Saturday, September 04, 2004

Where's censorship when you need it?

There's always much to-do about how violent or sexual programs on TV ought not to be viewed by children; and how musicians playing at sporting events must be required to keep their wardrobes from malfunctioning; and how offensive radio shows like Howard Stern's should be banned from the airwaves; and how pornographic magazines need to be kept out of the reach of minors; and whether you feel these restrictions are essential or essentially unconstitutional, it's certainly undeniable that there's a great deal of thought and debate and passion going into the examination of those issues. But there's a whole other level of potentially damaging media content sneaking through without anybody giving it a second glance, and I'm starting to think that it might be even worse for kids than the stuff everybody's always arguing over.

I've written here before about the difficulty of explaining those omnipresent ads for Viagra and Cialis and the like to curious kids who'll ask, "Mommy, what's erectile disfunction?" Lately I've also been noticing lots of really scary ads for horror films, both on TV and on the radio. If my kids are too young to see these films in theaters, do they really need to see clips that make their hearts skip? The radio ad for the new "Exorcist" film upset me when I was sitting at my desk in my office in the middle of the day; does my daughter really need to be hearing it at night when she's listening to the radio in bed? Guess that's not going to help her sleep. And even that old family friend, the local newspaper, isn't free of trauma. Like many people I was following the story of the school hostage situation in Russia with increasing dread, and certainly wanted to read about the tragic ending in this morning's news. But the large color photo that accompanied the story gave me pause -- it showed a Russian police officer carrying a young girl out of the building. The girl, maybe 8 or 9, had blood all over her face and was dressed only in underpants. The image was disturbing for any number of reasons, but what I found myself wondering most of all was, if my kids see this sitting on the coffee table, how on earth am I going to explain what happened to this girl, and why isn't she wearing any clothes? I tried to make sure that page was face down, with lots of glossy Saturday store ads on top.

The thing about all this is -- it's easy to keep our kids from watching specific shows, or listening to specific radio stations, or seeing specific magazines. But it's really hard to avoid commercials that can come on any time of the day or night, or news photos that turn a local paper -- which yesterday, for example, featured a picture of a particularly large zucchini grown by a local man -- into something terrifying. How's the FCC going to protect us from that?

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