Did you know the Teletubbies are trying to convert your children to sin? Did you know that TV IS LEADING CHILDREN DOWN A MORAL SEWER? Well, if you listen to Jerry Falwell and Steve Allen, we're all going to hell, and TV is Cerberus.
Recently, Steve Allen, on behalf of an outfit called Parents Television Council, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with the above moral-sewer header. This surprised me somewhat, because Allen isn't a stupid man; however, once I read the ad, I remembered that the back-jacket copy of Michael Medved's insipid HOLLYWOOD VS. AMERICA included an approving blurb from one Steve Allen. So evidently Allen is firmly in the TV-makes-people-do-bad-stuff camp.
Statistics will tell you anything if you torture them enough, and the ones Allen provides have been tortured to near-incoherence. "Since television started around 1000 studies, reports, etc. concerning the impact of TV violence have been published." So? He doesn't say what conclusions those 1000 studies reached; some of them may well have disagreed with his thesis, but American discourse is about quantity, not quality. To continue: "The National Institute of Mental Health and 7 more national organizations [names, please?] say there is overwhelming evidence that violent entertainment causes violent behavior."
Evidence, please? "An ABC network study found 22 to 34 percent of young felons imprisoned for violent crimes said they had consciously imitated crime techniques learned from watching television programs." Even if this is true -- even if these fine, upstanding felons aren't lying to cover their own asses ("Your Honor, I was a good kid until I started watching WALKER, TEXAS RANGER") -- all it proves is that the violent felons didn't have the imagination to be violent in their own style. Take away TV and you still have video games, movies, music, books -- wouldn't it be wonderful if someone was inspired to commit a crime by actually reading in this text-phobic era? Take away all media and you still have the violent impulse in all of us. Which has been with us since the dawn of time. Most of us can contain it. Some can't. With or without TV.
I should also pause here and mention that Steve Allen, along with his wife Jayne Meadows, has appeared on TV's HOMICIDE -- not the kindest, gentlest show...
"Homicide rates doubled in 10 to 15 years after TV was first introduced into specific areas of the U.S. and Canada." That would've been what, in the '50s and '60s? Mightn't the population explosion, the economy, the rise of corporations and the decline in employment, the cult of status, have a teeny tiny something to do with it? If anything, TV's biggest contribution to violence is commercials -- people see ads for stuff they can't afford and covet lifestyles they can't have, which sometimes leads to theft and homicide. I mean, you might as well just go after Madison Avenue. The fact is, most people understand that if you want something you can't have, you either shift your priorities and stop wanting it, or you work honestly to get it. And then you have the morally blank, who have been with us, again, since forever. Ask Dostoyevsky.
This one really entertained me: "In a survey of 10-to-16-year-olds, 62 percent said sex on TV influences their peers to have sex when they're too young." I'd like to see how the surveys were worded, for one thing. Also, what the fuck have we come to when we're seriously listening to 10-to-16-year-olds on the topic of sex and letting their dubious statements guide our policies? If kids are saying that, they're trying to deflect blame from their own developing libidos. TV doesn't influence anyone to have sex too young. Horniness does. Wasn't Steve Allen ever a teenager? (And what about the kids having sex centuries before TV?)
The ad finishes by inviting us to send Steve an enclosed coupon: "Yes, Steve, I want to be counted as one who agrees that TV is leading us down a moral sewer. I think it is unconscionable for fine companies to use their ad dollars to send TV filth, vulgarity, coarse humor, premarital sex situations, violence, killings and all the rest into American living rooms and children's bedrooms."
Children's bedrooms?? Okay, one good way to keep TV filth out of your child's bedroom is to keep television sets out of your child's bedroom! I mean, am I the asshole here? Does this solution make sense to you or am I just way off? Jesus Christ, it's not like TVs magically sprout up in little Timmy's room -- the parents have to buy the TV set! And put it in there! And pay for the cable hookup! And, while they're at it, raise their children properly instead of expecting TV to be an electronic babysitter...
Basically the ad is an appeal to parents to put pressure on the companies (or sponsors) who run ads during prime time -- so essentially I see not a lot of difference between this crusade and, say, any other pressure group's tactics. Like, say, the Moral Majority and its kingpin, Jerry Falwell.
Last week, Falwell outed a Teletubbie. Yes. In his newsletter, Falwell asserted that Tinky Winky -- who is purple and carries a bag, and whose cranial antenna is shaped like a triangle -- is clearly gay. "As a Christian," he fumed, "I feel that role-modeling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children."
What is he, on fuckin' crack?!? This is almost too stupid to discuss, but I got a couple of points anyway. Number one, what Falwell is saying isn't even new. Over in Britain (where the Teletubbies began), Tinky Winky has been something of a campy gay icon for like a year. But that's among gay adults with a sense of humor, not among kids. Tinky Winky, to British gay adults, has joined Batman & Robin and Bert & Ernie in the subversive pop-culture might-be-gay club. Basically, gay people watch TELETUBBIES and laugh at all the stuff Tinky Winky does that fits the gay stereotypes. It's a kitsch thing. A "gay until proven straight" thing.
Toddlers, on the other hand, have no clue about any of this. To them, Tinky Winky is purple and he runs around going "La-laaaa" like the other three Teletubbies. That's it. End of story.
Second point: Even if kids could be converted to "the gay lifestyle" by watching TELETUBBIES, what's wrong with that? At least they won't grow up to be Jerry Falwell. And I'm getting sick of his irrational fear and hatred disguised as "Christian values." If Christ ever came back, he'd come back as a black lesbian. And then they'd crucify him all over again...with Falwell swinging the hammer.