Taking Out The TV Trash

From the July 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

Excerpted from Karl Zinsmeister in The American Enterprise, March/April.

Attempts have been made recently to do something about TV’s descent into gutter programming. And they haven’t worked. Specifically, the new ratings system hammered out to help parents has been sabotaged by the networks. The broadcasters have been allowed to rate themselves, rather than having some objective outside body do the job, and they’re cheating like mad. [A] Kaiser Family Foundation study discovered that fully 92 percent of programs containing sexual matter didn’t carry the S rating they are supposed to; 79 percent of programs depicting violence weren’t marked with a V. And 91 percent of shows with crude language lacked an L label….

One way a significant number of concerned Americans are dealing with this sleaziness is by simply walking away. Two million households have abandoned TV altogether. Others are just turning it on less…but lots just found better things to do. They logged onto a computer, watched videotapes, read record numbers of books, [or] got out of the house. University of Michigan research, meanwhile, shows that daily TV watching by children has recently fallen for the first time, by an average of about 12 percent….

But ultimately it must be consumers (and advertisers) more than producers who will clean up TV. For there is no denying that Americans currently sit down to watch an unholy amount of [gunk] they ought not.

A big problem is that, as writer Terry Mattingly puts it, “Most Americans do not watch programs on TV that they have made decisions to watch, based on their values or even their interests. Most Americans watch TV to kill time, to make life go away in small, stupid chunks.”

That needs to change.

And it all starts, and ends, in our house.