Sunday, December 17, 2006

Short Takes - December 17, 2006

An all censorship edition of Short Takes this time around I’m afraid (because there were a couple of other bits of news that need to be cur for space). The PTC has released a major report on the depiction of Religion on TV. Before that we have a reaction to some of what FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is doing, with a couple of interesting comments on one of the PTC’s fellow travelers in the battle against what they perceive as indecency.

Right again: I reference the Creative Voices In Media blog here a lot. Mostly because I agree with a lot of what they have to say, particularly about the FCC and the efforts of certain groups to make the Commission all about censoring TV and making everything suitable for kids to watch. Perhaps I should say what these organizations regard as suitable for kids to watch. Most recently the blog reprinted part of a column from Ad Age’s “Media Guy” Simon Dumenco in which he called on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to resign. The Dumenco article, titled “FCC Chairman Martin? It’s Time For You To Resign” is quite interesting. Dumenco notes “Martin has pumped up his case for a morals crisis in American broadcasting by allowing the use of fraudulent complaints to shape the FCC's great crusade. We're talking about just another form of un-American ballot-box stuffing: quasi-automated complaint e-mails about ‘indecency’ that are invariably generated by a handful of religious organizations that whip their members into click-and-send frenzies, usually with few of the members ever having witnessed any (supposed) broadcast offense.” As an example he cites a report in Broadcast & Cable that noted an increase in indecency complaints from 1,798 in January 2006 to 138,527 in February, fueled in large part (approximately 134,000 complaints) by an organized campaign by the America Family Association “a powerful religious group.” This is dangerous: “Liberals and conservatives alike should be panicking about this, because the FCC absolutely shouldn't be beholden to any one minority group, let alone a religious lobby that's manufacturing the appearance of mass outrage. The FCC should be striving to reflect the views of the majority of Americans; the commissioners should not be held hostage by one hyperactive, megaphone-wielding group looking to impose its point of view on the rest of us.” Dumenco compares Martin to Donald Rumsfeld as having “stubbornly and willfully relied on faulty intelligence that does not reflect reality outside of a certain hermetically sealed bubble.” Dumenco’s major point on the FCC’s recent push on indecency (he also spends time attacking Martin on the issue of media mergers and acquisitions) is worth noting:

Martin and his ultra-conservative religious allies would have us believe that they've found the moral equivalent of WMDs on our airwaves: an epidemic of foulness that necessitates the FCC's invasion of American living rooms to protect us from broadcast evildoers.

But the average American simply does not want the government deciding what adults can and cannot watch -- and certainly doesn't want censorious rules to extend to pay-cable networks (such as HBO), as Martin hopes to do. All TV can't, and shouldn't, be reduced to the level of
Blue's Clues (or The 700 Club, for that matter).

If the vast majority of Americans are not freaking out about naughty broadcasting -- and they're absolutely not -- then the FCC is overstepping its mandate and creating a political and regulatory crisis where one does not exist.

Who does the PTC hate this week: And speaking of a “one hyperactive, megaphone-wielding group looking to impose its point of view on the rest of us,” our “friends” at the PTC have finally stirred themselves out of their election induced torpor and come up with several new things to hate. The PTC now has it hate on for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show which aired on CBS for the sins of presenting “Degrading imagery, themes of bondage, nods to voyeurism and fantasies of teenage girls.” They back this up by pointing out a model in a dog collar, a model who “stomps down the runway wearing a large key around her neck. On her underpants, a padlock has been embroidered in sequins.” But it’s the “teen imagery” that bothers them most. They say about the sequence promoting the Victoria’s Secret “Pink” line, “the segment that showcases it looks as though it is intended for girls who have yet to get their drivers licenses. On the runway, models are dressed as not-so-subtle tributes to the kinds of dates a teenager would go on. One model is dressed as a box of popcorn and carries a bottle of soda while another model has what looks like a picnic blanket tied to her lingerie. It also pays homage to a teenager’s hobbies and ambitions. One model is dressed as a cheerleader while another carries a glittery electric guitar. To top off the segment, a model dressed in graduation regalia struts down the runway to illustrate the rite de passage of every high-schooler.” Or it could be the right of passage (I hate people who pretentiously use faux French) of every college woman, whose interests – including cheerleading, music, and dates at the movies (and later, perhaps, removing her Victoria’s Secret “Pink” underwear for the guy she was dating) – are remarkably similar to high school girls.

What else? The PTC hates the fact that the networks have the absolute gall and temerity to use their legal right of appeal to go before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In not one but two postings on their main page the PTC attacks the networks: “The networks are in court right now, suing for the right to use the publicly-owned broadcast airwaves to air indecent content and claiming their right to use the f-word and s-word on television regardless of context or time of day.” And then there’s this report of the PTC filing an amicus brief with the Second Circuit: “Unwilling to abide by the law and accept additional guidance from the FCC about what would be found indecent, the major networks have taken those rulings to federal court and now hope to undermine the very existence of broadcast decency law.” Apparently only the PTC and it their allies in this crusade for “decency” – Reverend James Dobson’s overtly religious Focus On Family, Concerned Women For America (“US coalition of conservative women which promotes Biblical values and family traditions.”), and Citizens for Community Values (“We strive to be a leader in the restoration of those Judeo-Christian moral values upon which this country was founded…”) are allowed to appeal a previously made decision.

But the big thing from PTC-land was the release of their report on “Entertainment Television & Religion 2005-2006” called Faith In A Box . Brent Bozell announced the report on Fox News, saying “The results of this study clearly show that the entertainment industry is not reflecting the strong religious beliefs of Americans in its television programming. The industry is in fact hostile to people of faith – no matter if the person is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim,” The report finds that Fox had the most anti-religious depictions – one out of every two – while CBS had the highest percentage of pro-religious depictions at 47%. It’s mainly the Christian religion although there are mentions of positive and negative depictions Judaism, Islam and even Hinduism. Of course the definition of pro and anti religious is somewhat suspect in my mind – Lisa Rinna on Dancing With The Stars saying “Some higher power came in and started dancing through me” is classed as positive; on The War At Home Larry telling the person on the other end of a wrong number “No thank you, I don’t want to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.” is classed as negative.

What is really interesting to me is that the PTC is even commissioning such a report. The obvious connection is that somehow respect for, and indeed support of, religion should be regarded with equal weight as broadcast decency. If the PTC’s central objective is “to promote and restore responsibility and decency to the entertainment” then positive depictions of religion over negative depictions would seem to be irrelevant. But of course, positive depictions of religion aren’t irrelevant to the organizations that the PTC is allied with they are integral.

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