Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Return of the Virtue Police
Most days, I knock off for lunch around 1:00 Central time to watch reruns of NYPD Blue on cable. Blue is, of course, the show that brought naked butts into network prime time, and added words like "asshole" and "dickhead" to the acceptable TV lexicon. Well, somebody's out to mess with my lunch hour.

Salon reported today that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has been meeting this summer with religious groups and TV industry officials on the subject of regulating the content of cable and satellite TV and radio. Because cable and satellite are not broadcast in the same way regular TV and radio are--over a scarce number of so-called "public" airwaves--they've been exempt from government regulation of content. But not for much longer, if the wingnuts get their way.

In his Salon article, Michael Scherer observes that the TV industry has a plan to stave off such restrictions. It's embarking on a campaign to educate viewers on the V-chip. Remember the V-chip? It was mandated in every newly manufactured TV starting in 1999, and is supposed to permit set users to lock out programs with certain content ratings. Don't want Jason and Jennifer to watch anything that's TV-14 or higher? V-chip it, and voila.

I just tried to find the V-chip on the setup menu of my 2004 model TV and couldn't, and god knows where the owner's manual is. So clearly, the chip has not lived up to its 1996 promise. But even if it had, the suspects who have been pushing the FCC into restricting cable and satellite--Focus on the Family and that crowd--would still be pushing further restrictions. Because they're already very good at keeping themselves and their children from watching inappropriate programming. They want more restrictions because they want to make sure you and your children don't watch anything they wouldn't approve of. Never mind whether you approve of it or not. That means you just don't know that the F-bombs on The Sopranos are bad for you, and in that case you're surely too ignorant to be a good parent. Which is why people who know better, like James Dobson, simply must step in, for the good of everyone.

Here's what really sucks. (I can still say "sucks," right?) Of all the cultural prohibitions right-wingers have been dreaming of slapping on society since Reagan rode in from California, it seems to me that content restrictions on cable and satellite are the one they're the most likely to get. The reason is that they will have enthusiastic help from people who should know better. Remember--Bill Clinton was an extremely enthusiastic proponent of the V-chip in 1996, and Hillary took time out of her busy schedule a few weeks ago to blast violent video games. But it's not only going to be the usual DLC suspects who rush to help the Repugs in this game. Content restrictions on cable and satellite is an issue that's going to be terribly hard for most Democrats to oppose, simply because few will want to find themselves in the position of having to defend some of the explicit material mentioned in the Salon article. Particularly when when the next election rolls around. And any Democrat with the inclination to try will face the good old Democrat problem of requiring multiple paragraphs to explain how the Republicans' five-word position statement--We Must Protect the Children--is simplistic and flawed.

In the coming "debate"--which will probably not be a debate so much as it will be a parade of suburban soccer moms looking all concerned in front of Congressional committees--we'll hear a lot of talk about "common sense" restrictions on content, and who could be opposed to common sense, right? We'll hear a lot less about the absurdity of trying to make the entire universe of TV entertainment options safe for eight-year-olds.

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon explores Scherer's article and the entire issue in great detail, so go read.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?