03 June 2008

The PTC vs. Reality

As I mentioned back on March 27 and May 5, I would start writing more about the Parents Television Council, an organization that has been frequently lobbying to push for "decent" entertainment. I was inspired to do so by Brent McKee, author of a column "Who Does the PTC Hate This Week?" on his blog I Am a Child of Television. I can relate to McKee's skeptical views over the PTC in the organization's mission to make pretty much "a homogenization of television so that everything is suitable for...children" in his words. Well, for starters, here's a list of campaigns, scare tactics, smear campaigns, free speech, and whatnot in which the PTC has had a large stake and received much controversy and criticism:

- If you're a fan of WWE Wrestling, at least since the dawn of the third millennium, then you probably remember the PTC's smear campaign against the WWE (back then known as World Wrestling Federation, WWF for short before a similarly-acronymed group World Wildlife Fund sued). PTC blamed WWF/E's flagship show SmackDown on the deaths of four children. Consequently, WWE sued PTC over claims that: (1) PTC's use of Smackdown clips on its website constituted copyright infringement and PTC's anti-Smackdown campaign constituted utter misinformation and defamation. Thus, in July 2002, PTC and then-president L. Brent Bozell III agreed to pay $3.5 million to WWE in an out-of-court settlement. Since 1995, PTC's mission had always been to "promote and restore responsibility and decency to the entertainment industry", but to be honest I don't see what's so decent about lying and guilt-by-association.

- In
December 2004, Mediaweek magazine reported that the overwhelming majority of FCC complaints filed in 2003 were from the PTC. Ditto from January to October 2004 (excluding the controversial Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show with Janet Jackson's chest spot, for which PTC has claimed responsibility for only around 65,000 complaints; there were nearly 540,000 complaints from the general American TV-viewing public - coincidentially resulting in a $550,000 fine for CBS-TV) And now let's take into consideration that PTC has been the primarily complaint-filer to the FCC, and let's see the subsequent home fronts that PTC has conquered in Television War I:

--March 2006: A record $3.63 million fine for CBS over a December 31, 2004 rerun of the crime/mystery drama Without a Trace episode "Our Sons and Daughters" due to a scene depicting teenagers engaged in a sexual orgy. CBS network execs defended the scene as within the context of "an important and socially relevant storyline warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children." But the BIGGEST catch here was: The episode originally aired November 2003; PTC complained about it but CBS paid the FCC about $3 million to dismiss the complaints. That broadcast was shown at 10:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific) but 9PM in the Central/Mountain zones. Ditto for the December 2004 rerun that got CBS busted. For more about this absurdity I shall refer you to the aforementioned Child of Television blog.

--Just three months later, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which would kick up FCC fines for allegedly indecent programming from just $27,500 to $325,000 for any smutty shows aired starting summer 2006.

--January 2008: ABC-TV is fined $1.43 million over a February 2003 episode of its former crime drama NYPD Blue, a show not unfamiliar with controversy. The episode in question, "Nude Awakening", featured a scene with the exposed buttocks of character Connie McDowell (played by actress Charlotte Ross). As I write this blog, the network is appealing its fine. I've never actually taken the time to sit down and watch a whole episode of Blue, and I am afraid that I have to sort of justify the FCC's fine in this case unless a fan of the series can have a good cup of coffee with me and justify why a shot of a woman's butt uncensored. However, I do take CBS' word about the "social responsibility" over its teen orgy scene - daytime talk shows like the ones hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Maury Povich have tackled similar "edgy" topics, and the FCC has ruled that the Oprah episode exploring the topic isn't indecent. And as I speak, ABC-TV is appealing the fine. Because I don't know much about NYPD Blue, I'll just stop right here and wait for someone to convince me more about how Blue's use of naked butt cracks and the "B.S." expletive are supposed to reflect the life of an ordinary NYPD officer. But similar to the Without a Trace case, this episode was shown at the dreaded "10/9 central" timeslot in which a network's "Middle American" stations would be more guilty of carrying "indecent, 10PM-style" material. Why can't americans just watch shows that aren't sports at the same local time every time zone so that silly junk like this doesn't have to happen???

--Recent, still-pending FCC complaints: Las Vegas (NBC, 11/30/2007 over dicussions about women's nipples; 2/15/2008 over partial female nudity - coincidentially in the series finale); Good Morning America (ABC, 1/15/2008, live uncensored "f_cking" by guest interviewee Diane Keaton, in Central/Eastern TZ) Today (NBC, , live uncensored use of "c_nt" by guest interviewee Jane Fonda, ditto C/E TZ)

- It can also be predicted that PTC will hop on the tanks and fire its complaint ammo over the upcoming CBS drama Swingtown, a series about 1970s Middle America surrounded by free love and drug use. Melissa Henson,
PTC Communications/Public Education Director, appeared on Christian Broadcasting Network today to discuss the show and how it's going to corrupt the oh-so-precious morality of our nation. Now, I do understand how Henson and the CBN hosts are concerned about the tawdry content of the show, which I will be recording Thursday night and watching the weekend afterwards (due to my SAT Subject Tests on Saturday the 7th). But nowhere in Henson's interview was the show's Thursday "Third Hour" (technically 10PM Eastern/Pacific; 9PM Central/Mountain/wherever) timeslot. Nor was it affirmed that the creators intended to show how society was really like in the 1970s...because the real world has a "liberal bias" right? Henson also persuaded CBN viewers to boycott the show and request their local affiliates to pre-empt the premiere broadcast. A similar dispute occured over CBS airing the Showtime premium cable show Dexter earlier this year due to the show allegedly glorifying central serial killer character Dexter Morgan. As this is dealing with a show that's seen nowhere beyond illegal bootlegging as of the day I'm writing this, I have little to say except for the "truthiness" factor, and this is yet another time where PTC is demanding a more "Little House on the Prarie"-type idiot box.

-And after all this, what does PTC really call itself? I'm serious...Nonpartisan

Now my loyally TV-viewing friends, this all also comes upon what could be perhaps the final nail in the coffin over Television War I: The future Supreme Court case FCC v. Fox regarding the use of "f_ck" by Cher in the 2002 Billboard Music Awards and "cowsh_t" and "f_cking" by Nicole Richie in the 2003 BMA's - both broadcast live in the Eastern Half of the Nation during primetime on Fox. Although the FCC has affirmed that both programs were indecent, it has yet to pursue a fine for the network. It's rather sad how all this hullaballoo is going on with just one minority activist group pretending to serve the "general American TV-viewing public", whose TV tastes are far more diverse than the tastes of whoever's heading the PTC...determined to protect children in any way, shape, or form (even if it'd sound silly). My question is: Why would young children be allowed to watch the Billboard Music Awards in the first place? I, having been into popular music at least since the first year of this millennium, know how many sexual and vulgar themes are often present in most Billboard-charting music - especially with most rap, dance-pop, and some hard rock music. I mean, have you noticed how so many chart-topping albums have a "Parental Advisory Explicit Content" label these days? Thus, I personally wouldn't find it unusual for bad words to pop up (as happened back in 02/03). But just face it. Profane words that would break your precious heart...ahh you know what I'm talkin about...are part of the English language. If PTC is so concerned about covering kids' ears from profanity, where were they when ABC showed Saving Private Ryan in primetime back in November 2004? Why don't I know about PTC/any similar group protesting high schools that assign The Catcher in the Rye as required reading in English classes? I read that book back in 10th grade, and I'd say that'd be a PTC member's worst nightmare - the end of childhood innocence, and those evil, forever-cursing-you-to-the-underworld English words known as Profanity!

Still, just because smutty TV exists doesn't mean the end of the world yet. If you can't stand the gory, violent CSI, sexually-charged Two and a Half Men, or any of the other "primetime junk", you can change the channel to PBS. Or year-round, the networks have a UPS truck full of family-friendly reality/game shows like Extreme Makeover Home Edition. All these shows are regularly on the Nielsen Top 20, as are the aforementioned types of crime dramas/silly sitcoms. Then, you have PBS, "independent" TV stations, cable TV (I mean the clean channels like Food Network or Nickelodeon I guess), or just turn it off altogether! The only reason why controversy even exists in the first place over TV (that many of us enjoy watching) is because of hard-right special-interest groups wishing to push their opinions on all of us. But no, that does not mean that NBC should start showing hardcore porn at 8 in the evening. All we TV viewers are asking for is just for the FCC to allow the networks to program shows that will attract enough of an audience to sustain, not to program shows appealing to the "special interest". The end.

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