The phrase "Big Brother" has sent shivers through my head ever since I ran across it in George Orwell's novel "1984." I am prepared to be against anything that Big Brother is for.
And so the argument that the Federal Trade Commission's proposed ban on sugar advertising in television programs directed at children is an example of Big Brother at work appealed to me. I don't want the government to control what comes into my home. Let me be the judge. Right?
But it did occur to me that I ought to find out what the FTC is talking about, and so I repaired the other day to the room in our house where the television set rests. There I found my youngest son watching, as is his habit, early-morning cartoons.
What happens at intervals during those cartoon shows goes something like this: The fairy turns an ordinary, cereal bowl into a cookie jar right before your eyes. Then a voice says, "Cookies for breakfast?" in about the same tone it would use to say to an adult, "A million dollars for you?"
And there's also this one: "At work, rest or play, it's Milky Way."
I confess that neither of those advertisements, which were the only two I happened to see during my brief time before the set, made much of a dent on my own desires. But a telephone call to a public-interest organization called Action for Children's Television convinced me that such advertisements make a big dent on the desires of small children.
They want cookies for breakfast; they want Milky Ways at every or any hour; they want sugar. Action for Children's Television, along with the American Pediatric Association, the American Dental Association and the American Public Health Association, has been reminding the FTC that sugar is very bad for children. (It has been established without doubt that consuming sugar is about the worst thing anyone can do for his teeth.)
So the question is this: Should we permit our government to censor advertising on children's television?
The more I think about it, the more it seems that the answer is this: Who else is going to do it?
I'll consider my own alternatives, which may be rather like yours.
I could get rid of the television set. People have written articles about the joys of tossing out their sets, but the fact is, as we all know, there are a lot of worthwhile programs on television that any of us would urge our children to watch.
Or we parents could control our children. This is the course the editorial writers who speak of the dangers of Big Brother are urging upon us as an alternative to the action proposed by the FTC.
I strongly suspect that those who write the editorials do not have small children. Do they know that those cartoon programs come on the air at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as well as on ordinary working days?
Will they get out of bed at that hour on Saturdays and Sundays to make certain that their instructions are obeyed?
Will they be willing to face the tears of children who are denied a privilege afforded to every other kid on the block?
Maybe Big Brother does not have to be taken in the pejorative Orwelliah sense. We have all relied on a big brother now and then. If there's no other way to stop food companies from rotting the teeth of our children, why not ask Big Brother to do the job?