Television

Social Conservatives Call for Stricter TV Ratings

Why the V-chip will never please everyone, and soon will hardly please anyone at all

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Slime
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The V-chip, a device designed to let parents block TV shows that they don't want their kids to see, was always doomed to disappoint the social conservatives who pushed for something like it. An assortment of those conservatives—including officials from the Parents Television Council, the American Family Association, Morality in Media, and many similar groups—have just declared their displeasure in an open letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

The most important thing to understand here is that the V-chip never really did what its proponents promised it would do. Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton pushed it as a form of "parental control," and that phrase keeps recurring when people discuss the technology. Yet parents do not have much say in which programs the chip will block. A distant committee assigns a rating to each TV program, and users then decide what ratings will be filtered from their sets. If Dad disagrees with the committee's judgment about which shows get which ratings, he's S.O.L.

Needless to say, plenty of people are going to disagree with the committee's judgment. Parents are offended by different things, and kids are scared of different things; there's a big, diverse world out there, and no single set of decisions is going to please everyone in it. But groups like the ones behind this letter are especially likely to object to the ratings.

The ratings-makers, you see, mostly come from the TV industry. (As the letter-writers put it sourly, "the body charged with oversight of the television content ratings system is comprised of those whom it is supposed to be monitoring.") And from the industry's point of view, there is a rough social consensus out there as to what sort of programming is acceptable; its task is to figure out those preferences and then reflect them. Groups like the American Family Association, by contrast, want to change the consensus. Their core constituency consists of people who feel left behind by shifting social mores. They're going to be disappointed with the V-chip directorate's decisions no matter how conscientiously the committee approaches its task, because it has a fundamentally different attitude toward the task in question.

So have the letter-writers realized the folly of their ways and given up on the V-chip dream? No, of course not; that's against their domineering nature. They just want people like them to run the committee. "The first step toward correcting the egregious problems with the TV ratings system," they declare, "must include an overhaul of the self-serving Oversight Monitoring Board."

Meanwhile, we're barreling past the Cable Age into an era when "television" dwells online. Traditional TV isn't dead, but it's dwindling; each year, a system calibrated for the old broadcast-TV world is going to strike more and more people as anachronistic and useless. The V-chip never was going to give social conservatives what they wanted, and pretty soon we'll reach a day when it doesn't even give them the system they got instead.

Bonus link: Back in 2004, after one of Janet Jackson's areolae made a surprise cameo at the Super Bowl, I made a similar point about the FCC's indecency regulations:

[T]he war on indecency isn't going to do what its supporters want it to do. It might chill a lot of speech and cost some broadcasters a lot of money, but the angry mammophobes pushing the FCC to regulate the airwaves more harshly aren't mad merely because one nipple popped out on national TV and one rock star said the F-word at an awards ceremony. The whole halftime show was smutty, not just the flash at the climax; and you can't walk two blocks in any densely populated area without hearing someone cursing. Social mores have changed considerably in the last four decades, and the FCC isn't exactly equipped to change them back again. So no matter how much the government does, there's going to be pressure on it to do more; the censors' victories will feel as frustrating as their defeats. That's why it's possible for [FCC Commissioner] Michael Copps to wail that his commission isn't "taking a firm stand against indecency on the airwaves" even as it's taking its firmest stand in years.

You can read the rest here.

Bonus link #2: One person who signed the letter to the FCC is Nell Minow, daughter of former FCC chief Newton Minow. And it was 55 years ago today that Minow delivered a famous speech declaring TV a "vast wasteland." For more on Minow's misbegotten speech, go here.

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  1. Social conservatives lost when Dennis Franz’s bare caboose appeared on NYPD Blue.

    1. Not. Clicking. That.

      1. I should have listened to you.

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    3. Especially the social conservatives that actually supported the v-chip, Al and Tipper Gore and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

  2. Why don’t they just cancel their cable and stop worrying about what other people want to watch?

      1. Youngsters these day are too busy sexting on their computerphones to waste time with TV.

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  4. really, in the age of the internet, you are worried about what your kid sees in a TV program.

    Every parent thinks their precious little angel is so much more innocent and pure then they actually are. Then they blame media for why their child isn’t perfect. Really people, grow up.

  5. former FCC chief Newton Minow

    Ayn Rand absolutely made that name up.

    1. Useless fun face, the boat in the TV series Gilligan’s Island (USS Minow) was named for Newton Minow.

      1. I think I knew that, but it keeps slipping out of my brain because it never comes up. In fact, Suderman made mention of that fact in the piece Jesse links to at the end of his post.

        1. I did not know that, but swear to God I was about to post a question asking if that was the case.

      2. It’s the S.S. Minnow. That’s a suitably aquatic name for a boat. But I have heard that story about it being named for Newton Minow before. Maybe it’s true that his name inspired that of the boat, but the spelling was changed (two “n”s) to make it less obvious.

  6. Just complain about rape culture instead…

  7. What year is it?

  8. Parent my kids so that I don’t have to.

    1. Hey if I can’t safely leave my kids transfixed by the warm glow of wholsome television how am I going to spend all afternoon facetweeting on the pinterwebz?

    2. +1 “universal Pre-K”

  9. I’d block those inane E/I programs. Maybe the Reason Foundation could produce some good ones.

  10. Too bad these fucktards don’t have an on/off switch or channel changer on their TV’s. What a bunch of schmucks.

  11. RE: Social Conservatives Call for Stricter TV Ratings

    TV ratings should call for stricter control social conservatives.

  12. Us the OFF button you fucking morons.

    1. If it saves even ONE mom from dying, frantically trying to get to the television before her snowflake’s mind is besmirched with filth, it’s worth it.

  13. The problem is that any algorithm designed to properly filter content is going to be more complex than just having a human being watch the shows and filter out the naughty bits. When you consider that the naughty bits aren’t just bad words or sexual innuendo or violence but things like showing a robber fleeing in a speeding car where he doesn’t crash into a tree and burn and get sent straight to hell or a suspiciously effeminate man has a normal conversation with someone where he doesn’t crash into a tree and burn and get sent straight to hell or a teenage girl goes to school in a pair of pants where she doesn’t crash into a tree and burn and get sent straight to hell or a boy listens to some rap music where he doesn’t crash into a tree and burn and get sent straight to hell, recognizing and fixing these affronts to human dignity take more complex thoughts than computer programs can possibly deliver. Computer programs do after all operate on a system of logic and a system of logic is of little use in this situation.

  14. Aren’t ratings just truth in advertising? I don’t see what the issue is. If a show or movie has a bunch of sex and violence, what is the problem with letting viewers know that? As long as it doesn’t prevent people from broadcasting the show, I can’t see a reason why requiring broadcasters to reveal the nature of the show’s content is a bad thing.

    1. It’s the whole requirement bit. If enough folks feel the way you do someone will come along and offer you a service that will do just that (I’m thinking a weekly magazine that would list all the tv show and give them a review and a rating, they may even have a TV related crossword puzzle for elderly people*), those of us who don’t give a fuck about the content of our entertainment won’t have to pay for your peace of mind.

      * they could call it Guide 4 TV, or TV Guidance, or sommat.

      1. But why shouldn’t you tell people what is in your product? I see why requiring it is a problem but it is not a very big one. I have a hard time caring too much about it.

        1. I see why requiring it is a problem

          Not according to your OP which is why I responded, I agree it’s not a very big deal but TANSTAAFL, and all that.

      2. * Don’t Panic

        1. +1 Pantshitter’s Guide to the Television

    2. Aren’t ratings just truth in advertising?

      Gubmint-mandated pre-approval for telebision content, to satisfy the puckered, moral scolds, is just something we all do together.

    3. Better question:

      Don’t the socons realize that “forcing” smutty programs to rate themselves as smutty only increases their viewership, and makes them more attractive to the young’uns?

      1. My Catholic school friend would pick the movies we’d go to on Saturdays – based on which movies the Church said we should stay away from.

    4. The difference John is a *mandatory* rating and a *voluntary* one. Even a ‘voluntary’ scheme like the MPAA is better than the current TV rating system.

      In any case, if enough people felt that tv ratings were important then private ratings boards would pop up to cater to the diverse interests of the population and a government mandated board would be unnecessary in the first place.

  15. Now, we’re just talking about sexuality on the TV (whatever that is), right? Because I’m pretty sure simulated violence is not anything the modern SoCon concerns herself with.

    1. Actually they do – its just with the more extreme forms of violence. Its why showing blood can get your movie an ‘R’ rating but the exact same scene without it can be PG-13.

  16. So, serious question…

    What is the alleged purpose behind “protecting” the children from language, sexual content…?

    Is it supposed to make them grow up to be “better” more moral people? Is there any proof of that? If you hear it/see it for there first time when you’re 5 do you grow up to be a worse person than if you’d first heard it at 10 or 15? I honestly don’t get it. Do these parents really think their kids aren’t hearing/seeing such content from their friends? Is there some sort of lobotomy they give people when they reproduce that cuts out the part of their brain that allows them to remember their childhood?

    1. What is the alleged purpose behind “protecting” the children from language, sexual content…?

      It allows me to subscribe to Cinemax without worrying my li’l tykes might stumble across it on a late night when I left it on that channel.

    2. Visceral puritanism casts a long shadow over American culture.

    3. That was not “a” but a lot of questions, FdA.

      I don’t have answers, but you’re a fag and you throw like a girl.

      1. I caught teh ghey frum teh teeeveee.

        1. I told you not to watch Sit and be Fit!

    4. It’s to protect their parents from embarrassment.

    5. The idea is that if they see it on TV then it become ‘normalized’ in a way that it doesn’t among their peer group. In effect they see a group of adults acting this way and think this is the way adults are *supposed* to act.

      Because TV has a greater influence on behavior than the actions of the actual people in their lives or something.

    6. I’ve actually arsked a lot of people about their childhoods, and the majority has some fucked up, editted, blurry distortion of the memory making them out to have been innocent and pure as the whitest fuck as children. These folks, however, can never recall anything from childhood very clearly. Folks whore member it clearlier never describe it that way. I’m inclined to think folks is projecting a sort of hierophantic vision of illud tempus, the golden age that never was but which they feel sure as fuck should have been. When I was a youngster, there wasn’t much TV and it was really tame. I saw ten times as much blood and guts every day in daily life as I ever saw on TV and if anything it made me better adapted to living. Not so much fucking, though there was a lot to do with breeding animals. And I never saw nothing like a porno magazine till late adolescency. I remember in school we used to trade these tiny, micrographic softcore porno images. I have no idea where they come from (I was not involved in supply). They were like blurry tintypes. I remember being most impressed by the bizarre costumes and tools being brandished in them. The more modern stuff is a kind of a let down. It’s got no soul. It’s flat and though more explicit not nearly as interesting.

    7. I’m not one of those people trying to “protect” children from dirty language, so this is all conjecture/speculation…

      I’d like to think that people worried about such things *are* taking other steps to control their child’s experiences. Home school or private religious school, very controlling over which friends they’re able to have over, which ones they’re able to go over to, either no internet access or very restricted and controlled access. No visits to unfiltered libraries and so-on.

      It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible to control/contain your child enough (at least until they realize they can sneak out the windows at night) that you retain veto over their experiences.

    8. There is a convincing body of evidence from the psychological field that exposing very young kids (like the aforementioned 5-year-olds) to extremely sexually explicit material–not French-kissing, but softcore porn-level stuff–can be heavily traumatic and is not something often seen on the playground.

      1. I will add a caveat:

        If you are a parent and either don’t know or don’t care what your kids are watching–“Mom, can I watch ‘9 1/2 Weeks’?” “Yeah kid, sure, whatever”–and expect some little chip to take care of that for you instead of, you know, actually getting involved with your kids’ lives, then what the hell kind of a parent are you?

  17. It’s indecent to hear only one opinion from the corporate media.

  18. Damn Christians, I’ll help you out. http://bfy.tw/5g1Q Cut the cord and be done with all your bitching.

    1. That’s pornographic, please use the NSFW tag next time Bob.

  19. So why do libertarians complain about cop shows? I thought TV doesn’t influence us?

    1. Because cop shows either do not reflect reality (LawNOrder) or are videos of people being harrassed and having their lives ruined for shit we don’t think should be a crime in the first place (Cops).

  20. Will someone pour the green slime over these clowns already?!

    1. They gotta say “I don’t know” first. 😉

      1. Or “water”!

  21. My daughter asked about those ratings the other day.

    I told her pay no heed to it. The only ratings she needs to worry about are the ones set by her parents.

    Not these Tipper Gore cunts.

    1. I told her pay no heed to it. The only ratings she needs to worry about are the ones set by her parents.

      Not these Tipper Gore cunts.

      Please tell me you actually used the phrase “Tipper Gore cunts.”

      1. I did.

        To my wife.

        She has no clue who she is and half the things I rant and talk about.

  22. The V-chip never was going to give social conservatives what they wanted, and pretty soon we’ll reach a day when it doesn’t even give them the system they got instead.

    It actually gave them more of what they didn’t want. With the rating and warnings, Fox/FX could run as much raunchy stuff as they could crank out. If someone complained, all they had to do was point at the V-Chip rating.

    1. Interesting point. I hadn’t thought of that.

  23. Fuck them

    1. Are the women hot?

      1. Best reason to go to church.

  24. OK dude can we jsut roll with the punches or what man.

    http://www.Complete-Privacy.tk

  25. “The V-chip, a device designed to let parents block TV shows that they don’t want their kids to see, was always doomed to disappoint the social conservatives who pushed for something like it.”

    Social conservatives like Bill and Hillary Clinton?

    Or did that go down the memory hole?

    1. Seems like the fact that one of the V-chip’s champions is currently a leading candidate for president might have deserved some mention.

      Maybe they have a quota for liberal-friendly stories.

    2. Hill and Billary were against same-sex marriage too. How times change.

    3. Social conservatives like Bill and Hillary Clinton? Or did that go down the memory hole?

      I cleverly covered up the Clinton role in pushing the V-chip by mentioning it in the very next paragraph.

  26. OK, so this is about a federally-mandated device which parents can use – or not use – to control what kind of programs Junior can watch on the family TV.

    Probably not very useful (“OK, Junior, can you show me how to program this thing?”), but not the frickin’ thought police, and it doesn’t establish the necessary moral equivalence between SoCons and SoLibs, especially since the Clintons liked this stuff, too.

  27. I have to say Walker that this is an amazingly concise and well-written article. It identifies the core issues and explains why the offered solutions won’t work in a coldly logical manner without reference to your personal biases.

    Need moar!

    Oh, and the *first* step is to gain control of the board – the second is to make use of the chip *mandatory*.

    1. And what’s the first rule of the Powermonger’s Club? Never talk about the second step.

  28. This underlying assumption (as though it’s the obviousest thing in the fucking world) that the TV producers are scheming to dissatisfy viewers is bizarre. It’s sort of like the folks who are convinced that for one side to acquire value in a transaction that the other side of the transaction must lose value. Like the only way they can imagine interacting with others is by fucking them over. Also strikes me that a lot of regulation is such that it will only be effective under conditions under which it’s not necessary.

    1. Depends what you mean by “effective. Regulations can be extremely effective for critical govt functions like: enriching one’s backers and cronies, giving your voters warm fuzzy feelings, transferring credit to you for the hard work and innovation of millions of other people. All the basic functions of govt, really.

  29. My parents were Reagan Social Conservatives. One of the first movies I vividly remember seeing was “Lethal Weapon” where in the first minute you see tits. My Halloween costume in kindergarten was RoboCop, a movie where a guy gets his dick blown off. My parents thought the V-Chip was stupid. They knew movies weren’t real life, and that they, not the government, should decide what their children saw. But then again, we were Catholic, not evangelical. I had a girl in my class in elementary that had to leave the room wen we discussed dinosaurs, because her religion didn’t believe in them. T-Rexer warning as it were.

  30. What is this TV thing people keep talking about?

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