You are what you watch

Since I have nothing SNL related to talk about this week, let’s dive into a bag of essays I’ve long since forgotten about writing. The following essay was originally written as a College Paper from November 2011. Some feelings have changed since then, but certain points still stand…

 

 

As long as there has been televised entertainment, there have always been specific forms of entertainment that may not be suitable for younger viewers. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the ever increasing amount of Violent imagery being presented on TV during parts of the day when said younger viewers may be alert enough to watch them. Too often is the axiom “Think of the Children” thrown around when it comes to protecting their innocence from violent images on television, perhaps it bears more thought than one can imagine.

For years, there have been many viewpoints made by special interest groups arguing the cases for more controls by the television networks to reduce the amount of violence being presented on TV, as well as equal views by the networks and other special interests that support TV violence for whatever reasons they have. On the one hand, the Parents Television council, a watchdog group for exposing the dangers of TV violence [among other obscenities], spent the better part of eight years in researching how much violence an audience is exposed to watching TV. Reporting that TV violence has seen an increase in the hundreds—sometimes thousands—of percent from 1998-2006 on some networks, with the bulk of that increase happening during the 8PM Hour when most children are still awake to watch. They eventually conclude their study by stating that existing stop-gap measures to curb TV violence (I.e. The V-Chip & the Television ratings system imposed by the FCC) are simply not enough:

 

“Advertisers have a role to play in curbing TV violence. Using their unique position of influence, they can encourage broadcasters to reduce the frequency and explicitness of TV violence. Broadcast affiliates, too, can play a role by preempting excessively violent programs and refusing to air violent programs in syndication during times of day when children are watching TV. Many lawmakers have proposed legislation to curb TV violence, but all attempts to legislatively address this problem have failed on First Amendment grounds.  Perhaps it is time for Congress to revisit this issue and consider including violence in the category of “indecent” content that can be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission”

Caroline Schulenberg–

 

A vaild suggestion, however this is only half of the argument, the other half lies in what little opposition to the issue there is.

 

Hard as it is to find anything positive to counteract the strong viewpoints against TV violence, the points do exist. Believe it or not, there are some who argue that instead of television inciting violent behavior among those who watch violent TV, it can be argued that the violent images can be used as a learning tool:

“Through watching violence on television programs and news broadcasts, children can learn about the world. They can gain an understanding of problems so that they can better prepare for finding solutions. But watching violence on television can also teach them about the consequences of violent acts. Jib Fowles, author of a book touting the benefits of TV violence, believes most television shows teach children that good will prevail over evil and that crime doesn’t pay. If children know about prison, vengeance, fines and all the other negative after-effects of violent acts, Fowles argues that they are less likely to commit violent acts in real life”

Ben Orlando–

 

There have also been arguments that the control of violence on television violates a broadcaster’s first amendment rights, but even that assumption is considered open-ended by some. One particular report states that because of the FCC’s failure to provide a clear definition of the first amendment when it comes to televised programming; TV itself is becoming less safeguarded in terms of questionable material, This is due in part to a decline of censorship in recent years prompting the substantial rises in violence to begin with. This begs to ask the question, what can be done to prevent children from being exposed to the ever increasing amount of violence on TV that has not been attempted already? Through the Telecommunications act of 1996, prior efforts included the pre-installed V-Chip on most current TV sets to electronically block out the bad images. The V-Chip unfortunately did not win over the public due to overall lack of knowledge on how the device worked. In 1997, the same act instituted a ratings system for television programming that resembled that of the MPAA’s ratings judgment system. While the ratings system still exists on TV today, it has done little to nothing to deter young viewers from watching violent programs. With little being planned or experimented with to help combat the problem, what else can be done to safeguard the youthful audience from viewing violent imagery?

One possibility is to help revive the enforcement of the so-called “Family Viewing Hour” that was originally instituted in the 1975, but lasted until 1977 due to a number of complaints about the rule—enacted by the FCC—being a violation of First Amendment rights. One of the more notable complains on the issue was that of Norman Lear, whose “All in the Family” was a ratings hit at 8PM Saturday Nights on CBS. Due to the Family rule, Lear was forced to move his show to 9PM Monday Nights, which was a lightly viewed time slot back then. A Move that Lear protested thusly…

Eventually, the rule was deemed unconstitutional, but it didn’t stop others from attempting to revive it in one form or another. In light of there being an increase in questionable material, as well as an increase in the number of televised outlets where the material is being showcased, there have been some recent efforts in attempting to re-instate the rule over the past few years, but to little avail. So how exactly can such a controversial rule be re-instated properly without any major ramifications, legal or otherwise?

 

One way for the Family Hour to be workable is if the hour itself was not considered mandatory by the government, rather just a recommended guideline. The option to have the networks broadcast lighter programming should be just that; optional without fear of getting in trouble with the higher-ups in Congress or the FCC. Have the networks try to figure out the parts of their schedule where family programming might benefit the most, and move the edgier programming to a later time period where perhaps an underperforming show may be justifiably removed. It may result in a number of temporary holes in their respective schedules, but at least with the networks doing so in their own way on their own volition, perhaps they could come across the right combination of programming that will work the best for the audiences they seek.

 

Another possibility in enforcing the Family Hour is by expanding the hours of Prime time significantly during the week. As it stands right now, most of the major networks (Except for FOX & The CW) air their prime time programming from 8PM to 11PM EST every weeknight, with the addition of the 7PM hour on Sunday. In the expansion process, all of the networks will have the same 4 hour block of Prime time available to their schedules; 7PM to 11PM EST Monday-Sunday. With the addition of the 7PM Hour on the remaining 6 days of the week, it will create numerous openings for programming that fits that particular time slot [Preferably, that of the programming aimed at younger demographics.], while all existing programming can be virtually left alone. At the same time, an unrelated–but positive–side effect would be the addition of more jobs in show business and behind the scenes due to the immediate increase in the number of new programs being put into production.

 

A Third scenario in making the “Family Hour” work is a little tricky, but can otherwise work if full cooperation was made between network and producer. A worse-case scenario would be if the producers and network executives were able to be more hands-on when collaborating on the content they present rather than facing constant scrutiny from the censors. If the network wants a program of a certain nature to air at a specific time, but the show runners are opposed, perhaps the option of an impartial third party mediator should be invoked in case the show runner feels that their freedom of speech is being violated in altering their show to fit the appropriate time slot. If no resolution can be made over a period of time, the network could opt to cancel the show Only on the condition that the show runners, cast and crew are compensated just enough so that no further legal action is required. It may be a costly measure for the networks in the long run, but there’s always the possibility of an even bigger sweeping change on the horizon as a result of such an experiment taking place.

 

Of course, when it comes to safeguarding what children watch on a regular basis, especially when being viewed together as a family, it is wishful thinking that any of the above proposals can be taken seriously; even with some fine tuning. There is no one individual solution that is considered the end all be all that fixes everything, though given the right scenario and temperament, a given solution can be a step in the right direction. Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to decide what it is that their family can or cannot watch, whether together or individually. On the other hand, there’s always turning the TV off and doing something else productive with the family.

 

Additional Citations courtesy of:

James A. Brown
Tiffany Budd
Joanne Cantor

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