November-December 2004 – I appeared on Deborah Norville’s show on MSNBC in mid-October to talk about three major advertisers dropping off the Disney/ABC program Desperate Housewives because American Family Association supporters had contacted these companies and asked that they get off. Tyson Foods, Con Agra and Lowe’s agreed that Desperate Housewives was too sexually explicit and withdrew their ad support. But only after thousands and thousands of E-mails and phone calls went into their respective corporate offices appealing for them to do so.
Even though I was matched up with two other guests who disagreed with the actions of AFA, I was treated fairly and I appreciated the opportunity to express our side of this issue. The problem, however, is that we spent the 12 minutes talking about this particular show and not any time talking about the broader issue of the influence of the entertainment media – particularly television – on our culture. I wanted to take the discussion in that direction, but time and format did not allow.
I am convinced that if not for AFA and a few other groups, the major television networks would fill their schedule with what amounts to R-rated material. A lot of explicit sex, raw profanity and bloody violence. The only reason they don’t do this already is that companies who advertise on television don’t like the prospect of being identified as a sponsor of sleazy programming. It’s bad public relations and there is a chance they could be boycotted and lose money. Even the threat of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issuing fines for violating indecency laws is way overstated. The FCC has basically been a “do-nothing” entity until they fined CBS/Viacom stations for the nudity incident during the 2004 Super Bowl. And then the FCC acted only because the outcry from the public was so great.
But back to the overall cultural issue of television. Some might ask, “Why do you care? There are worse things on the Internet and worse things on cable. Besides, the show is a hit and if people don’t want to watch they can change the channel or turn it off.”
Where to start? All of these statements – and I heard some of them from the other two gentlemen on Deborah Norville – are true. But they are simplistic. And there are logical responses to each one as well.
The reasons for being opposed to the type of programming represented on Desperate Housewives are the following:
1. The Bible teaches that sexual immorality has negative consequences for individuals and negative consequences for societies. This program glorifies immorality.
2. Television has great influence on the attitudes and actions of those who watch it. (That is why corporations spend millions of dollars advertising on television.)
3. We are exposing our children to sex at a younger and younger age. Matters that should be between adults are now openly shown and discussed on free broadcast television. For example, Desperate Housewives airs at 8 p.m. Central. But just the commercials for the show – which air without warning at all times of the day and night – are sexually explicit.
I was talking with Ed Vitagliano, news editor for the AFA Journal, after I did the Deborah Norville program. He said, “It’s just so difficult to talk about why we oppose the sexual nature of this show, without having a common worldview from which to discuss it.” That is so true and that is the main reason that when we take a stand on matters such as this, we are often ridiculed in the media.
The media leaders don’t understand the God we serve or the Bible we look to for guidance on questions of morality. Christians – I believe – can agree with the “live and let live” philosophy of life that most Americans have adopted, so long as it does not hurt other innocent people. And what AFA is saying is that the steady diet of sex, violence and profanity in the media – in this case television – is lowering the moral standards of our country and in a real sense leading to more violence in real life, more open profanity in public and more sex between people who are not married, all of which have concrete social consequences that almost everyone – Christian or not – can recognize as negative and unhealthy.
Are we wasting our time here at AFA with our attempts to “clean up” the media? Some would say so. We are winning some battles though. (See story here.) But even more important than winning a battle occasionally is that AFA continues to promote decency and raise a standard of righteousness in our culture.