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TV’s Moral Watchdogs

February 28th, 2004 · No Comments

It’s been about a month since the now infamous Super Bowl exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast, and discussions about it still reverberate through America. One of the groups to weigh in with an opinion is the Cincinnati-based National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families.

I always get a little nervous when I hear about organizations with names like the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families because they seem to imagine children and families as the type who existed only in fictional 1950s TV sitcoms. My concerns were confirmed by comments from National Coalition’s leader.

“The Super Bowl provides a unique opportunity in that it can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. To feature a halftime show that requires parents to send their kids out of the room is unconscionable,” says Rick Schatz, president and CEO of the National Coalition. Schatz sounds a bit like he took a trip on the way-back machine, to a decade when “Up With People” was still the Super Bowl’s traditional the half-time act.

Not surprisingly, the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families is the same group that is trying to get rid of MTV, in part through their www.stopMTV.org Web site.

In support for their anti-MTV position, the National Coalition cites a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says “In the absence of effective, comprehensive sex education at home or in the schools, television and other media have become the leading sex educators of children and adolescents today.”

The National Coalition’s convoluted answer to this problem? Ban MTV.

Of course, the most significant part of the AAP’s statement is that there is an absence of effective, comprehensive sex education in home and schools. That is, parents aren’t doing their job teaching their children, and often block schools from teaching the topic as well.

This parental head-in-the-sand approach—if we don’t talk about it (sex or any other topic deemed uncomfortable), they won’t think about it—is what often leads groups like the National Coalition to demonize television and other mass media as the source of our societal ills, rather than an expression of our culture. This is a recurring theme in American politics. In the 1950s, Congress held hearings over comic books, and their alleged powers to warp the minds of young readers. In the 1920s, the concern was that movies took “emotional possession” of young viewers, leading them to promiscuity.

That some families were watching the Super Bowl in the same room with their children is almost surprising. The sad fact is that most parents don’t pay attention to what their children are watching in a society where more than 60 percent of children have their own TV in their bedroom, and 35 percent also have in-room videogame systems.

I’m not an apologist for the bad half-time show at the Super Bowl. But please, parents, don’t ask the clichéd question, “how am I supposed to explain this to my children?” The National Coalition’s Schatz said much the same thing with his exasperated comment, “The last thing a parent expects to see when they sit down with their family to watch the Super Bowl is Janet Jackson’s breast.”

True enough. But deal with it, and be happy you were there with your children when they witnessed it. Tell your children it’s a breast. Take the time to answer any other questions. Childhood should be a time for learning, not a “protected” fairytale period where all potentially complicated topics are ignored.
Janet exposedjanet5.jpg

Tags: Journalism Ethics · Music

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