Friday, March 26, 2010

Television and Family Values

The prior blog post discussed the disdain many Christian families have for television. Obviously, many families of other faiths and families of no religious faith have similar concerns. It is not something discussed much in the media, but so much that is on television these days is toxic for children (and not that great for adults). If you can navigate through the shows that contain pervasive sexualized themes and/or display graphic violence, you are still generally stuck with the commercials which can be even worse. This point was driven home for me again recently when our family tried to watch the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.

When our family tuned in to watch the Super Bowl this year, I had to keep asking our kids to close their eyes for a moment to avoid commercials for brutal crime shows that showed images of corpses, commercials with objectified sexualized portrayals of women, and commercials featuring adults who were essentially worshipping beer. These were not images and concepts I wanted them to absorb. The barrage was so great and the commercial interruptions so frequent, I couldn’t have them close their eyes for all of the offensive commercials. It troubled me that to simply enjoy a football game, we had to endure so many disgusting images and messages. Moreover, it seems that many people are just so accustomed to these images and messages, they think nothing of it. What happened to our society?!

The Winter Olympics wasn’t much better. I was horrified when we tuned in for the Opening Ceremonies and NBC kept showing the heartbreaking, graphic footage of the fatal crash of the Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili. I suppose I was somewhat grateful that the anchors at least warned viewers of the deeply disturbing nature of the footage, which allowed me time to have our kids cover their eyes (and for me to close my own!). But if the footage itself was so graphic that a warning like that was necessary, why did they show it at all—let alone numerous times? Where was the respect for the young man who died, and the respect for his grieving loved ones? More fundamentally, where was the respect for basic human dignity? The death of a human being is a solemn moment. Why did anyone at NBC think it was important or necessary to show that footage even once? Perhaps I’m cynical, but I assume it was a warped ploy at ratings based on the base human appetite for blood and guts. In commercial television, is it necessary to try to appeal to such base appetites? ...I’m somewhat frightened of the potential response to that question.

It seems like not many people in our country even think about the impact of such television content on children. The implicit attitude in most circles is that guarding children from negative influences is the parents’ job—period. But how exactly can parents do that job when the inappropriate images and messages are so ubiquitous? If you have young children, are you just not supposed to let them near Super Bowl and Olympic coverage? Those sporting events in and of themselves are not offensive.

It is frustrating to me and many other parents that television has degraded so much that we don’t feel it safe or appropriate to let our children watch even occasionally. And I worry about the effect of sexualized and/or violent content that is routinely viewed by children in families where the television is on more frequently and monitored less closely. But frankly, I also worry about the effect of such content on adults. Particularly when seen so frequently, it must have a significant impact on one’s thinking and how one views others. What does it say about our society that sexualized and violent content is so pervasive? It is a concern that rarely seems to be raised as a problem outside religious circles. As a result, critics are often dismissed (unfairly)as up-tight prudes to deflect and dismiss their concerns.

Matthew 18:5 (Contemporary English Version)

And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me.

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