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The Areola That Changed Everything
NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright takes on the "unmistakable" chill on free speech after the "wardrobe malfunction," noting, among other things, the CBS affiliates who refused to broadcast the doc "9/11" for fear they'd be fined when rescuers' language was a little more "coarse" than "Oh, poo!"

Wright writes in The Wall Street Journal of the idiocy that is the FCC's suggestion for a return of "family hour" on network TV:

...a voluntary agreement first made 30 years ago among the three broadcast networks to offer family-friendly programming during the 8 o'clock hour. But with cable and satellite, access to VOD services, DVD players and digital recording devices, the vast majority of Americans have programming at their fingertips that will meet any conceivable interest at any time of the day or night. That's great news for parents. But it also highlights the flaw in the notion that, in 2006, the government should mandate that a specific hour be set aside for a certain type of programming on broadcast TV, or indeed that the FCC should attempt to regulate all of broadcast network primetime TV based on standards to protect kids.

For starters, two-thirds of households do not have children under 18. One could reasonably suggest that government policy should not try to force all of broadcast TV to disregard the programming tastes and desires of two-thirds of all households. But FCC regulators do more than just ignore these households. They are blind to the reality of today's media environment. With more than 50% of homes having Internet access and 85% subscribing to cable and satellite services, the media choice is staggering. The average home receives 100 TV channels. Broadcast channels sit side-by-side with cable; and the under-18 cohort that the FCC focuses on so intently no longer knows the difference. Indeed, kids watch cable significantly more than broadcast and spend time on the Internet with unlimited access to material of every description.

So an FCC policy intent on ensuring that there will be nothing on broadcast TV that is inappropriate for kids during certain hours is doomed to failure. Do the math: 85% of households have cable and satellite, leaving 15% receiving broadcast TV only.

...Thus, the FCC appears to be basing its actions on a policy that is relevant to 5% of households. Moreover, government efforts to regulate content are invariably riddled with unfortunate consequences.

For example, breaking with established precedent, the FCC recently found a live network news program to be "indecent" because a single expletive was unexpectedly uttered by someone being interviewed by a reporter. What public interest is served when news organizations, unwilling to take the risk of incurring a fine, stop interviewing individuals live on camera -- or air all newscasts only after being cleared by a language censor? This ruling also jeopardizes the live sports broadcasts. What if a microphone accidentally picks up a fan yelling something on the FCC's list of bad words? A sports broadcast becomes a multimillion dollar gamble.

So what is the answer? It is certainly not that government should regulate content on cable TV and the Internet. But there is a reasonable solution. Just as parents use technology on the Internet, ratings information and blocking technology are available for TV. Broadcast and cable networks have a ratings and parental-advisory system, and today's TV sets are equipped with V-chips that block specified programming from entering a home. The entire TV industry is striving to provide parents with help to guide them through today's thicket of offerings. To make sure parents are aware of the control they have over programming, the TV industry and Ad Council are collaborating on a $300 million educational campaign.

To make parents aware of the control they have? Um, perhaps if you don't understand the power of the channel changer and the on-off button on the remote, you not only shouldn't be having children, you should probably be living in a group home with constant supervision so you don't hurt yourself.

As I've said in the past, if you have children, YOU parent them. Don't make the government parent them -- and the rest of us in the process. Saturday night, I went to a dinner my friends Stuart and Gabriella arranged in L.A. for a bunch of their friends. Gabriella is Czech, and her sister Christina was there with her American husband and her little boy, Alessandro. And what an amazing kid -- a reflection of exceptional (as in, a rare breed of) parents.

He is 3, and was wearing a tiny seersucker jacket and a tie, and sitting in his chair perfectly behaved. His parents had just moved from the U.S.A. to France, because they want to raise him as not only bilingual, but in an environment where kids are made to behave and have real structure in their lives. I already know that French children are expected to act like little adults when they aren't in a kid environment like the playground; for example, to eat what the adults are eating, to shut up and not take over as the center of attention when adult conversation is going on. Interestingly enough, French parents seem less likely to treat their kids like fragile porcelain dolls. They seem to understand that part of life is, for example, falling down and getting hurt.

But, back to the manners arena, Christina told me, on the playground in France, even at age three, children line up politely to ride the swings, and if they bump each other, they tend to say, "Excusez-moi." Also, if, on the playground or in a restaurant, a child gets out of line, unlike here, where it's heresy to say anything to anyone's child, another mother or another adult will, of course, tell the child to behave (if you're not doing your job or not close enough at hand to do your job as a parent). I told Christina the Eleanor Roosevelt quote I've referenced before:

As Pasadena's Michael Lifton wrote in a letter to the editor about my LA Weekly piece on the brats in the Rose Cafe:
I love Amy Alkon’s report of her encounter with a screaming toddler. “Mommy” could obviously benefit from the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Discipline your children, or the world will do it for you.”

Why are children bratty? In Toward A Psychology Of Being, Abraham Maslowe writes:

Much disturbance in children and adolescents can be understood as a consequence of the uncertainty of adults about their values. As a consequence, many youngsters in the United States live not by adult values but by adolescent values, which of course are immature, ignorant and heavily determined by confused, adolescent needs.

Oh, I'm so sorry, does parenting get in the way of your yoga appointment, your hair appointment, your manicure, your date with your guru?

Posted by aalkon at November 7, 2006 9:12 AM

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Comments

I regulate what my kids watch, but I hate when R-rated ads run during the family type shows. We are watching a boring-to-you, kid type show and an ad for a cop show comes on, showing someone getting shot in the face. I keep the remote near, but I don't move so fast these days. Mostly, we don't watch TV-just DVD's. I know we are not the demographic advertisers care about, so I don't expect much change.

Posted by: Ruth at November 7, 2006 3:53 AM

And this "unmistakable chill " has cost us exactly what? Broadcasting's a fundamentally different game than the internet. When you turn on your PC, you're reaching out to pull things into your home, whereas with TV you're letting things be funneled in. Mr. Wright knows plenty well that speech --and imagery (including video)-- is freer than it's ever been (in every sense), and that people are not so longer interested in getting it from NBC or Universal venues for twenty hours a week. But he could have been a new media magnate too: Google would have *loved* to have him as an investor in 1999, but he was too busy trying to get Jennifer Anniston on the cover of Rolling Stone again. He needs to review Godfather Pt. II: "Michael, this is the business we have chosen".

Posted by: Crid at November 7, 2006 3:57 AM

"He is 3, and was wearing a tiny seersucker jacket and a tie..."

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

I see trouble in this poor tot's teen years.

Posted by: jody tresidder at November 7, 2006 4:32 AM

Why, because knowing how to dress and having good manners are somehow a detriment in our society? He, of course, wears play clothes on the playground -- I know, not because I'm psychic, but because his mother and I also had a conversation about how he was dressed. But, I have to tell you, as somebody who is in the habit of "dressing" daily, it has benefits. What's wrong with looking like a little gentleman instead of like a tiny slob at a dinner party? Everyone thought he was adorable.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 7, 2006 4:44 AM

Oh, and also, he sat still and behaved very well. He did stick his straw in my water glass at one point, and his mother was horrified and apologized. I told her, I know kids will be kids -- what matters to me is that she, like my neighbors, who are about the most considerate parents around, care to be upset when their kids act up. My neighbor's 5-year-old kid sometimes wakes me up. Shit happens. What I care about is that his mother, if she hears him being noisy about when I'm usually taking a nap from writing in the afternoon, cares to say, "Shhh, Amy might be sleeping."

These parents, likewise, were great. The kid was three, and after a couple of hours, he started to get rambunctious. Did they just ignore it and continue the (very interesting) conversation with the rest of us? No, they did exactly the right thing -- excused themselves, explaining that their child was having a hard time sitting still, and they needed to take him home. My kind of parents.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 7, 2006 4:47 AM

I'm all for responsible child-rearing, but I know for a fact that the french have absolutely no concept of "the line". They act like it is a giant sidewinding river with all sorts of canals flowing in and out. Then they exchange puzzled glances as more people flood the front of the line, as if to say "who? moi?"

The french have advanced in some areas but have remained charmingly clueless in the most basic aspects of human interactivity.

Posted by: Jake at November 7, 2006 5:02 AM

Amy,
Because "looking like a little gentleman" and "adorable" are mutually exclusive in my fashion vocabulary ( the Jonbenetfication of the precious kiddies - spare me!).

Because stuffing three-year-olds into miniature adult costumes has nothing to do protecting society from detriment.

Because a grown women grumpily expecting kiddies to hush during an adult's afternoon nap next door is an upside down expectation.

Because you, Amy, haven't haven't experienced what passes for afternoon school sports as a foreign pupil transplanted into a French lycee during her tender teen years.

Dunno if it has anything to do with French tinies being over-managed by maman in the sand pit - but all the girls pinched, and all the boys wept.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 7, 2006 6:15 AM

Um, Jon Benet was a sexualized child probably acting out some fantasy of her mother's to be Miss America. This was a kid nicely dressed for a dinner party. Knowing how to dress, and dressing well, is part of making your way in the world. You can always wear jeans, too.

It's an "upside down" expectation for people to be considerate of one another? Boy, I'm glad I don't live next to you. FYI, when my neighbor's baby is sleeping, which is usually around noon, I'm careful to turn my music down before I open my door to go out back (where their house is). Is this also "an upside down expectation"?

And Jake, I've experienced what you've said about the line in France. I'm just reporting what Christina said about the playground. I can't explain why a lady cut in front of me at Monoprix as if it was her right. French society isn't perfect, but I don't see a whole lot of restraint of children in ours. I sometimes describe my parents as "loving fascists." What they gave me was boundaries -- which gave me the grounding and discipline to have a lot of freedom in my life.

Likewise, I worked very hard to train my dog. This means I can take her anywhere. All I have to say is "lie down, no noise!" and she'll lie in my lap and not make a peep. For hours, if necessary. What does this mean? She isn't home alone, all lonely. It serves my dog, it serves kids, to be given boundaries.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 7, 2006 6:41 AM

Prince Charles, England, agrees with you:
'What is wrong with everybody nowadays? 'What is it that makes everyone seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?'

He goes on to blame the 'learning culture in schools' and a 'child-centred system which admits no failure' and tells people they can achieve greatness without 'putting in the necessary effort or having the natural abilities'.

"Good Job, Prince!"

Those 2 words of so-called praise make me cringe. Parents praise every half-assed effort their kid makes, when a simple thanks might do. The kid doesn't even believe it anymore, but expects praise for everything from taking a shit to pressing all 12 buttons in an elevator full of adults who need to be somewhere on time.

Posted by: Mimi at November 7, 2006 7:29 AM

"Good Job, Prince"

Applause for child-rearing advice from an etiolated remnant of the British aristocracy whose mommy won't let him become king? In 2006? Here in America? Golly!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 7, 2006 8:03 AM

Amy, would you advocate disbanding the FCC?

Posted by: Jon at November 7, 2006 8:42 AM

I guess maybe because my children are now 19 and 22, I should throw my hat in this. We did not watch TV, maybe 4 hours a week tops. Was I a perfect "Mom", no. However there were things that were very clear. Being responsible and doing the right thing, not being a "sheep" and having balls to be a "goat" when it was the right thing to do. Respect for others and ourselves and yes, love. Love meaning that I waited until I had them launched before I began revisiting every whim, need or want I had while taking time to raise them. They were witty, polite and engaging children. I recently introduced my grown sons to a friend, he said later, "I have never met such bright, appreciative, respectful funny young men. I have friends with children the same age that come from great opportunity, that are rude little disrespectful fucks; they hardly give their parents the time of day. Your boys obviously adore you and are openingly respectful and loving towards you". Which means I consider myself lucky, of course I think I am, but I also know, it was not all luck, it was the real investment I made trying to be a mother, and this is from a woman that never wanted or asked for a doll as kid. What you say about the parent being confused about what is important is key, yes there are bumps in every road, but they also knew that I was steady in the direction.

Posted by: sonja at November 8, 2006 6:30 PM

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