Now, instead of a vast, vile wasteland, we'll have peace on Earth and gentle kids

March 01, 1996|By Mike Littwin

We can finally rest easy. Our children -- our undereducated, violence-prone, MTV-addled progeny -- now face a bright and certain future.

And we owe it all to the smiling TV executives and smiling politicians who met yesterday in an eventful and toothful White House photo-op.

Before the cameras and microphones, before God and country, the TV boys said it was a new day. In this new day, which is promised to arrive by next January, the networks and cable stations will voluntarily (wink, wink) rate their programs for sex and violence in much the way that movies do.

The politicians greeted the news as if they had just been handed the keys to the electoral college, and maybe they have.

Bill Clinton called the gathering "truly historic." And Al Gore, when he wasn't nodding in agreement to everything Clinton said, added for good measure, "For the first time, parents will be in the driver's seat" when it comes to TV.

Up to this point, parents apparently didn't understand how much trash (TV critics insist the new G-rating should stand for garbage) is on the tube.

For example, without ratings, parents had no way to know "Married With Children" was rife with sexual innuendo and sixth-grade boys' room humor. Many parents had confused it with "Masterpiece Theatre."

Without ratings, parents were in the dark about the nudity on "NYPD Blue" or how the daytime soaps usually end up with somebody pawing somebody else's body in the bedroom or that "Jenny Jones" exploits society's losers for the titillation of society's near-losers.

Without ratings, parents couldn't know that on "Friends," rolling on the floor could lead to a roll in the hay.

After all, parents didn't watch these shows themselves, did they?

The way I understand it, most parents were in their rooms reading Proust while their children were downstairs consuming poisonous TV, which the parents, in their innocence, simply assumed must be good for them -- or why else would it be on the public airwaves?

Now they'll know and everything will have to change. With the promised V-chip blocking out violent shows and the ratings system keeping parents informed, parents will finally take charge of what their children watch.

This was, we were assured, the ceremonial wresting of the remote control from our children's hands. The clicker, which many parents were only dimly aware of, is now the property of the grown-ups.

And before you can say Mary Poppins, kids will be watching, with their parents, of course, a Discovery Channel show on penguins instead of, say, "Beverly Hills 90210."

This is a new day, all right.

And with this new parental interest, the TV networks will be forced to become more responsible. Because if parents had known about these shows, we'd never have gotten to this sorry state to begin with.

The V-chip, we can only hope, will block out those mayhem-filled Roadrunner cartoons. No more Yosemite Sam to turn our kids into gun nuts. Barney will still be around, though, so we can feel free to let our children watch as much TV as they like.

TV will change all right. The networks will no doubt change in just the way the movie business changed from the time it put in its ratings system. Movies, I'm sure you'll agree, are now less violent, contain less sexual content and are more edifying than ever before.

Yes, you can expect change. TV will change just as the music industry has changed since Tipper Gore and others talked the recording companies into stuffing lyrics into the CD jewel boxes. reading the lyrics right now of Alanis Morissette's multi-Grammy-winning "You Oughta Know."

I can't print the lyrics in a family newspaper. But they include a surprising activity in a movie theater (it's a sexual act they won't show even on "Baywatch"). And there is, of course, the f-word (and I don't mean Fox).

By the way, the album has sold 5 million copies.

OK, there's a way to go. We can still kill the NEA. End swearing on the Internet. Follow the lead of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, which last year removed statues of a naked Cupid from its hallways so as not to offend visiting schoolchildren.

You see, if we can only protect our children from the popular culture, maybe we'd have time, although not right away, to look into drugs, poverty, malnutrition, gun proliferation, broken-down schools, closed-up libraries.

Well, you do what you can.

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