Thursday, July 12, 2007

Keep Your Mitts Off My Flicker!

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “There they go again.” Republicans are chest-thumping moralizers in public, even though many of them turn out to be hypocrites in private. (Need I mention anyone beyond U.S. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana?) So it’s entirely within character that Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), a Christian conservative who just happens to be running for his party’s presidential nomination next year--a long shot, indeed--should promote legislation to stop violent TV shows from being aired on American broadcast networks before 10 p.m. Although the GOP tries at every point to weaken gun-ownership restrictions, and continues to back a war in Iraq that leads to the deaths of more young men and women every day, heaven forfend that its constituents should be exposed to fictional violence on the flickering boob tube.

After all, it’s not as if there’s an OFF button on televisions.

Oh, wait ...

According to The Hill, a Washington, D.C., tabloid covering Congress, Brownback “will offer an amendment Thursday to a financial services appropriations bill that would have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopt measures to ‘protect children from excessively violent video programming. ... ‘Broadcasters should not be allowed to use the public airwaves to disseminate violent or obscene material,’ Brownback said in a statement. ‘The abundance of indecent material on television is one indication of the coarsening of our culture.’”

Plleeeaaassseee!!! How incredibly naïve. Does Brownback actually think that gulaging Law & Order, CSI, 24, Criminal Minds, and myriad other TV series--most of them crime shows--to the 10 o’clock hour is the panacea for America’s cultural woes? Is it going to cure the country of its rampant me-firstism, or its worsening political and religious divisions, or the arrogance being demonstrated from the White House on down? And who is going to decide what’s objectionable and what’s not? Some prissy, nannyish right-winger who’s looking for TV exposure himself? There’s no such thing as “contemporary community standards” of objectionable television content, no matter how much Brownback would like us to believe there is. What someone in Topeka, Kansas, or Pascagoula, Mississippi, might find beyond the pale could utterly fail to faze residents of Seattle or Boston. And who’s to say who is right? Certainly not those sanctimonious pontificators of Brownback’s own party who thought nothing of airing President Bill Clinton’s personal sexual behavior to all ages in 1998, but now cringe in mock horror at allowing children to see carefully edited scenes of consensual sex or staged murders before the witching hour of 10 p.m.

And what good would it do to restrict supposedly violent and obscene programs from the increasingly disregarded U.S. broadcast networks, while still allowing their cable and pay-TV competitors to show whatever they want?

Clearly, Senator Brownback is only putting forward this legislation to appease his Christianist constituency. The chances of today’s Democratic-led Congress approving of this bill are next to nil. Which is probably a relief to the broadcast networks, already having a hard enough time competing against the often-superior and less-restricted programming available via cable. And the odds against Brownback on this issue should relieve those of us, too, who respect the ability of Americans (or anyone else) to decide for themselves what shows they want to watch--even if a lack of viewership sometimes kills the programs we wish would remain on the air (Raines, Crossing Jordan, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip among them).

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