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Parents Television Council Censorship Essay

The puritans over at the Parents Television Council are at it again. They have issued a new report entitled “Basic Cable Awash in Raunch” which documents what they believe to be immoral language or behavior on basic cable. They want the government to start regulating “indecency” on basic cable, or at least force cable operators to just sell subscribers they few stations they want.

I’ve addressed the problems with such “a la carte” regulatory schemes elsewhere, so I won’t discuss that again. Rather, I want to specifically address the question of whether the government has any business regulating cable television, a subscription-based service. The PTC thinks so, of course, arguing that: “Children are watching these programs and are being exposed to content that is far more explicit and potentially far more damaging than what they are seeing on broadcast television.”

But why are they letting their children watch these programs if they find them so offensive? Oh, wait, I get it… They’re saying OTHER PEOPLE’S children might be watching these shows, and for God’s sake–and they do mean GOD’S SAKE–we can’t possible let other people’s kids watch these shows, right? We have to make these decisions for all the stupid parents out there who might not understand the ungodly nature of this programming. Parents are just stupid, stupid, stupid! They’re not doing their job! The Almighty State must do their job for them and censor basic cable!


Well, I don’t want to get off on a mean-spirited rant here, but this sort of thinking angers me like nothing else. You see, I’m a parent but I’m also an adult who enjoys most of the programs that the PTC puritans don’t want to see on cable. The PTC has a particular problem with Comedy Central, which in my opinion is probably the best thing to happen to television since the rise of CNN and 24-hour news. Compared to most of the formulaic sitcoms on network television, Comedy Central airs programs that actually make you laugh and think at the same time. Despite it’s vulgar tone, South Park is one of the most intelligent comedies ever produced for television. (By the way PTC puritans, South Park doesn’t usually come on until after 10:00 at night. What aren’t your kids in bed by that time?)

And let’s not forget that cable and satellite TV are subscription-based services. It’s not like those cable and satellite set-top boxes have legs and invade our living rooms without permission. We put them there. We pay good money to put them there. Once they’re there, it doesn’t absolve us of the right to be good parents and monitor our children’s viewing habits. If you are uncomfortable with certain channels, block them out with the remote. Or, here’s a radical thought for the puritans of PTC to consider: try watching some of those shows with your kids and explaining to them what some of these things mean.

The world is full of coarse language, mature themes, sexual perversion and much else. Like millions of other kids out there, the first vulgar language I ever heard, and the first dirty pictures I ever saw, were all on a school playground. (A Catholic school playground, I might add). When I saw and heard such stuff at a young age, I was confused. I was scared to talk to my parents. I thought I might get in trouble. How many millions of kids have had similar experiences?

Now I’m not advocating parents sit down with their toddlers and watch an endless stream of adult-oriented programming on TV, but I do believe that a gradual assimilation into the realities of this world makes sense. I want to be there with my kids to help answer tough questions when they come up. Or I might actually preempt their questions by discussing mature subjects with them before I allow them to view certain types of programming with me.

This is called parental responsibility. It’s not an easy job. Indeed, it is a very difficult job in our modern Information Age, in which kids are bombarded by countless images and sounds. But just because we might object to some of those sights and sounds, that does not make it alright for us to call the government in to censors those sights and sounds out of existence. Denying reality does not make reality go away.

Am I troubled by some of the course language my kids might hear on TV? Of course I am, the same way I am troubled by the fact that they might hear that same language (or worse) on a playground or in a locker room. At least at home I can talk to them about it. I can explain that only immature fools find the need to resort to such language when they are too stupid to find more intelligent words to explain themselves or express emotion.

What about frank sexual language and images? Do I want my kids exposed to endless buffet of that stuff? Again, of course not. But I can block the channels that might run most of that stuff or just make sure my kids aren’t turning on the TV when those shows are on. But when they do see or hear sexual talk or images, I can talk to them about it. I’m not one of these John Ashcroft ‘cover-the-naked-statue’ freaks when it comes to nudity, so this job will be much easier for me than it will for the people at the PTC. (I sometimes wonder if these people even get naked before they have sex. Our society’s silly puritanical streak when it comes to the human body still remains shocking to me.)

Well, I don’t suppose the people over at the PTC care to hear any of this. In their world, there is what they regard are clean, wholesome programming and then there’s everything else. And they want the government to regulate “everything else” on their behalf to make sure we have a nice little sanitized world, free of dirty words and violent images. You see, according to the PTC’s logic, if we can just “clean up” cable, all will be right in the world. Children will grow up to be perfect little angels and speak to each other like British aristocrats at a polo match. And no one will have sex until they get married. (Perhaps if we just show kids enough “Dick van Dyke Show” reruns we can even get married couples to sleep in separate beds again since the human body is just dirty, dirty, dirty!). And if we clean up cable, no one will ever hurt or murder another human again. People only club each other over the heads because they see violent acts on TV. You see, no one ever murdered or robbed someone else before “Kojak” and “Colombo” went on the air.

OK, enough sarcasm. You see how angry these PTC people make me. I’m sorry, I usually don’t talk this way about others, but I have no tolerance for the intolerant. If these people are so scared of what they’re kids might see on their television sets, then they need to deal with that themselves. You PTCers need to be disciplined enough to monitor your own kids and their viewing habits. Stop running to the government to solve your problems and start being good parents.

It’s a free country, so if you don’t like what you’re watching, change the damn channel.

That’s a message for the Parents Television Council, the watchdog group that has unleashed its latest barrage of hysterical attacks. Usually these are reserved for what is deemed mind-polluting material; their past foes have ranged from “The Simpsons” to “Gilmore Girls” and “Friends.” This time the target is Cartoon Network’s uber-successful, and yes, occasionally filthy nighttime programming block, “Adult Swim.”

The lineup, a mix of silly, adult-themed animated and live-action shows, will in March add an hour in prime time filled with irreverent shows aimed at grownups. “Adult Swim” is aptly titled and among the most successful bit of television in late night, regularly drawing far more viewers — in the 18-49 group so loved by advertisers — than “The Tonight Show,” David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.

The expansion this spring means “Swim” will start at 8 p.m., rather than 9. And that shift has raised the hackles of the PTC, a pro-censorship group founded in 1995 by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III.

“Parents beware: not all cartoons are created equal. And what’s particularly dangerous about Cartoon Network and ‘Adult Swim’ is that the content changes from being kid-friendly to adult-oriented not with the click of a remote, but with the tick of the clock,” said the council’s president, Tim Winter, in a sternly worded statement last week.

“Cartoon Network’s ‘Adult Swim’ has a long history of marketing explicit animation to children,” Winter argues. “The network’s announcement that it is moving this programming block to an even earlier hour, when children are more likely to be in the audience, is disturbing on a number of levels. The network claims that they’re targeting adult males by moving ‘Adult Swim’ to an earlier hour, but in the process children are being thrown under the bus.”

This is utter nonsense.

First off, “Adult Swim” programming planned for that hour includes shows that have already aired elsewhere at 8 p.m. That’s the case with Fox’s now defunct, brilliant comedy “King of the Hill” — now airing in “Adult Swim.” It’s a show the PTC hates.

Either way, the only people who should be monitoring and controlling what children watch on TV are parents — not watchdog groups and especially not big government, an entity the council loves to petition.

The Cartoon Network labels the shows under an “Adult Swim” label for a reason. So it’s ridiculous whining from the PTC, which routinely bombards the FCC with complaints about television content.

Even more galling is how the group, founded and staffed by prominent conservatives, is constantly asking the government to step in and control what people watch. That’s asking for bigger government, something that — last time I checked — tends to be higher up on the agenda for left-leaning folks.

Those who program “Adult Swim” say the reason they’re adding the earlier hour is to accommodate advertising demand. That’s understandable, given that the network is in, well, a business.

Sounds like capitalism at its best — made even better with the addition of fart jokes.

dkaplan@nydailynews.com

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