Role of censor belongs to parents, entertainment industry

November 02, 2003|By Shaun Borsh

AS AMERICANS, we do not censor. But as parents, we should.

Why should our children endure the fast-paced, sexually overt, dancing bellybuttons of today's pop culture?

Should an art form presented to children include images of violence against women?

Why promote the oxymoronic notion of the empowered video babe?

How do we counter, for our daughters, the seductress figure who chants about a jerky boy treating her badly?

The entertainment industry has occasionally acquiesced to moral concern. The Ed Sullivan Show introduced Elvis Presley to America's adolescents in 1956, but Elvis' gyrating pelvis was shunned by television cameras so as not to incite teen-agers or their parents.

Again, in 1967, Mr. Sullivan asked the Rolling Stones to change what he regarded as an "objectionable" risquM-i lyric, "Let's spend the night together," to a less scandalous, "Let's spend some time together." The Stones made the change for Mr. Sullivan's CBS variety show.

Although these incidents seem laughable now, perhaps the key to guarding children from show biz impropriety is when the concern emanates from within the industry. If artists wished to perform on Mr. Sullivan's show, he decreed the acceptable mores.

In the 1980s, a young senator's wife from Tennessee met with vehement opposition when she pointed out vulgar and misogynistic lyrics in rock songs and a relatively new art form called rap music. Tipper Gore was admonished and vilified in the media for asking the music industry to voluntarily label albums warning consumers of explicit language. Contrary to Ed Sullivan's moral muscle, Ms. Gore was tagged a Southern conservative political nuisance. Anti-Tipper groups cried censorship.

As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure the physical safety and emotional well-being of our children. We may turn the channel, flip the dial or unplug the TV altogether. If violent or sexual images marketed to our children incense us, it is our obligation to deter, deflect and explain to our children why we feel these images are harmful.

But the images presented by artists are not just in their art. They are in the everyday fabric of our culture, from advertisements for soda to the latest video game. How does a parent combat the violent and sexual images surrounding our daily existence?

We, as Americans, exercise our consumer prowess that loyally supports sports figures, cartoon characters and theatrical and recording artists. Our purchasing power drives the mechanism that feeds the supply of current pop culture. When we, as parents, allow ourselves to be held hostage to marketing ploys of exploitative products, we have ourselves to blame. At that point, what are we teaching our children?

It is possible to teach our children our personal values without starting a political movement. But wouldn't it be nice to feel partnered with artistic parents who get it?

Again, maybe the responsibility should emanate from within the entertainment industry. Where are the creative parents? There must be a community of artists who care about how their work is marketed to children.

Repressing an individual's talent to communicate his or her creativity is wrong. Editing or amending oneself for the health and well-being of our children is noble.

Although Kendel Ehrlich's recent flip comment expressing her desire to shoot pop star Britney Spears may have misfired, the frustration Maryland's first lady expressed toward the sexual energy marketed to children is not without merit. Ms. Ehrlich's aggravation in having our children inundated with sexual and violent images is real and worthy of discussion, especially at a domestic violence conference.

As political voices, Kendel Ehrlich and Tipper Gore may have boggled their message. As mothers, they got it right.

Shaun Borsh lives in Columbia.

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