From the Archives: The Best of Reason on TV

TV is poisoning our children's minds! Said no Reason writer, ever.


Even before video-games-cause-violence became the main technology related moral panic of the day, nannying Republicans and Democrats insisted that TV turned kids' brains to mush and should be strictly regulated. But Reason has long celebrated the boob tube's liberating, transformative power—and defended every American's right to watch whatever he or she wants.

Way back in the March 1984 issue of Reason, Joseph Martino scrutinized FEC regulation of direct broadcast satellite television. In the June/July issue that same year, Bill Steigerwald explained why the free market would deliver high quality children's television, despite the concerns of government censors.

In the 1990s, moralizing politicians stepped up their insistence that violent television programming was corrupting Americans. Virginia Postrel documented why this was not the case in the August/September 1993 issue. Steve Kurtz continued this theme in "Free Speech: Deja Viewing" for the February 1994 issue, in which he wrote:

Would-be censors change their instruments now and then, but they always play the same old tune. Trouble is, the hysterical jig they whip through lends itself more to demagoguery than deliberation. A review of previous moral panics makes the TV-violence hearings seem like just another sad song.

Whipping Boy

And in the March 2001 issue, Jib Fowles penned the definitive rejection of the censor's argument that watching TV makes people more violent and aggressive. Read his cover story, "The Whipping Boy," here.

Publicly funded television programming has long been a concern of subsidized speech skeptics. Jesse Walker's 1997 review of Ralph Engelman's Public Radio and Television in America is required reading for anyone who wants to learn why "government money has been as likely to curb good noncommercial broadcasting as to nurture it."

As television went digital in the 2000s, Reason reminded readers why regulators were like the zombie-esque villains of the (then current) third Harry Potter book in "Prisoners of Digital Television."

When concerns arose that TV was making kids fat, Jacob Sullum was on hand to rebut them. Ronald Bailey also opined against "conventional anti-TV wisdom," in 2004's "We All Know That TV Is Bad For Us." (Subhead: "Or do we?")

Reason has also celebrated ground-breaking programming, like MTVGilligan's Island, and The X-Files. But no survey of Reason's TV coverage would be complete without turning to South Park. Nick Gillespie and Jesse Walker interviewed Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the libertarian-friendly cartoon comedy, for the December 2006 issue. In the same vein, Reason TV published a video, "3 Reasons All Kids Should Be FORCED to Watch South Park!" last year.

Most recently, fans of ABC's Lost—which recently celebrated its 10th birthday—should read why the engrossing mystery drama espouses a libertarian worldview.

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  1. reason will be hearing from Netflix’s attorneys.

  2. I dunno. I’ve been watching T.V. and playing video games my entire life. I speak good and can spel with the best of them.

    Seems to me the only evil television perpetrates is stealing time that could be used to develop skills or relationships. But that’s a personal choice, isn’t it?

  3. That’s a very libertarian stance — all children should be forced to watch South Park.
    With consistency like this, how can we not prevail?

    1. What’s this “we” stuff, Kemosabe?

      *goes off to watch “South Park” with my chirrens*

  4. My Favorite Martian was one of the five most libertarian shows ever.


    1. And The Smurfs was one of the most anti-libertarian shows ever. Instead of going head-on, we apparently prefer to use other species to wage these culture wars by proxy. What tragic effects are we thus creating? Smurfs and Martians have lost their native political languages and speak in cliches. Speciesist partisans on the left and right have moved on to mermaids and vampires. By the way, did you know that The Twilight Saga is the most anti-libertarian film quadrilogy of all time, or the most pro-libertarian, accordingly?

      1. I’ve always felt Papa Smurf should have had a hammer and sickle on his smurf hat.

        1. How about that Newspeak of theirs? “Gee, that’s really smurfy!” I guess that would be doubleplusgood?

          1. It’s totally smurf.

          2. I think it smurfs cock.

    2. Never saw it. Therefore, I will defer.

  5. Avatar the most anti-libertarian movie since Triumph of the Will?

    1. You know who else….

      Oh, wait. Never mind.

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