Friday, April 22, 2005

The PTC's 'Sham' Scam

The Parents Television Council is back in the pulpit, preaching the same tired sermon about protecting children from sex, violence and foul language on the boob tube (just don't say "boob" tube on TV or the PTC will sic the FCC on you). This cadre of moralistic prigs, headed by shrill right-winger L. Brent Bozell III, has released a new "study" called "The Ratings Sham," which claims that the v-chip and the TV ratings system are failures (numb your brain: click here to read a pdf of the whole study).

The study found that "most television programs showing foul language, violence, and inappropriate sexual dialogue or situations do not use the appropriate content descriptors that would warn parents about the presence of offensive content." In typical PTC fashion, this loaded sentence begs more questions than it answers. What constitutes "foul" language? What is the difference between "inappropriate" and "appropriate" sexual dialogue? And who defines what is "offensive content"?

As you might expect, the PTC is the sole arbiter of fact in its own study, so the results are made to order. They break "foul language" into two categories: "one for milder expletives, such as 'ass,' 'bitch,' 'bastard,' etc., the other for obscenities and bleeped language." That's right, bleeped language counts the same as obscenities. What the *bleep* is that about?

As for "inappropriate sexual dialogue," apparently that means anything that brings a blush to Brent Bozell's tender cheek. One example cited in the full report is "inappropriate" simply because it mentions two boys kissing (a kiss that it is obvious never happened, by the way). It always pays to remember what base the PTC is pandering to.

Having outlined their extremely narrow criteria, the study finds that, lo and behold, TV is a hotbed of sin, vileness and raunchy man-on-man action. "If parents cannot understand the arbitrary way in which the networks rate their shows and cannot trust the V-chip to block shows because of the lack of content descriptors," says Bozell, "they are powerless to decipher what is suitable for their children." If only there was some sort of device that parents could use to protect their children. Alas!

Anyone who has followed the slithering path of the PTC will be unsurprised by one conclusion they draw: "The FCC must continue to crack down on broadcasters who violate common-sense decency laws." Nothing too outrageous there, particularly since the FCC has a history of telling the PTC where to stick it. Unfortunately, the FCC's new chairman was hand-picked by the PTC particularly because he favors just such a crack-down.

The most outrageous aspect of all of this is that the PTC goes to great lengths to claim that they're non-partisan when even the most cursory examination reveals that they're a pro-censorship, far-right group deeply informed by, and indebted to, the conservative Christian movement in this country. They manipulate people into buying their snake oil with their appeal to people worried about the damaged psyches of innocent children. They work very hard at trying to appear normal and mainstream, which is probably the best indication that they're not.

Of course, I'm not an advocate of exploiting children, but I see a great danger in the PTC's ultimate goal, which is to make everything on television suitable for kids (and not just any kids; good, Christian kids). Bozell and the PTC like to believe that they're strong advocates of good parenting, but never do they suggest the easiest solution to this problem: watch TV with your kids; take an active role in their viewing rather than use the TV as a babysitter. Parents are only "powerless" so long as they bury their heads in the sand or let groups like the PTC do their parenting for them.
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