Friday, March 07, 2008

Who Does The PTC Hate THIS Week – March 7, 2008

I had planned on doing a review of the new FOX series New Amsterdam, but I managed to miss part of it while trying to set up a wifi network (and failing miserably) so that will have to wait until I see a later episode. Still it begs the question of how all these immortal people (Duncan McLeod, Angel, Nick Knight, this John Amsterdam guy) can remember the complete details of 400 years of life and I can't remember where I left my verdammt watch! Anyway, let's get on to that scary place, the home page of the Parents Television Council and find out who they have a hate on for this week.

Well they don't hate the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The PTC has presented its "Seal of Approval" to the Trinity Broadcasting Network for "upholding the positive values that families hold dear. Our culture seems to grow ever more resistant to what is best for the family and this includes many broadcast and cable networks. The TBN networks stand out for their excellent programming that the entire family can watch and enjoy together." According to the presentation made by PTC president Tim Winter, "TBN offers programming that does not put broadcasters in jeopardy of receiving stiff fines from the FCC, and the PTC's approval is a beacon for viewers – while tuned in to TBN, they can be assured they'll be watching programs that are devoid of inappropriate and offensive messages." And that's where I'm going to stop quoting from this puff piece because frankly I find it to be one of the most absurd things that I have seen from the PTC, and that includes the demand that 1 vs. 100 get a D descriptor because Bob Saget cracked one condom joke (and because the Dahm Triplets were on the show and they appeared nude in Playboy). I mean really, let's look at who they're giving the award to. The Trinity Broadcasting Network is a Christian broadcasting network – in fact Wikipedia describes it as "the largest Christian television network in the world." Dare I say that it would be an immense surprise to me if it didn't offer "programs that are devoid of inappropriate and offensive messages." Well not potentially offensive unless you're a Jew, a Moslem, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and probably some Catholics. It's no surprise that TBN has been rewarded by the PTC with this honour; what I find absolutely shocking is that it has taken them this long to determine that it was safe to give it to them.

Now as far as who the PTC hates, that would be CBS. The big thing of course is that CBS is airing Dexter, but there's also an announcement that CBS will be airing Mixed Martial Arts (which the PTC informs us is known as "cage fighting") next year without toning down the violence. Like Dexter, MMA is also on the Showtime cable network. Tim Winter finds the decision to air MMA on CBS to be curious: "It appears that CBS is making decisions based not on audience demand or what is best for America's families, but on what is best for its sister network Showtime's coffers."

But of course it is Dexter that is the source of the PTC's ire. Noting a ratings increase in the audience for the show of 50,000 in the under 12 demographic, the PTC trots out statements by two experts on the influence of media violence on children. Professor L. Rowell Huesmann "Professor of Communication Studies & Psychology and Director, Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan" is quoted as saying that, "I think the program Dexter contains all the elements of violence that would make it particularly detrimental for children to watch. The violence is perpetrated by someone who is portrayed as a hero doing good for society. The violence is graphic, explicit, and brutal. The hero shows no remorse or concern about his violence. The hero is rewarded for his violent behavior. All of these factors are likely to maximize the influence it would have in stimulating violent behavior in the children and adolescents who watch the program regularly. Parents should not allow children or adolescents to watch it. CBS should not present it at a time when children are likely to see it, and CBS should not promote it for children and adolescents." Now, setting aside my previously stated position that Dexter is the protagonist of the show (and of the novels that preceded it) I am willing to grant everything that the professor is saying, but that's because it proves my point rather than the PTC's. "CBS should not present it at a time when children are likely to see it." They're not; they're presenting the episode in the third hour of primetime when it is assumed that children won't be watching. "CBS should not promote it for children and adolescents." I would like to see evidence that indicates that CBS is promoting this show to children and adolescents. "Parents should not allow children or adolescents to watch it." And that is the key; parents should not allow children or adolescents to watch it. It is the responsibility of parents and not government or some socially conservative third party organization to find something other than this show for their children to watch. The tools are in place for them to do so.

The other "children's media expert" – and for reasons you will see I am using this term loosely – is Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, author of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, who runs the "Killology Research Group." He says, "The kids who gave us Jonesboro in the middle school and Columbine in the high school are now giving us Virginia Tech in the college. These killers shared one common trait: an obsession with media violence…And now we have come to a new low, with a serial killer as the 'hero' on the public airwaves. It is time to take back the airwaves, and to throw out the wretched people and corporations who have turned our airwaves into a moral sewer." Nowhere however, except for writing his book, which controversially called "first person shooter" video games "murder simulators" does Grossman claim to be an expert on child psychological behaviour and his statements about the influence of media violence are contrary to Professor Huesmann's, who wrote, "Nowhere have we ever indicated that media violence is the only or even a major cause of violence among youth. All indications from the meta-analyses mentioned above are that television can account for 10% of youth violence. This means that 90% is caused by other factors."

Finally Tim Winter resorts to quoting ratings as proof of...something. Noting that the ratings for Dexter fell 23% from episode one to episode two (which it should be stated aired opposite the Academy Awards) Winter writes, "Despite national outrage over CBS' decision to air Dexter, the network has yet to pull the series, even though it clearly isn't drawing much of an audience. In the past, CBS has been swift to cancel family-friendly shows like the popular Joan of Arcadia, which had a 30% higher rating and audience share than Dexter has to date. When Joan was pulled from the schedule, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves was even quoted as saying, 'I think talking to ghosts [The Ghost Whisperer – which took Joan's place on the CBS schedule] may skew younger than talking to God.' How young do serial killers skew, Mr. Moonves?" What Winter refuses to remember though is that the "popularity" of Joan Of Arcadia declined significantly during the show's second season with the series finally having a lower rating than Dexter.

Dexter is also the subject of this week's TV Trends. Apparently those evil bastards at CBS are actively marketing this show to kids! How? Well first they've ordered a Dexter "bobble head doll" (that's how the PTC wrote it) and action figures featuring the character Dexter. And of course we know that the only people who buy bobblehead dolls and action figures are little children: "One can just imagine CBS executives enthralled at the prospect of children clamoring for their very own Dexter action figures." But it gets worse; Marc Ecko Games is planning to develop a video game based on "Dexter's morally complex world." According to Ecko's press release the company will "work closely with Showtime to be certain that the Dexter video game is as faithful to the television program as possible," which we all know is like waving a red flag at a bull where the PTC is concerned. The TV Trends writer states, "If the game actually is faithful to the TV program Dexter, it will be rated AO (for Adults Only), inasmuch as the original rating of the Showtime television program was TV-MA DLSV. However, given the video game industry's track record of misrating their games (both Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Manhunt 2 contained hidden explicit sexual content, but were initially rated M instead of Adults-Only), whether the Dexter game will be rated accurately remains to be seen."

But amazingly the PTC takes things that extra yard by actually reviving part of the charges made by Frederic Wertham into the argument in a backhanded sort of way: "Popular culture does have an influence – especially on children. The youngsters who read graphically violent horror comics like The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear in the 1950s grew up to make TV shows and movies like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt. The children who grew up watching the Friday the 13th movie series in the 1980s are now making "torture porn" films like Saw, Hostel and Captivity, replete with sadism, mutilation and misogyny. Is it merely a coincidence that as popular culture has glorified ever-more explicit violence to our children – on TV, in movies, in music and in video games – the epidemic of violence in society (particularly in youth-centered areas like schools and colleges) has increased?" Well to a degree it is just a coincidence, in much the same way that the "crime" and "horror" comics that Frederic Wertham – a man whose ideas I disagree with but whose sincerity I do not argue with, unlike the PTC – claimed "caused" juvenile delinquency. Contributory perhaps, but hardly the sole influence or even the principal influence if we are to believe Professor Huesmann. And it is worth noting that the "children" of the 1980s who are making the films the PTC mentioned today are respectively a Malaysian-born Australian who was born in 1977 (James Wan – Saw), a Harvard educated son of a psychiatrist (Eli Roth – Hostel), and a 63 year-old Frenchman (Roland Joffé – Captivity). The PTC's rhetoric sounds good but with a little investigation one hopefully comes to realise it is just that, rhetoric.

The original Law & Order is included as this week's Misrated show. The episode was rated TV-14 DL and the PTC insists that it should have a "V" descriptor for "several graphic depictions of a murder victim and detailed discussions of her horrifying death." To which my answer is, as always that depictions of the aftermath of a violent act are not the same as the depiction of the actual act, particularly at the TV-14 level where the "V" descriptor refers to "intense violence." As for the discussion of the circumstances of "her horrifying death," the example that the PTC cites is the coroner's description of the victim's rape: "There is evidence of both anal and vaginal penetration." This is the sort of thing which would seem to be covered under the Dialogue descriptor (which the episode has) although in all honesty the actual line mentioned seems far too mild for that descriptor at the TV-14 level.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent was labelled the Broadcast Worst show of the week (yet again there is no Cable Worst of the week). The episode in question revolves around the murder of a woman who is working as part of a sexual blackmail ring. Here's what the PTC has to say about the episode: "If there is a parent who wishes that they could take their family to an R-rated movie on a school night but cannot afford today's steep theater prices, that parent would find that on February 27th NBC did them a service – by bringing adult content to their children for free. That evening's episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent featured a disturbing sex-driven murder plot that included depictions of fetishes and hardcore sex. The episode scored a trifecta of sorts, as it assaulted the 9:00 p.m. ET hour (only 8 o'clock in the Central and Mountain time zones) with offensive sex, violence, and language." Pointedly, the PTC doesn`t mention what the rating for this series was. They seldom do when dealing with their "worst of the week." What they do present is the details of selected scenes, although their descriptions are, as always, slanted in such a way as to bring out the most prurient details. For example, they mention a sex tape which is used to blackmail the man who is the initial suspect in the crime: "The tape is graphic and features rear-entry sex, the latest lewd act NBC is increasingly depicting in many of its programs. While watching the clip Detective Logan crudely says: 'He'll flip her over any second. If he's cheating on his wife he's not going missionary the whole way.'" This of course does a very nice job of creating a disturbing image in the mind of the reader, but pointedly the PTC does not include that scene in the clip that is included with this complaint. And given that they've shown Holly Hunter naked when they condemned Amazing Grace, and a sex scene from Nip/Tuck when attacking that show's supposed "pedophile" story, I doubt that it is because they are being sensitive to the people who might click on the link. Maybe it's because the reality of the thing wouldn't match up with the image of it that they have put in our minds.

In their summation, here is what the PTC says about the producers of Law & Order and NBC: "The producers of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the executives at NBC are leaders in the charge that parents should be solely responsible for what their families watch. The network exhibits no sense of responsibility for the content it produces, which continually walks the line of indecency stopping just short of federal fines. This episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent is a perfect example of NBC's emphasis on sex, making it the clear choice for Worst of the Week." It strikes me as being obvious that parents, who one would hope know their children and what they are mature enough to see, know better what is acceptable for their families than some amorphous organization that is accountable to no one (the PTC) or some government censor that seems to set the rules as they go along, like the FCC. As I've mentioned before the PTC's rhetoric sounds good, but when it is examined in the light of day, it is just that: rhetoric.

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