A History of Violence: The PTC, Personal Responsibility, and a Violent Culture
Recently, we here at TV Rage have reported on complaints lodged by the Parents Television Council, with the PTC's latest criticism leveled at ABC's Scandal over a graphic scene of "enhanced interrogation" that was featured in last Thursday's episode. I had heard of this group before, but I didn't know much about them, so that got me wondering...
WHAT'S UP WITH THE PTC?
Founded in 1995 by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III, the Parents Television Council is a self-styled media watchdog group based in the United States that advocates morality and decency on television, ostensibly on behalf of parents and families across the country. Although the PTC claims to be a nonpartisan education organization, the group was modeled after the National Legion of Decency, an organization established in 1933 to identify and combat "immoral" content in cinema on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition to issuing its own list of ratings that provided "a moral estimate of current entertainment feature motion pictures," the Legion implored members and churchgoers to recite a pledge, composed by the group's founder Archbishop John McNicholas, condemning "vile and unwholesome" films and vowing to stamp them out because they represented a threat to one's "moral life." The Legion lost its teeth following a landmark 1952 ruling in which the Supreme Court declared that sacrilege was not a valid ground for censorship, and the group had become largely irrelevant by the late '60s. Apparently the Legion made enough of an impression on L. Brent Bozell III that he used the organization and its values as a model when he established the PTC, originally under the umbrella of his Media Research Center, a conservative group that had been monitoring the entertainment industry for liberal bias since 1989.
Operating under Bozell's belief that decency had eroded from primetime television, the PTC became well-known for criticizing popular programs in the mid '90s such as Friends, Ally McBeal, Dawson's Creek, Ellen, and Spin City for broadcasting material that they deemed offensive for various reasons, mostly involving the taboo topics of sex and homosexuality. In 1999, the PTC organized a campaign against the World Wrestling Federation (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment) for using violence and sex appeal to promote its SmackDown program. Not content with simply boycotting the highly-rated show, Bozell and other members of the PTC met with companies that advertised during SmackDown — broadcast at 8:00 PM on UPN at the time — and urged them to withdraw sponsorship. As part of their accusations, the PTC representatives claimed that 30 to 40 sponsors had abandoned the WWF due to the inappropriate content and blamed the sports entertainment company for the deaths of four young children killed by peers mimicking pro wrestling moves they had seen on TV. These allegations finally triggered a lawsuit from the WWF in November of 2000. After the judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case, the PTC paid the WWF $3.5 million in an out-of-court settlement that also included a public apology from Bozell, who was forced to recant his claims that the company was responsible for the deaths of the four children. As a further measure of revenge for slandering the company's reputation, the WWF satirized the situation by creating a faction called Right To Censor, or RTC, led by a self-righteous blowhard in a suit and tie who was disgusted by the sex and violence around him.
WHAT'S THEIR PROBLEM NOW?
The PTC continued to rail against programming that it determined to be indecent and unsuitable for families, targeting everything from Bono's F-bomb at the 2003 Golden Globes to Janet Jackson's nipple slip during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show to Adam Lambert's simulation of oral sex at the 2009 American Music Awards. Displaying the group's versatility, the PTC branched out into criticizing advertising, in-flight entertainment, and YouTube videos, and also fought to remain relevant by attacking the most popular series of the new millenium, such as That '70s Show (masturbation), Survivor (briefly exposed penis), Two and a Half Men (lap dance), Big Brother (F-word), NYPD Blue (partial female nudity), Without A Trace (teenage orgy), Gossip Girl (threesome), American Dad (horse ejaculation), Glee ("narcotics abuse, public masturbation, and school-sanctioned burlesque"), and anything on MTV (everything). Thanks to the PTC, the number of indecency complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission rose substantially in the first half of the decade, a majority of them generated by the PTC.
In 2007, L. Brent Bozell III was succeeded as president by Tim Winter, an executive with a law degree and extensive management experience working for NBC and MGM. The change in leadership did not deter the PTC and the group has yet to give up what they perceive to be the good fight, despite posting financial losses in recent years. Over the last couple of months, TV Rage has documented the organization's complaints against Seth MacFarlane and The Walking Dead, and the PTC has sought to be included in the national dialogue on violence in the media in the wake of the tragic elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, last month. In a pathetic bid for attention, the PTC this week slammed ABC for airing an episode of its political drama Scandal that showed a character being waterboarded and physically assaulted during an interrogation. Accused of conspiring to assassinate the US President, the suspect had been arrested under the Patriot Act and eventually succumbed to the "enhanced interrogation" techniques, falsely confessing to the crime. Invoking the spectre of the Newtown shooting, Tim Winter blasted the Alphabet network for the three-minute torture scene, even though Scandal airs at 10:00 PM and the episode in question was preceded by a content advisory warning.
WHAT'S THE ANSWER?
To be fair, the PTC raises some good points when it comes to wanton depictions of sex and violence on broadcast television in the earlier hours of the evening and the influence on children. Too often, violence is glamorized and made to look cool when the reality is quite different, and promotional materials for MTV's various Teen Mom series seem to encourage teenage pregnancy. However, it is the height of irony for a conservative organization to abdicate responsibility on behalf of parental units everywhere and assign blame to the producers and networks, instead of placing the onus on parents to monitor their own children. Common sense would be a useful tool in navigating their viewing habits — if the show airs after 9 PM (or any time of the day on MTV) it's probably not suitable for your average child under the age of 14. If the show is an HBO or Showtime original series, it's probably not suitable for your average child under the age of 14. If the show has "Dead" somewhere in the title or follows the adventures of a serial killer, it probably isn't suitable for your average child under the age of 14. I'm not a parent myself, but I know single mothers who work full-time and still make the extra effort to investigate the movies and TV shows that their children want to watch, so it can be done.
Television is no longer the domain of the traditional family and should not be used as a babysitter, to coin a trite and overused phrase. Those of us without children pay the same cable bill every month, and we likely pay even more for extra services because we have more disposable income. Although the PTC would have you believe differently, TV shows are not responsible for raising children or putting guns in the hands of mentally disturbed individuals. By attempting to link the simulated torture on Scandal to real-world violence, the PTC is indirectly noting the influence of the inherently violent American culture that is at the heart of the problem. The nation's proud history is awash with brutal, bloody violence from the top on down, as evidenced by the enhanced interrogation tactics employed by the US government that were depicted on Scandal. On their own, enacting gun laws or toning down violent TV shows won't singlehandedly prevent gun violence, but they could be part of a larger solution that must somehow undo 230-plus years of ideology and identity.
I think the PTC is nothing more than a lunatic fringe group who do nothing but whine when they apparently want to keep parents irresponsible.
I think that "violent" media shouldn't even be in the discussion of mass shootings or violent crime in general anymore. "Violent" media is more prevalent and 99.99999999% of people who view it don't go commit mass murder, plus the US Supreme Court was crystal clear in June 2011 when they ruled in Brown v. EMA that "violent" content in media is protected free speech under the First Amendment.
Message Posted On Jan 16th, 2013, 12:26 pm
Excellent article, Joel. Parents don't need an organization such as the PTC, which purports to stand up for them, but is really just into bashing TV producers for their supposedly liberal views. Parents can make up their own minds as to what is suitable for their children. The PTC is just another right-wing group pretending to be useful. Let's hope it continues to lose money and eventually disappears.
The depiction of waterboarding is consistent with descriptions I have read (I have, fortunately, never seen it done). Why shouldn't America know what our leaders order done to people?
Waterboarding re-emerged under a recent conservative president (although it has been around for decades), and is for the moment linked to that ethos (although it is likely that Obama's administration is doing the same things Bush's did). I suspect Bozell's objection has less to do with a depiction of violence than it does with a depiction of violence that might undermine his chosen political faction.
Level 1 (9%) Since: 10/Aug/10
Message Posted On Jan 15th, 2013, 9:44 pm
I am surprise !! Show had advertisment at the beginning stating extreme violence and mature audience. Open your eyes PTC there is violence everywhere, drugs and sex also. I live in Vegas where some women wait in line to enter bar dressed only with a chain mail, . ( totally see thru and no undies) parading in front of kids. Why are you trying to put blindfold and hide stuff the make life appear in pink when it is not. This is reality, I am not saying that it is happening at the Pentagon. but it is hapening somewhere. Tv and video game are not to blame for sex, drugs and violence these days. Dont you recall when you were a kid when your parents said no to you, the first thing you did was to do the opposite?. And catholic, well according to history, orgy and torture were going on all the time in those days, ( Cesar Caligula even the bible like Moise had many wives, etc) and what about Einstein and those great minds we all know that they were using drugs.. Are you trying to deny that too? Grow up. and open your eyes. I am not saying that is ok and I agree with all this but it is reality. What about the news I guess that is not violent at all. Violence, sex and drugs are here. Do not try to hide what is going on it is going to turn around and bite your bootie. Instead tht is the time to sit down with your kids and explain them.
Level 2 (84%) Since: 12/Oct/07
Message Posted On Jan 15th, 2013, 4:30 pm
My 13 yr old daughter would be considered, by today's standards, to be a little immature. What TV or films she does watch, I watch with her. I often find myself pausing programs to give little lessons or explain slang phrases ( I'm American but my daughter was born in Italy)We also use programs such as Glee, The Lying Game, Switched at Birth, and Parenthood as oppurtunities to actually talk about moral or ethical choices and behavior. Family Guy, The Simpson's, and recently, Two and 1\2 men are shows I keep far away from her and won't even bother trying to explain or discuss them with her. I don't think I'm sheltering her, I think I'm educating her. Isn't that what MY job is? She likes to watch also the MTV show about being 16 and pregnant. I have no problem with this either since she gets a good slap of reality on what life would really be like under these circumstances. So far she simply pities those poor girls.
I do think there are valid points of the PTC, but I also think they go to the extreme, like most right wing conservatives. I did see Scandal and it was disturbing, however, it's also an issue that needs to be addressed in our politically correct society. If our kids hear the term "waterboarding" are we going to be able to discuss this with them in an informed manner? Or shall we pretend it doesn't exist and it's not our problem? Like others have said, TV is not our babysitter, and it doesn't have to be evil either. I'm still the parent in this house, which means I guide, teach, inform, instruct and take responsibility for my child's actions,until she's old enough to do so for herself. If I've done my job until that time, then hopefully she'll make the right decisions based on that.
Message Posted On Jan 15th, 2013, 2:05 pm
Does a denunciation by the PTC effect viewing figures? I find all negative comments by christian/right wing groups encourage me to watch such programes.I also find such groups are usually liars,with questionable morals.
Level 25 (71%) Points: 13561.4 Since: 16/Nov/12
Message Posted On Jan 15th, 2013, 1:54 pm
Really interesting piece Joel, it has always driven me nuts when people let their kids watch television unsupervised and then get angry when they stumble upon something inappropriate. Parenting is more than sticking your kid in front of a screen and placing the blame and ownership on others.