25 November 2009

The PTC flip-flop on Adam Lambert

In December 2005, Parents Television Council "Culture Watch" columnist Christopher Gildemeister responded to an allegation of homophobia by Simon Dumenco in Dumenco's Advertising Age magazine column:
Mr. Dumenco flatly states, without corroborating evidence, that the PTC is "very very afraid of gay TV characters." This is a lie. The PTC is not homophobic. It simply opposes sexual references or innuendo (of any variety, hetero, homo or other) aired where children might be exposed to them.
Flash forward 4 years minus one month, and this year's American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert (who's also openly gay) performs his single "For Your Entertainment" with many sexually-charged elements (such as S&M and simulation of oral sex and Lambert kissing his male keyboard player). It happens toward the very end of ABC's live broadcast of the 2009 American Music Awards, which ran from 8-11PM Eastern and Pacific time. Lambert's performance reportedly aired at 11PM, or 10PM Central/Mountain. Federal law prohibits broadcast of indecency between 6AM-10PM local time. (The oral sex mock was edited out of the West Coast broadcast.) Then PTC raises a stink over Lambert's performance! From its press release:
While the costumes and profanity throughout the broadcast were enough to alarm any reasonable parent, the final performance by Adam Lambert of “American Idol” fame included everything from S&M bondage with the singer leading leather-clad male performers around on leashes to another dancer simulating oral sex on Lambert. The show aired live at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT and was given a TV-14 L rating. The oral sex scene was edited out of the West Coast broadcast.

“American teenagers – and especially teenaged girls – are literally under siege by the entertainment media. It is outrageous that children today cannot watch a televised awards program for an industry that is built squarely on their backs. Teens comprise a huge portion of music sales, yet this is how they are treated? It is beyond contemptible,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

“Last night’s ‘American Music Awards’ broadcast was nothing short of tasteless and vulgar. Adam Lambert, the second-place finisher in last season’s ‘American Idol’ competition, chose to treat American families to simulated oral sex and other demeaning behavior. ABC and Dick Clark Productions had every reason to know what to expect, as Lambert himself proclaimed that his performance would be ‘very sexy’ and would include leather and chains. But the producers and the network chose to bury their heads in the sand.
So apparently S&M and oral sex, with a homosexual twist, was enough to make Lambert's performance stand out, way out, way way way out, from mentioning, let's say:
- Janet Jackson's opening act, where she reportedly grabbed a male dancer's crotch;
- Lady Gaga smashing whiskey bottles, and her dancers having costumes that look revealing (that was during her performance of her new single "Bad Romance"; I saw part of it on Sunday night while breaking from studying for Monday's calculus test);
- Eminem boasting about an extensive criminal record of his stage alter ego "Slim Shady" before performing "Crack a Bottle" and his verse from Drake's "Forever";
- and Carrie Underwood's suggestive outfit and choreography.

Lambert's performance seemed strongly sleazy enough to be the centerpoint of PTC's campaign. On it's "Take Action" page that provides outraged viewers/members to write letters of complaint to ABC, sponsors, or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the title states: " American Music Awards Assaults Viewers with Simulated Sex Acts, S&M Themes, and Non-Stop Expletives", but the page doesn't even mention the examples I posted here. In her column (to be published on Friday's print edition), New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley also pointed out Jackson, Gaga, and Eminem as other examples of supposedly indecent performers at the AMA this year.

Taking a look at the facts and what PTC wants viewers to complain about, it seems that PTC is defeating itself in the process. Its automated, pre-written "Letter to ABC and Dick Clark Productions" template opens:
Dear Sir or Madam:

For years, the American Music Awards was a wholesome alternative to other trashy awards shows that used cheap gimmicks and sleazy, tabloid-baiting stunts to build a following. The AMAs were different, focusing instead on talent and love of music, so, like many Americans, I felt comfortable watching with my family. No longer. Last night ABC and Dick Clark Productions forever tarnished their hard-earned brands and violated the established trust of millions of parents by allowing S&M and bondage themes and explicit simulated oral sex to be broadcast into our homes, through our publicly-owned broadcast airwaves.
This opening passage seems to contrast the American Music Awards with other shows like the MTV Video Music Awards (and we all know the moral rivalry between PTC and MTV). The Video Music Awards has had its controversial moments like Madonna and Britney Spears kissing and this year, when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech. However, the PTC mentioned in its press release that the awards show was rated "TV-14-L", which in TV Parental Guidelines official lingo means "contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age" because of "strong coarse language". Given the rating, which as procedural ABC shows at the beginning of the program and after every commercial break, why would it be so surprising that the American Music Awards was so un-friendly to a general family audience? Oh, if you want an awards show that focuses on "talent and love of music", try the Grammy Awards, which will be shown on CBS next February.

Although Lambert performed just a few minutes before or just at the start of the 10PM hour in the Central Time Zone, PTC felt it wasn't good enough, so it allows just the Central Time Zone residents to file complaints with the FCC.

And now for today's latest developments.

Yesterday, ABC cancelled Lambert's scheduled performance for today's Good Morning America.
"Given his controversial live performance on the AMAs, we were concerned about airing a similar concert so early in the morning," an ABC News rep said.
However, CBS intervened and invited Lambert to perform on its morning program The Early Show instead. CBS apparently feared more retaliation from PTC or other moral guardian orgs, so the network decided to blur images of Lambert's kiss and sex simulation. "The Adam Lambert image is a subject of great current controversy, has not been nearly as widely disseminated and, for all we know, may still lead to legal consequences," reported the Los Angeles Times quoting a CBS representative.

In response to ABC's disinvitation, PTC's Dan Isett stated:
"I do think it’s a little bit unfortunate... The idea that he should be scrubbed from TV completely is not where we’re going. It may be a bit of an overreaction on ABC’s part."

And Isett insists his organisation was simply upset because the powers that be didn't censor Lambert's AMAs live performance, which was heavily edited when it aired three hours later on America's west coast.

What a surprise. I thought that PTC was going to share ABC's concern that Lambert would've repeated his sleazy choreography on Good Morning America and call on ABC also to ax Lambert's performance. It seems that PTC indirectly intimidated ABC into doing so though.

This controversy brings up a whole bunch of double standards. The one homosexually suggestive performance that began very late in the evening generated the most controversy out of all the performances from earlier in the evening that had elements some would find sexually offensive. If PTC is going to highlight Lambert's performance constantly in its campaign for tougher sanctions against broadcast indecency, it's certainly got a weak one. If the FCC finds that the indecent elements of the performance were broadcast after 10PM Central Time, then the PTC will suffer some public relations struggles.

In his Early Show interview, Lambert claims to be a victim of a double standard against gay males. This is his side of the story.

I suppose I can understand why (parents are) upset. And, honestly, it didn't cross my mind, children. It was almost 11:00. It was a nighttime show. I was there in the audience full of mostly adults. Sometimes, I forget, 'Oh, there's a camera on.' I come from the theater. And I'm programmed to kind of look at who's in the live audience, and that's kind of where I come from. So, I was looking out in the crowd and saw some of my favorite pop stars and thought, 'I want to let loose.' And it just kind of got the best of me. And I had a great time. Unfortunately, there were people upset, but I think there are also people who really enjoyed it. So, like 'Idol,' I guess I have a tendency to divide people -- apples and oranges -- you either like it or you don't.
He also stated that it's ultimately the parent's responsibility to monitor children's TV viewing:

He also said he's "not a babysitter, I'm a performer" when asked if he wanted to apologize to parents of any kids who might have been watching. "I think it's up to the parents to discern what their child's watching on television," Lambert said at one point. Later he observed, "I think it's up to a parent to watch the television. It was almost 11:00 at night. If they're concerned with certain material maybe Tivo it and preview it before your small child is watching it."
Right. And the show was rated "TV-14", for crying out loud! When will the PTC members ever realize that TV is not a baby-sitter?

And finally, for some humor, get your dirty mind on and ponder PTC president Tim Winter's statement "It is outrageous that children today cannot watch a televised awards program for an industry that is built squarely on their backs." Hmm, given the PTC's obsession with pointing out all the graphic sex acts on TV that'll turn your sons into pimps or serial rapists or your daughters into sluts or welfare queens, why not find the underlying message in Winter's statement? Maybe he's trying to get attention with a dirty metaphor referring to anal sex or rape while at the same time opposing references to these in entertainment?

This year's American Music Awards was the most-watched since 2002, second most-watched program of the week among adults 18-49, and ninth most-watched out of the top 25 programs watched by viewers of all ages.

21 November 2009

Interesting NY Times articles

Entertainment: "An Unsteady Future for Broadcast" by Tim Arango and Bill Carter. Analyses the downfall in NBC's ratings and contrasts them with the rising ratings and profit for cable channels like ESPN, TNT, and USA.

Business: "Best Soup Ever? Suits Over Ads Demand Proof" by Stephanie Clifford. Goes over disputes between rival companies that have led to false-advertising lawsuits. Among the cases: DirecTV vs. Charter Communications, Verizon vs. AT&T, UPS vs. FedEx.

Health: "Medical Marijuana: No Longer Just for Adults" by Katherine Ellison. The ganja shall treat the hyperactive child.

17 November 2009

College gets busier, life gets harder...

My DVR is getting overcrowded like California prisons as I'm focusing so much more on work.

Class overviews:

Calculus III (MATH 32) - currently learning double integrals, test Monday on multivariable differentiation and integration.

Chemical Calculations and Concepts (CHEM 10) - learning gas laws. My teacher has this great online program (Online Web Learning, or OWL for short) that lets me self-learn from home in addition to the lecture. For my class, which is a remedial one I'll take before taking General Chem next semester, I take both activity and lecture sections. The lecture professor is a pretty humble person who just, well, either teaches from powerpoints or gives tests. She's very straightforward and helpful. On the other hand, right after my lecture sections I have my activity session where the teacher demonstrates problems on the board (in contrast, in lecture the professor just teaches us what the concepts are) and has question-and-answer sessions. Activity professor has a much louder and energetic personality than my lecture professor. He's a former Army captain who tells a lot of funny stories and jokes in between problems. But yes, he also gives us homework for each unit.

Introduction to Engineering (ENGR 10) - scrambling to get robot project done by next Tuesday for the test run. It's fun and overwhelming at the same time. Teams in my lab class were given kits to assemble a robot that would simulate a search-and-rescue operation, with beacons acting as a human and a hazard. It moves based on a programme written in C language. We've had all month to do it, and given that we meet 3 hours one session every week it ain't easy. Although we've built it we've suffered technical difficulties all along.

Meanwhile, the lectures are given in an auditorium. We've learned everything from wind turbines to circuits to Excel to C programming to solar cells to CAD. And right now to wrap up the course we're learning about ethics.

MUSE Class: Secrets of Success (PSYCH 96NQ) - a small, 15-person seminar that discusses the ideas of success that Stephen R. Covey put forward in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It's creatively structured, with many teacher/student interactions and flexible assigning and grading. I met some great people in this class!

Yoga: This is my last class every Monday, and although it's supposed to go from 3:30-5:20, my instructor always ends 30 mins. early. Great way to relax after a long day. Instructor is a Santa Claus-faced hippie who's had a lot of experience with yoga. In my first class he narrated about discovering yoga in the 1960s while growing up in San Francisco and how he got busted in the Grand Canyon back in 1968 for smoking pot. He also published a short yoga instructional book that we use in class!

On Sunday night, I signed up for the classes I'll take next semester:
- General Chemistry (CHEM 1A)
- Programming Concepts and Methodology (CMPE 30) (CMPE is short for Computer Engineering, my major)
- Discrete Mathematics (MATH 42)
- English Composition 2 (ENGL 1B) (Because I took AP English Literature in high school, I can skip English 1A in college)

At first I didn't really think I'd enjoy it too much at SJSU given that San Jose has been my hometown since 1998, and I wanted to go to a UC (I applied to Davis, Irvine, and San Diego, but because I slacked off too much during high school I got rejected). However, SJSU has been good to me despite all the hardships. It has a diverse student body; I see all types of people round here. Compare that with a UC, which I hear is dominated by nerdy Asians. I see people dressed in all sorts of styles. People from all over the world and of all ethnicities come here. When I walk down campus I can hear people conversing in Chinese, Hindi or any language of India, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, French, German, whatever!

The downsides, however, is that the campus is pretty small and gets a bit boring after a while, but at least i can navigate it. Its football team has been near-winless this season, so I've spent my weekends watching other schools (like USC, Michigan, Cal) instead. Haha, way to lack school spirit. But today the men's basketball team won its home opener. And our soccer teams have high standings in the Western Athletic Conference.

Kudos to the FCC for ruling "Saving Private Ryan" not indecent

On Veteran's Day 2004, several ABC affiliates in the US pre-empted the network's national showing of the 1998 Oscar-winning film Saving Private Ryan because of its numerous use of profanity (such as the F-word) and graphic violence...all intended to depict the realities of World War II. Nine months earlier, Justin Timberlake exposed one of Janet Jackson's breasts at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. For that incident, the broadcasting network CBS was fined $550,000 in September 2004. (This fine is currently under legal review in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals following an order by the US Supreme Court)

Right now I'm watching the Frontline documentary "Obama's War". It was shown on Oct. 13, 2009, on primetime on PBS. In my area, KQED at 8PM. I don't know whichever parental guidelines rating (like TV-PG, etc.) that it got since it wasn't shown on screen, but there was a viewer discretion screen that said "tonight's program contains graphic imagery". The clips of military members engaged in war in Afghanistan left the F-words uncensored. In an era where groups like the Parents Television Council have intimidated networks into censorship, I applaud PBS for choosing to leave the profanity to show the realities of the environment where the men and women fighting for our freedom inhabit every day while we enjoy our luxurious lives in the free world. It's as verbally rough as it's geographically, since in the middle east days can get even hotter than in Las Vegas.

I googled to see if anyone's reacted to this also. Read Daniel Hennis's comment on this article:

I was watching PBS last night, the program about the current situation with Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was greatly disturbed that the f-word was left in, clear as a bell, THREE times in less than thirty seconds. I reported it to the FCC (because I doubt PBS's elitist leftist program managers would care to do anything about it otherwise). Normally, I allow my children to watch SOME of PBS's programming, but it's falling on my popularity list. I can tolerate some of the socialist indoctrination, but I will not tolerate profanity of that magnitude.

Daniel Hennis, Kuna, ID
Well Daniel, your complaint will be likely flushed down the john...the FCC will most likely not fine PBS as it did to ABC back in 2004 for Saving Private Ryan.

Two other comments on this article accused the title of having a bias against Obama. Other comments praised the documentary for being better than most mainstream reporting.

10 November 2009

PTC responds to last night's Gossip Girl

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, responded to last night's controversial episode of The CW's Gossip Girl:

LOS ANGELES (November 10, 2009) – The Parents Television Council® issued a statement in reaction to the teen-targeted “Gossip Girl” episode that aired on Nov. 9. The CW Network’s own promotions indicated that major characters would be featured in a sexual threesome. “Gossip Girl” airs at 9 pm ET/PT and 8 pm CT/MT.

“Though there was no explicit sex scene on last night’s episode, the CW Network’s behavior was grossly irresponsible by adding a story line where a sexual threesome was to be celebrated as some sort of ‘rite of passage’ for teenagers. The network inserted this story line into a program that they themselves deem to be appropriate for 14-year-old children based on its content rating,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

“CW has stated that last night’s episode is not the end of the story, teasing next week’s ‘Gossip Girl’ episode as continuing the ‘threesome’ storyline. And the network’s claim that it isn’t trying to reach impressionable teenagers falls flat given that their own press release from September 2009 touts the fact that ‘Gossip Girl’ won in the ratings among women ages 12-34, and that when ‘Gossip Girl’ is paired with ‘One Tree Hill,’ these shows during the 8-10 pm block have finished first with females 12-34 and female teens.

“Advertisements for ‘Gossip Girl’ have heavily featured themes and wording that only move minors to view the program, such as ‘Every Parent’s Nightmare.’ Such marketing tactics clearly appeal to teens, not adult women. Also, ‘Gossip Girl’ creator Josh Schwartz has boasted, ‘I can honestly say that I don’t check the ratings after the show airs,’ because he knows that a vast majority of his viewers – tech-savvy teens – are watching the program online.

“Advertisers and CW affiliates still need to be on guard. CW affiliates have told the PTC that the network did not afford them an opportunity to pre-screen the program. We urge each affiliate to evaluate the content within the scope of their broadcast license that was loaned to them in return for serving the public interest.”

I searched on Google and cannot find any other source than this press release that quotes Schwartz as saying that he does not look up his show's ratings. And apparently, the PTC thinks that 14-year-olds are still not mature enough to hear about threesomes on TV. Winter also misrepresented the plot of this episode: The characters are in college (which he does not acknowledge at all in this release nor on the earlier one demanding that CW stations pre-empt last night's ep), so that supposed "rite of passage" might not technically take place (at least in the fictional world of Gossip Girl) during the characters' teenage years.

But as far as 14-year-olds and such edgy shows as Gossip Girl indicate, it just shows another one of PTC's silly strawman arguments that kids still need their innocence until they get out of high school...perhaps the reason why they recommend that children under 18 not be allowed to watch it at all? (Most episodes have been rated TV-14, which means basically my previous statement only replace 18 with 14, and a few I believe were rated TV-PG-DLS or whatever if the content was light. TV-PG is for parental guidance suggested.)

As I noted earlier, Time magazine television critic James Poniewoznik has a rebuttal to PTC's archaic ideology that is so much more compassionate and rhetorically respectful than the PTC's political agenda-driven language. This is from his blog where he responded to PTC criticizing the TV-14 rating of AMC's Mad Men as too light:
Now, the thing is, I actually think the PTC has several points. Yeah, I probably would not screen the show for an average 14-year-old...But would I show Mad Men to a mature 14-year-old? One who was, say, already reading the kind of adult literary fiction that Mad Men mirrors? Yes.
And as I said earlier:
In America, there are teenagers whose parents want to keep pure and innocent until age 18, I won't deny that. Just as there are Gossip Girl type teens who are well-cultured and know the dangers of the world around them and whose parents are willing to discuss the birds n' the bees. This criticism isn't surprising given that PTC feels that there have been cases in broadcast TV also where TV-14 has been too weak.

09 November 2009

College so far

It's been a while since I've blogged about anything lately, so I should write about school so far.
- SJSU's football team sucks...so far recently lost 62-7 to Nevada and currently winless in WAC division. Only win was against Cal Poly in September. That's why I watch ABC college football coverage, usually USC, UCLA, Cal, Michigan, or whoever's game is being shown.
- However, according to the student newspaper The Spartan Daily, both men's and women's soccer teams have winning seasons.
- Currently building a robot for engineering class. The robot is programmed to simulate a search-and-rescue mission.
- Hardest classes=Engineering and calculus, chemistry and psychology in between, yoga easiest.
- In winter session I'm thinking about taking General Psychology to fulfill the Human Behaviour category of the General Education requirements.
- After consulting with the Computer Engineering major adviser tomorrow, I'll know what I'll take next semester. Right now I'm definitely aiming to take in the spring: CHEM 1A, ENGL 1B, CMPE 30, and MATH 42.
- Finals are nearly in a month. Gotta get my study on!
- Campus: Met some really cool people, overall a diverse student body.
- Joined the Democratic Caucus organization and will volunteer at setting up tomorrow's Health Care Forum. Tuesday, 5PM-6PM, Pacifica Room. Be there!
- I also got a job through that organization and will consult Career Centre to find others.
- Once I raise enough money for pledge fees I might join Alpha Phi Omega.

Parents Television Council's mission to block tonight's Gossip Girl sort of worked

According to this Twitter post by Ego Salon & Studio in Chattanooga, TN, the local CW affiliate there pre-empted tonight's controversial episode of Gossip Girl. The episode, titled "They Shoot Humphreys, Don't They?" and rated TV-14-LS, reportedly will contain a scene of a threesome between three of the college-aged characters. The show premiered in September 2007, and during its first two seasons focused on the lives of upper-class New York City prep school students. This season the students have begun their college lives in the Ivy League and other big-name universities like New York University.

Well I'm not sure what to say about The CW Chattanooga bowing down to the PTC. And apparently the CW was NOT joking about the "3some" that it printed in the promotional posters for tonight's episode. Twitter was EXPLODING around 9:50PM Eastern Time (the show currently airs Mondays at 9PM Eastern/Pacific, 8PM Central/Mountain, opposite CBS's nearly-as-risque sitcom Two and a Half Men and Fox's crime drama Lie to Me). They varied from: "disappointment", "not the 3some that I saw coming", "why can't I stop laughing", "SO WEIRD!", "hot", "don't do it", "didn't see that coming", "The CW is risque", "got me steamy", "WTF", "NOFAIR!", "not as cool as I hoped", "WHAT IS GOING ON?", "EPIC", "my dream 3some", and "whole lotta yuck". In real standard English, viewers were disappointed, shocked, amazed, and disgusted all at once. One Tweeter I noticed remarked: "I could've sworn it was Jenny havin the 3some". Well that's a lie. As far as I know Jenny Humphrey (younger sister of Dan Humphrey in the TV show) is still in high school as of this season, and if CW really had Jenny on, the network would've straight-up pre-empted this episode nationwide.

Still, the best words of wisdom came from the Ego Salon & Studio: "If you don't want your child watch[ing] a 3some episode turn it. But don't sensor (sic) it." I agree. Why is PTC singling out Gossip Girl when tonight's Two and a Half Men episode has a plot CENTERED around the two main characters in bed with a woman? Doesn't PTC think that sort of plot is much MORE harmful to teenagers than a mere scene of three-way sex within a more general and tasteful plot?

Gossip Girl has now made its mark as having one of TV's most controversial moments. Back in 1971, CBS's sitcom All in the Family made headlines for including the sound of a toilet flushing. (That episode was "Success Story", from its first season). Despite that, All in the Family went one to become America's favorite show during much of the early- and mid-70s. In 1991, L.A. Law (at the time a 10PM Thursday legal drama on NBC) broadcast the first-ever lesbian kiss on primetime TV (that episode apparently aired 20 days before I was born!) (Wikipedia expands on this.) And later we've had NYPD Blue (ABC cop drama, another 10PM show) showing male and female buttocks, but in 2008 the FCC managed to fine ABC over a 2003 episode of Blue ("Nude Awakening") that depicted a woman character's buttocks for a few seconds. The indecent moment on TV that most likely explains why you can't ever heard words like "f--k" and "s--t" on broadcast networks or you need to shell out a bunch of money to watch Entourage on HBO is the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, broadcast on CBS in 2004. Performer Justin Timberlake ripped off part of co-performer Janet Jackson's costume, exposing her breast (covered by a nipple shield) for just over half a second. Nonetheless, the PTC raised hell over that, and by September the FCC fined CBS nearly half a million dollars. A federal appeals court overturned the fine, but the US Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider. There's always been something on TV for the nation to raise a fuss over. From hearing a toilet flush on a sitcom in the early 70s to women kissing each other in the 90s and then the numerous sex scenes mirroring people's daily lives to the accidental exposure of undesirable body parts . And now a show aimed towards teens and young adults daring to show three-way sex. Tomorrow, we'll see what the reaction of the PTC and the future cultural impact.