By Robert J. Nebel
There is no doubt that there has been a heated culture war in this country as to what our children should and not see on our television screens. This war reached epic proportions on the heels of the fallout from the 2004 Janet Jackson Superbowl wardrobe malfunction halftime show. The strong arm of the Federal Communications Commission flexed its muscle and cracked down on broadcasters with more restrictions and bigger fines.
While the FCC was trying to do the right thing by protecting our children, they also whipped up the nation into a culture panic. Whether it was planned or unplanned, the halftime fiasco was a total of forty video frames. Think about it. The FCC changed overnight over forty video frames. That is a grand total of a little over one second.
From that short piece of live video, we now have a paranoid FCC that is spending its days chasing the likes of shock jock Howard Stern and television runs of films like “Saving Private Ryan.”
For the past three years on Veteran’s Day I would do my best to put my child to bed early so that I could watch “Saving Private Ryan” on network television.
I have been a huge Steven Spielberg fan since I was an 11-year-old. When “anything Spielberg” was on television, I perked up. So, it came as a big surprise to me when I tuned into the annual showing of Mr. Spielberg’s 1998 classic and instead viewed a message from the general manager of the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. He said that the station pulled the film due to its graphic nature and that it might conflict with family viewing hour as imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
“Huh? This does not make sense,” I said to myself. “They showed the film before.”
I have seen programming far more offensive on network television since I was a child. Remember that excellent television special called “Scared Straight” back in the 1970s? That was the first time I heard profane language on television. Even as a child, I understood the disclaimers and the nature of the show. I also remember an excellent Holocaust film when I was 11. Again, I understood the disclaimers. I confess that neither special scarred me for life. In fact, they informed me at a young age.
After doing some research about this controversy on legitimate Web sites, I found that 65 ABC affiliates pulled “Saving Private Ryan” because they were afraid of potentially offending conservative groups who might complain to the FCC, thereby jeopardizing their licenses. Please notice the keywords “might” and “potential.”
While many conservative groups say that they would not have complained about the showing of the film, the affiliates were still not convinced and played it safe. Even as ABC said that they would put up numerous disclaimers, the affiliates would not budge from their decision to pull the movie.
What a pusillanimous move.
Another sad decision came recently when the PBS character Buster came under fire for visiting a lesbian couple in New England on his show, “Postcards From Buster,” one of my child’s favorite shows. PBS buckled under pressure from the education secretary who said in a letter to PBS that, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode.” It seems that the words “exposed to the lifestyles” expresses a certain intolerance to a group of responsible citizens who pay their fair share of taxes that support public broadcasting. These thoughts only promote more fear in our culture. What is wrong with teaching tolerance to children? Indeed, many parents are uncomfortable with alternative lifestyles. They ought to become better educated on this subject. Who knows. Gays and lesbians might be living next to them or are even under their own roof.
As usual I am disappointed with the broadcasters’ decisions on these matters, but in this culture, I could hardly blame them. The conservative climate coupled with the FCC crackdown will only create a staid culture thereby reducing the chances of anything cutting-edge being produced.
Janet Jackson, Howard Stern and Buster are not the downfall of our civilization. It is fear. We ought not surrender our first amendment rights because of a self-created national hysteria.