I was going to do a thing on This Old House today but an e-mail from Tony Figueroa reminded me of a pet peeve of mine: the Parents' Television Council. Now you might be asking why I, as a Canadian, am concerned about the PTC but when you consider that most of the programming on Canadian television originate with U.S. networks it seems clear that if they react to their ox being gored it affects me almost as much as it does Americans.
Tony's blog offers an article that is in the form of an open letter to the PTC and I have no doubt that he has sent it to them as well as posting it in Child of Television and on BlogCritics.org. To summarize he takes the PTC to task for describing an episode of Crossing Jordan for being "the worst Family TV show of the week" in some time period, despite the fact that the episode was in the latest timeslot possible, carried a clear ratings disclaimer stating that it was a "TV14" show, not suitable for people under that age. He goes on to point out that there are other hazards to children that are far more pernicious than TV - you are reading this on one of them. I'm going to go a little further than Tony.
I find the PTC itself pernicious and potentially dangerous. The Council claims that they are trying to make TV more family friendly and are doing this by "fostering changes in TV programming to make the early hours of prime time family-friendly and suitable for viewers of all ages." (This is from the first of the PTC's mission statement printed in their FAQ - "What Is The PTC's Mission?") The problem is that they don't restrict themselves to just early prime time but express their opinion on just about every show on TV. That is their right of course, but they go beyond that and actively work to make all TV shows "family safe" by bombarding the FCC with complaints. It is a fact that over 90% of the complaints filled with the FCC come from the PTC. They aren't worried about the fact that they protest shows that no one else seems concerned about - they're proud that they are standard bearers for "decent" Americans against the smut peddlers of Hollywood. Even if they are a minority they think they represent the majority. And again, it's not just the shows in the first, or even the second, hour of prime time that they target - despite the claim in their FAQ - it's everything. In fact, in their self promotional section Accomplishments the Council drops the mask of being concerned with just the early prime time hours "The PTC is now recognized nationally as the leader in the fight against indecent television content. Newspapers from coast to coast, magazines, talk radio, television news even the entertainment industry itself acknowledge the power and influence of the PTC." No mention there about the early prime time hours.
Let's look at the days of the week of March 18-24 as seen by the PTC. They rate shows on Sex, Violence, and Language using a Red light, Yellow light, and Green light system for each. Ratings are combined to form an overall rating. Friday you could watch America's Most Talented Kids on Pax, but everything else has a "Yellow" rating, except That '70s Show which is rated Red. Saturday you should just unplug the TV because everything is Red except the shows they haven't rated. Unrated shows included The Ten Commandments but be careful - there's a married woman who tries to seduce a man. Sunday, it's back to Pax again for America's Most Talented Kids and Sue Thomas FB Eye, as well as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC, but everything else is Yellow or Red. Monday night is a mother load, with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: How'd They Do That, Listen Up, Everybody Loves Raymond, Nanny 911 and 7th Heaven but everything on NBC is Red. You can watch Fox's American Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday, along with Sue Thomas FB Eye, and Doc on Pax on the latter night. Finally Thursday had an obviously edited version of America's Funniest Home Videos (edited because normally the show gets a Yellow) on Pax. Did you notice anything from that list. It's mostly pablum and it makes clear that the PTC is more than a little out of touch with America's taste. Most of the shows that the PTC proudly recommends are on a marginal network - Pax - and in some cases (Doc, America's Most Talented Kids) are no longer in production. Here's the bigger question, where are the shows that are artistically challenging (admittedly a very short list in American TV but let's just stick with the concept) because they sure aren't in the list of shows that the PTC likes.
I'm not totally unsympathetic with the aims of the PTC. I'm not a parent, but there are shows on in the first hour of prime time that I would not want a child of mine to see. However the PTC reminds me of Mrs Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons (PTC Yellow: - excerpt from their review: "The show ridicules entrepreneurs, religion, educators, and law enforcement officials, and has occasionally incorporated foul language into its dialogue.") shouting "Won't somebody think of the children!" at every opportunity. I object to their methods, and more I object to their unstated desire to take responsibility from parents and put it on government. The people who would scream bloody murder if the schools were to try to teach their kids about sex, saying that it is the job of parents to do that not the government, want take the responsibility for deciding what kids should watch from individual parents and give it to the government. The computer writer and broadcaster Leo Laporte has stated that the way to protect children from Internet predators and the other "bad stuff" that's out there, don't have a computer with the Internet in their rooms, have it in a common area where you can keep an eye on them and stop them if they go someplace they shouldn't. Surely it follows that if you want to protect you kids from the "bad stuff" on TV, you don't put TVs in their rooms, but you sit and watch with them. Isn't that part of a parent's job anymore, cause it sure was when I was a kid.