Cultural Bleeding

Four years ago, a Florida mother discovered her two children transfixed by the television screen. Were they watching "Barney" or perhaps "Sesame Street?" No. To the mother's shock, her kids were watching the Playboy Channel. This mother did not subscribe to the Playboy channel. But her cable company did not block the signal before it entered her home. Instead, the company "scrambled" it. But scrambling permits what's known as "signal bleed," which allows non-subscribers to catch glimpses of sex scenes and raunchy dialogue. This mother complained to Congress and found out just how little our elites value our kids' well-being. In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which requires cable companies to either get rid of signal bleed or only carry erotic channels at night. Cable companies didn't like the act because it inconvenienced them. And, of course, it threatened Playboy's profits. Playboy filed sued in federal court, claiming that the act violated its freedom of speech. Last December, a federal court agreed with Playboy. It threw out the statute, ruling that Congress should have mandated a less restrictive means of protecting children from indecent programs. Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard the case—and it looks like the Telecommunications Act is in trouble. Playboy's attorney, Robert Corn-Revere, called the law a case of "regulatory overkill." He told the court that the rights of the two-thirds of American households without children are being infringed upon in order to make life easier for the one-third with kids. If parents want to block out indecent programming, Corn-Revere declared, they can ask their cable companies for special cable boxes. But James Feldman, arguing for the statute's constitutionality, told the Court that "there's a social interest" in protecting kids from indecent programming. Feldman's argument didn't seem to impress the justices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned just how big a problem signal bleed really is. And she suggested that the government behaved like a "super parent" by enacting the law. Other justices asked just how onerous a burden it was to ask one's cable company for a special box. While a few justices turned up their noses at Playboy's arguments, none of them thought to question the "right" being asserted by Playboy: the right to broadcast pornographic programming at any time, day or night. The arguments being made in "United States v. Playboy" are only the latest example of our culture enshrining sexual pleasure as an indispensable ingredient for happiness. Not long ago, these same justices ruled that Congress could not protect minors from indecent material on the Internet because it would interfere with the right of adults to view that material. These cases illustrate that, while we profess to care about our children, we won't let concern about their well-being get in the way of our pleasure. It's clear that our culture has lost, not only the biblical sense of sexual propriety, but also the idea that the well being of our children comes before the sexual desires of adults. The Supreme Court will rule on this case next Spring, but you and I must help our neighbors understand what's really going on with cases like this. Because a culture that celebrates sexual indulgence above all else is something from which no cable box can protect our kids.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary