Sometimes I think there are dozens of coaches out there, all trying to recruit us, all trying to get us to root for their side of a social issue, by offering us a big chance to join the "pros."
On the abortion issue, they're either "pro-life" or pro-choice. On the regulation issue, they're either pro-free enterprise or pro-consumer. On the pornography issue, they're either pro-morality or pro-First Amendment.
The latest grasp for our allegiance comes over sex on television. One group is encouraging us to join a boycott of advertisers and another group is enlisting us to fight censorship. It's hard to know the right team without a program.
Last month, something called the Coalition for Better Television opened up its recruitment drive in Washington. It declared a campaign to clear up the tube. It called its side pro-morality.
For three months, the coalition announced, several hundred of its monitors would be rating prime-time shows on a scorecard of smuttiness. They would list what Donald Wildmon, a CBTV leader and head of the National Federation for Decency, called "skin scenes, implied sexual intercourse and sexually suggestive comments."
When the scoring was over, in June, he said the coalition would list the sponsors of the worst shows and call on people not to buy their products. This game plan is called a boycott.
Then, last week, at the annual meeting of 4,000 television executives in New York, the other team fielded its defense. Panelists there talked about the dangerous tactics and motives of the CBTV and labeled themselves pro-First Amendment. They said that the monitors were actually drawing up a hit list. They accused CBTV of "censorship."
So here we are again. One team claims to be holding up values and morality against the smut stream, and the other swears that it is protecting the Constitution against the censors. Who are we supposed to root for?
Well, I bow to no one in my scorn for the TV shows that come complete with a snicker track. I am appalled at the number of programs in which sex is the plot, the subplot and the counterplot. I keep a private "top 10" collection of ads that broadcasters use to boost their own shows, and my latest favorites include: "Blackmail in a Sex Clinic?," "Luscious Lady Truckers Behind Bars," and "Hot Bikes and Cold Bikinis!".
So, I think Wildmon was right when he told the CBTV meeting that broadcasters have ignored protests against the creeping sexualization of the airwaves and have "rather displayed an arrogance and indifference rarely matched in the history of corporate America." The networks have had a stunning lack of regard for their own long-term self-interest. They've left us frustrated and vulnerable to the first group that promises us a chance to "do something." It's no wonder that 200 groups are already following the CBTV cheerleaders.
Having said that, however, I still can't sign up. I have too many qualms about the CBTV plans and planners. Morality may or may not be in the eyes of the beholder, but I'm not all that comfortable leaving the "beholding" to someone else.
The Top Three in the Pro-morality crowd are Wildmon, Jerry Falwell of Moral Majority and Phyllis Schlafly of Stop ERA. I would probably agree with them about the content of "Flamingo Road," "Three's Company" or "Dallas" (J. R. has the moral perspective of a mushroom), but I suspect we would part company pretty quickly after that.
The anti-sex campaign looks to me like a farm team to channel people into the right-wing big leagues. I keep remembering all the people who joined the Moral Majority because they were "pro-family" only to discover they were now also being courted as pro-MX missiles.
One of the other things that bothers me about this campaign is the strategy. The CBTV is to put pressure on the advertisers to put pressure on the broadcasters. Well, I'm not convinced that the advertiser should be handed the star role. Some of the ads themselves are mini X-rated features. If you don't believe that, I'll rerun my jean reels for you.
The ad men are a big part of the problem. They'll kill for the privilege of sponsoring programs with the biggest ratings and never mind if the rating has been "jiggled" up a point or two. The CBTV plan would give the advertisers more power in programming and the results would be even worse for quality.
Does this mean we're impotent? I don't think so. There's room for an angry nonaligned third team. I believe in boycotts when they're focused on the right targets. We should boycott the advertiser if we don't like the ads and boycott the program if we don't like the program. We should just plain turn them off.
Like it or not, the most effective way to change television and leave the Constitution intact is to play the broadcasters on their turf, and the old-time ratings game is the only one they watch.