Hollywood, Not Parents, Provides Role Models

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Washington (CNS) – Putting pressure on television executives and their sponsors to reduce the amount of violent images on the tube was one solution to a proliferation of offensive TV programming offered at a Washington symposium Thursday on the role of the media in violent crimes.

Through a combination of buck passing between the TV industry and its sponsors, and the creation of TV rating systems that facilitate rather than eradicate smutty shows, "we have allowed the raunchiest programming in the history of TV to appear," said L. Brent Bozell, III, founder and chairman of the Parents Television Council, a national media watchdog group based in Alexandria, Va. Bozell is also chairman of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of CNSNews.com.

However, the subject of television as a negative cultural force was such a broad area of debate that policymakers should differentiate between programming that is appropriate for children and that which is appropriate for adults, otherwise activists will give Hollywood wriggle room for waffling and inaction, Bozell said.

"Go to the person who can make the decision to stop things," said Dr C DeLores Tucker, founder and chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women. Tucker cited the "disastrous" effects rap music have on young people, and urged action against the "gangsters in suits" responsible for distributing it. The lyrics of some rap music were so bad she "couldn't even get Time Warner executives to read them," she said.

The debate on the power of the media and its effects on youth is taking place as a bitterly divided House of Representatives grapples with the nation's culture wars, trying to find a solution to the spate of school shootings that have left many teenagers dead since the beginning of the year.

The House currently is considering 44 amendments on cultural issues and crime, and 11 gun control proposals.

The House has approved tough mandatory sentences to combat juvenile crime. In a blow to conservatives, the House voted 282 to 146 to reject a measure by Rep Henry Hyde (R-Il), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, that would have made it a crime to expose children to explicit sex or violence in movies, books or video games.

Many Republicans, including three members of the Judiciary Committee, agreed with the Democrats that Hyde's legislation was an unconstitutional abridgement of the First Amendment right to free speech.

"TV is the most impactful institution in the US," encompassing both negative and positive influences, Bozell told parents, policymakers and educators at a symposium sponsored by the American Institute for Public Service in Washington.

One fact that has emerged from this multi-level debate is that sitting in front of the tube appears to be a favorite pastime for young Americans. Studies have shown that the average youngster graduating high school in the US has spent more time watching TV than listening to his teacher, Bozell said.

When asked who their role models were, less than one percent of high school students named their parents, their teacher, their minister or their member of Congress. Instead, two in three named a Hollywood celebrity, Bozell added.

The impact of the media on young people is so strong that Hollywood celebrities act as role models whether they want to or not, and increasingly, Hollywood is abrogating its responsibility.

"Hollywood has abandoned all pretense at responsibility," Bozell said.

Ratings merely give the industry an alibi to show even more raunchy material. Since the introduction of rating systems, the incidence of explicit sex on TV has increased by 42 percent, Bozell said.

Grass roots activism rather than government regulation was the most effective way to bring programming back to the "sweet innocence" of the TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s, when fistfights were the extent of the violence and programs sought to illustrate useful moral lessons, Bozell said.