Airwave Pollution

Under pressure from Congress, Hollywood has announced that this fall, violent television shows will have a warning label attached. Before the program begins, a message will roll across the screen that reads: "Due to some violent content, parental discretion is advised." Well, I propose one cheer for Hollywood. A rating system does give parents a way to judge a program before watching it. But after all the hoopla from Congress over television violence, the rating system is something of a letdown. Consider the ways the system is short-circuited. First, the labeling depends on the networks' own definition of violence. But the networks are notoriously bad about policing themselves. Just last December the networks announced a list of voluntary guidelines for television violence. But curiously enough, reporters could not find any network producers who thought the new guidelines required any changes in their own programs. They all felt their programs were just fine. Asking these folks to police themselves is a little like asking the proverbial fox to guard the chicken coop. Second, the labeling program applies only to the networks, not to cable channels, where most of the violence is. But the real weak spot is that the rating system dumps all the responsibility on parents. It will work only to the extent that parents monitor their children's viewing. But it's unfair to expect parents to raise healthy kids if they are constantly pitted against a hostile culture. You may be a conscientious parent; you may take the time to read the TV listings every day; you may make sure you are present at the beginning of every program your child watches in order to check the warning message. But what about other parents who aren't-or can't be-so meticulous? As sociologist Brandon Centerwall puts it, your child may never become violent and murder anyone; but you cannot be sure that your child won't be murdered by someone else's child raised on a diet of televised mayhem. No, television violence has to be treated as everyone's problem. Today there is solid statistical evidence that violence on the screen contributes to violence on the streets. A study at the University of Illinois found that the amount of television watched by eight-year-old children correlated with the seriousness of criminal acts they committed by age 30. There's no longer any doubt about it: Violent programming is polluting our social atmosphere-and worse, polluting our children's minds. Telling people we can solve the problem with warning labels is a bit like telling people we can solve air pollution by putting labels on chimney stacks and exhaust pipes. The trouble is we all breathe the same air, and we all have the same programs coming across the airwaves. The real solution is to clean it up at the source. In the meantime, if you want to have more influence over your children than the TV set does, there's only one way to do it: You have to spend more time with them than the TV set does. That's something the government can't do for you, something the networks can't do for you. In the end, it's a moral decision you have to make in your own heart.


Chuck Colson


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