Parents promoting propriety
By Steve Lilienthal
Just before the "The Dukes of Hazzard" was released earlier this month Ben Jones attacked the movie. Jones had played "Cooter" on the television series, which aired from 1979 to 1985, and he did not like this new movie. "I'm one guy doing caveat emptor – saying, ‘Don't take your kids to see this,'" the actor and former Congressman from Georgia told Robert Stacy McCain of the Washington Times. "It does not reflect the values of our show." In his opinion, the movie, unlike the television show which made him a minor celebrity, reflected the values of Hollywood and "slacker-stoners" rather than "families in the heartland of America."
Jones appeared on nationally televised programs to deliver his warning. McCain noted that Jones, a self-described "progressive Southern Democrat," sounded more like a cultural conservative discussing the new movie. However, in most cases, new movies that feature sex and profanity would not bring forward a high-profile messenger urging parents to choose wholesome entertainment for their children.
How can parents be sure that the entertainment they provide to their child is truly appropriate for the age and maturity level of the child?
A visit to the website of the new coalition, PauseParentPlay.org, would provide parents links to ratings of new movies, videogames or CDs before they decide whether to rent or purchase those products for their children.
PauseParentPlay.org is a coalition that includes some conscientious legislators as informal advisors. Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and John Ensign (R-NV) realize that the best defense against excessive sex and violence in entertainment starts with smart consumers, particularly parents who should monitor closely those records and television programs to which their children listen and which they watch. The YMCA, "Parenting Magazine," Time-Warner, NBC Universal and trade associations such as the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are among coalition members enlisted for this campaign urging parents to pause, parent and play.
The premise of the campaign is that parents must think more seriously about the entertainment their children seek. That explains "pause." If they did, parents carefully could determine those programs their children access. In short, they could fulfill the role of "parent." Then the children could "play" the carefully selected music or video and parents would be satisfied that a wise decision had been made.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required all television sets with 13-inch or larger screens manufactured since 2000 to include a V-chip which can block programming based upon ratings established by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). However, only 15 per cent of the parents surveyed last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation utilized the V-chip to block television programs. Nearly 40 per cent of the parents surveyed were not sure their televisions had a V-chip, which suggests that more must be done to inform parents about the chip and about how to use it. Of those parents who do use the V-chip nearly 90 per cent find it useful to guide their children's television viewing.
The Kaiser survey revealed that almost 90 per cent of parents are concerned that their children view and listen excessively to too much inappropriate material. Despite ratings to help parents choose what they and their children view on television only 50 per cent of parents have used television ratings such as TV Parental Guidelines created by the television industry, according to the Kaiser survey. A slightly larger percentage of parents have used the ratings to evaluate videogames.
A visit to the PauseParentPlay.org website provides parents with easy access to several ratings for music, television programs, movies and videogames. Take the "Dukes of Hazzard" movie. At the website parents easily can locate a link to MovieMom, a self-described "family-friendly" review service from Yahoo. Strict parents may disagree with the grade of C but the review itself is not as tough as the rating by Ben Jones:
"Instead of amplifying the simple pleasures of the original [television program], it exposes the weak points. The humor is raunchier and the chases and explosions more intense and thus harder to think of as good-natured fun. It's too gross for kids and too thin for teens and adults."
Calls for censoring modern entertainment only provoke counterproductive debates. Those who advocate higher standards find themselves boxed in as rubes and rustics by a hostile culture. It is incumbent upon families to monitor carefully the entertainment to which they and their children watch and listen -- in effect, to use the V-chip and eject button to exercise self-censorship. The best defense, of course, is exactly what PauseParentPlay advocates: think before buying a DVD or CD or movie ticket. By spotlighting the good – and, of course, the bad – produced by Hollywood, organizations such as PauseParentPlay could draw more attention to, and help sell, positive products.
It bears noting that the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), a sponsor of PauseParentPlay, has been criticized for the deals NCTA offers consumers. Beverly LaHaye, Founder of Concerned Women for America, justifiably is critical of NCTA for foisting unsavory cable stations upon consumers through package deals. Many consumers with families would prefer "a la carte" cable packages that would include only "family-friendly" networks. The cable industry opposes it. Mrs. LaHaye, whose commentary about the NCTA's policy appeared in the Washington Times, has proven herself to be a savvy critic of our contemporary culture and her argument obviously is highly meritorious.
Too often, says Cindi Merifield Tripodi, Executive Director of PauseParentPlay.org, parents simply do not know about the V-chip and rating services that are available. Because PauseParentPlay.org makes that easier, the ball is now in the parents' court. Let's hope they take advantage of services such as PauseParentPlay.org to improve their children's entertainment.
Steve Lilienthal is Director of the Center for Privacy and Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.
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