Policing the Entertainment Industry: Whose Task?

Most people express some degree of amazement if not concern or alarm over what passes for entertainment in this culture. Voyeurism (e.g., TV's "Survivor"), violence (e.g., video games), pornography (e.g., Internet sites), sex (e.g., practically any non-G-rated movie), foul language (e.g., some of the hottest music CDs) these are now standard entertainment fare for our time and place.

Recently the Federal Trade Commission released a report based on the entertainment industry's own documents. Those incriminating papers prove the industry has lied about the intention of its ratings system and violated both its letter and spirit. The FTC report became, in turn, grist for the presidential campaign.

Eighty percent of the violent movies, 70 percent of the violent electronic games, and practically all the music with explicit lyrics were either targeted to the under-17 age group or marketed to these young people. One of the most embarrassing industry memos cited in the FTC report referenced an R-rated movie. The goal for selling it was "to find the elusive teen target audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12-18 was exposed to the film." Still another memo declared its intent to market a violent video game to "males 12-17."

Do you remember that infamous line-up of tobacco executives who testified to a Congressional hearing, raised their right hands, and swore that they believed nicotine was nonaddictive? Do you remember when representatives of the same industry swore that Joe Camel was not intended to appeal to young smokers?

Now the entertainment industry has been found making a similar mockery of its highly touted "self-regulation." There's nothing adult or mature about its most tainted products. And there's nothing trustworthy about its rhetoric.

In what The (Nashville) Tennessean called "knee-jerk solutions" to the problem ("Some knee-jerk solutions to violence in media report," 9/24/00, p.26A), one candidate has called for more federal laws. Right! Look at all the good done by federal legislation to date on social issues with ethical concerns at their heart. Such rhetoric may appeal to and even snare votes, but it proposes a federal solution to a personal and family problem.

What's wrong with these pictures? A 9-year-old has her own TV in her bedroom and watches both over-the-air and cable movie channels of her choice with the door closed. A 14-year-old is on-line at the family computer in a part of the house that is isolated from other family members and won't "disturb" them. A 12-year-old is playing a video game that splatters body parts when he kills somebody, and Mom and Dad have no idea he owns or plays such a game.

Situations like these don't need federal legislation. They need adults. They need mothers and daddies. Those adults can place TVs, computers, and video games in common areas of the apartment or house so there can be reasonable accountability for and discussion of what is on screen. Choices as simple as where to put entertainment devices in one's home can significantly affect the impact they have.

A 1999 survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, titled "Kids and Media at the New Millennium," speaks to the electronic isolation of today's teens and pre- adolescents. Among children ages 8 to 18, it found that 65 percent have TVs in their bedrooms, 45 percent have video game players, and 21 percent have computers there. Here is one age-specific fact from the same report: In 1970, only 6 percent of sixth graders had TV sets in their rooms; that figure had risen to 77 percent by 1999.

Would you let your son or daughter go play on a dark, isolated, and predator- infested playground where there is no adult supervision? Or would you consider that unsafe and irresponsible? For that matter, would you let your 8-, 10-, or 12-year-old child go play on a clean, well-lit, and fenced playground that had no adult supervision?

Protecting the moral and spiritual lives of our children isn't the government's job. That task belongs to parents, grandparents, and other responsible adults in their world. We must be willing to shoulder that obligation. We must even be willing to do what has apparently become unthinkable for some know what kids are doing, set limits that are consistent with our adult understanding, and enforce them in our own homes.

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