Jack Valenti makes it two for two. In bygone days, his Motion Picture Association of America, trying to buy off censorious wannabes and fend off possible government action on those wannabes' behalf, came up with a movie rating system that was both very specific and utterly meaningless. And today, Jack Valenti, a quarter-century older and not appreciably wiser, beset with exactly the same situation (and in some cases, exactly the same wannabes, which to me at least would suggest they're overdue for a career change), has come up with variations on the same theme for television programs.

But if the MPAA ratings were arguable, the TV ratings are utterly silly. The difference between a TV-G and a TV-PG is — what? A reference to someone's butt? Flatulence effects? Juvenile humor, apparently, makes a program less suitable for juveniles. And what does it take to get to the next level? Conservative types have complained about the lack of specificity, and they're right about that, but then again, it's very hard to fit "This program contains two fart jokes" or "One of our cameramen couldn't take his lens off Téa Leoni's legs" into a little square in the corner of the screen. And besides, these are the people who object to all manner of stuff for no reason on God's green earth; Brent Bozell of the Media Research Council went into a snit last week about some sitcom female-anatomy reference that he said wasn't even suitable for his wife. I have to assume that she, at least, would have gotten the joke.

The system, such as it is, got passing grades or better from Congressional types, which is perfectly understandable: it fits well into the standard government model for "discovering" a problem and then proclaiming a "solution" that doesn't actually do much of anything except reflect some sort of ersatz glory on its inventors and backers. The ostensible problem here is that children are being exposed to inappropriate material over the air. The real problem, however, is that children are watching far too much television — but nobody, in Hollywood, in Washington or in your favorite activist group, is likely to suggest that parents use their ultimate form of parental control: "Turn off that damn thing and go do your homework!" And if they hadn't said "damn", they could have gotten a TV-G. Maybe.

The Vent

#41
16 February 1997

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