TV vs. America

By William Murchison, Creators Syndicate

June 1996 – An industry-initiated system for rating television? Never mind what the television industry announced the other day at a White House meeting. That’s not how TV programs deserve to be rated.

Here’s how TV programs deserve to be rated:

“Mom, I’m going to the den to watch Let It All Hang Out.”

“You’re going to watch what?”

Let It All Hang Out. It’s cool. All my friends watch it.”

“Your friends aren’t members of this family. I don’t care for that kind of program. My goodness, if you’re going to waste your time watching television, let’s watch something fit to be watched.”

“But Mom…”

“But nothing!”

Blatant censorship – that’s what we need. By parents.

Yes. I know. All together now: “This isn’t the ’50s anymore!”

There are no mothers wearing pearls and high heels as they sweep the floor. Robert Young and Jane Wyatt are dethroned as our parental role models.

This is in part a function of divorce and family breakup. It is in still larger measure a function of the broad decline of standards throughout the whole of society. The old no-nos, the traditional concepts of right and wrong no longer win the unreserved admiration of our authority figures – such as they are. Network presidents, in the old days, would have been lynched for some of the fare that today raises scarcely an eyebrow. No, this isn’t the ’50s any more.

But one thing is the same: Parents still are parents – givers of life, nurturers of norms. The fact that a parent doesn’t want such a job is no reason to excuse him from it. That’s what parents do – teach standards, their standards. They teach what this family – not Joe’s or Susie’s family, but this one – does.

Of the TV industry figures who pledged at the White House to develop a voluntary ratings system, President Bill Clinton said: “They’re handing the TV remote control back to America’s parents.”

Horse feathers! America’s parents hold the remote control already. They just don’t always choose to use it with vigor and authority.

THAT’S A SYMPATHETIC statement, by the way. These are tough times for parents – as I should know, being the father of two high school students. The parental voice, in these fallen times, no longer rings through the house with magisterial authority. When it tries to, back comes the righteous rejoinder: “Oh, come on, Dad, get real.” Which is just for starters.

On television-watching, there have been pallid compromises at the Murchison household – some giving here, some giving there –in the  interest of arrangements that work more or less to the benefit of all. The children watch the sometimes subversive but always clever program The Simpsons, and on other occasions, the set goes off when language or situations become too graphic.

It’s not the bald, unapologetic censorship our own parents would have exercised in the ’50s, but, then, need I say it again, this isn’t the ’50s. You do what you can and hope for the best.

The point is that there are no adequate substitutes for families working together in love and mutual concern. Not the benevolent world of commercial television. Not even the White House.

How do we really, truly, convincingly reform television? The means are at hand. I am not talking about the power button on the remote control. The minute – the split second –the families of America decide that we deserve the guidance and scrutiny of abiding moral norms, the TV problem will take care of itself.

WHY DOES TELEVISION push the envelope? Because a society receptive to illegitimacy, abortion-on-demand, drug-taking and moral laziness of every description has been pushing the envelope. Popular entertainment doesn’t exist in a vacuum: It reflects as well as creates. What it reflects isn’t very edifying, but whose fault is that if not our own? When we’re ready for something radically different, you can go to the bank on our getting it.