was just a lot of yakking. I was only there for the morning session, when about two dozen speakers had five minutes each to state their positions. They'd been seated in a very precise order, so that the woman from the Christian Coalition was next to the man from the National Cable Television and Telecommunications Association, etc.

The arguments basically came down to this: On the one hand, television is too smutty and violent. Parents can't leave the house without locking the TV set in the basement. Congress should do something, like maybe force the cable companies to adopt a la carte pricing.

On the other hand, the First Amendment protects even smutty, violent TV shows. The V-Chip will save us. A la carte cable pricing is like forcing newspapers to sell each section individually and will spell the end of the world as we know it.

In other words, there was plenty of material for lobbyists to chew over.

My reaction to the V-Chip is akin to what I felt when I first saw those candy-free checkout lanes at the Giant. One of the most unpleasant parts of being a parent is saying no: No, you can't have a 3 Musketeers bar. No, you can't watch "The O.C." No, you can't see an R-rated movie with your friends just because their parents think it's okay.

But saying no is also one of the most important parts. And not just saying no -- "Because I said so" -- but explaining why the answer is no.

I'm disgusted by a lot of TV, from the shows to the ads. (For example, when did Coors become a beer whose main attraction is an implicit guarantee that it attracts women of loose moral character wearing clothes that shrank in the wash?) It seems to me that both sides of this argument -- the conservatives who demand federal intervention and the industry lobbyists who offer V-Chips for everyone -- are looking for an easy way out, whether legislative or technical.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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