Freedom of Choice vs. Freedom from Choice

I was 18 and working at WUOG when the Parents Music Resource Center [PMRC] came into being. Legally an adult, but barely. And while I don’t remember when I first learned of the Tipper Gore led group, I am fairly certain that I joined in when my fellow music aficionados made fun of them. I don’t think my friends and I actually discussed what the PMRC wanted to accomplish, or even why they wanted to accomplish it. That is probably because we were too busy laughing at the PRMC’s belief that we would somehow be harmed because Prince was singing about what Darling Nikki was doing with a magazine.

Twenty-five years later, I have no problem with the fact that the PMRC was successful in forcing the recording industry to come up with a rating and labeling system for lyrical content. I don’t remember buying (or not buying) a record or CD based on this system, but if it helps other parents make informed decisions I am all for it.

It is clear to me, however, that labeling content as explicit or offensive doesn’t stop it from existing. It is great to shine a spotlight on misogynistic, violent and sexually explicit lyrics, but unless you do something to eliminate the root cause of misogyny, violence and oversexualization–nothing will change.

The recent call for a boycott by the Parents Television Council [PTC] against advertisers of MTV’s new and highly controversial series, Skins, reminds me a bit of Tipper and company. In case you aren’t aware, MTV’s programming has raised the ire of not only the PTC, but also of many parents. You can read about it in detail: here. I understand why the content of Skins has parents outraged and concerned. I am just not convinced that getting the show canceled or that boycotting the network (or those who advertise on the network) is the answer.

Censorship doesn’t stop disagreeable behavior. Parents have to parent and society has to change if we want things to be different.

If you want to block MTV, then block MTV. If you don’t want to support advertisers who buy time on the network–then don’t. But, if I want to watch a show with my 17-year-old child and then discuss it, I should be able to do that.

There are people who don’t want The Catcher in the Rye to be read. Do I think Skins is in the same league with The Catcher in the Rye? Heck no. But I do believe that once you support censorship–you support censorship. Hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

Interestingly, many of the participants on both sides of the PMRC argument have now softened or revised their original stand. You can read what they have to say in this article from New York Magazine.

What do you think?

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10 responses

  1. Pretty much, I stopped watching MTV once they started taking the “M” out of it. As you say, it’s a pay channel. It is delivered to your home by your choice. For my young kids, I learned to block channels as soon as TV’s and technology allowed it. However I did not obsess over it either, knowing that the kids would get their fair share of MTV, Cinemax at a friends house if he / she wished. A 17 year old? They can go to the theater and see a NC-17 movie. Surely Skins is no worse.

    In my opinion, banning a child from something only increases their curiosity and will to discover; acknowledging and expressing a difference in values is more productive.

  2. Censorship is censorship is censorship.
    I have a 15 year old girl in the house. Last summer she wanted Eminem’s latest album. I’m a fan too, I listened to five songs online. I asked others who had heard it. I knew my daughter would “get it on the street” but she wasn’t getting it in my house. We listened and sang along with I’m Not Afraid on radio as well as I love The way You Lie. We also talked about the adult themes of both songs. I felt like I had won the parenting heavyweight championship of the world. She understood why I didn’t want her blaring the whole album at home. I understood why she dug Marshall mathers.

    You have to be pretty clueless,as a parent, to not know MTV’s programming is inappropriate for anyone under the age of 17. My daughter(s) are not allowed to watch Jersey Shore or Skins. It’s the same rules my parents laid down 25 years ago with certain records and R-Rated movies. I was grounded for 2 months for sneaking into Purple Rain , the movie. Yeah, I thought my folks were whack jobs.

    I don’t believe in the PMRC or any organization that advocates stickering or censorship. That’s my job as a parent.

    GREAT blog post, Jen.

  3. My mom used to ban me from watching certain movies and TV shows, and while I understood why she felt she needed to, the banning only served to arouse my curiosity and wonder what it was about the shows worth banning.

    She never talked to me about why I was forbidden to watch a show, it just “was.” Looking back, it would have been much better to have had an intelligent conversation with my mom about the issues/themes she felt wrong and why. Then let me (after a certain age) make my own decisions, comfortable in the fact that I had a good foundation and value system, which she and my dad worked so hard to provide.

    I am very uncomfortable with banning and censorship because both are dependent on a someone making a decision for a someone else. The best we can do as parents is to teach, guide, model good behavior, and allow room for growth.

  4. It is a slippery slope, to be sure. I’m torn. Shows like the crap that’s on MTV wouldn’t get the green light if the execs didn’t think there was a market for it. Sometimes, the bottom line is the only one they pay attention to.

    I can’t see the show being pulled because everyone is talking about. But, if I want to have my say and let those in the entertainment industry know I won’t support that type, I can say it by canceling my Blockbuster membership and blocking their other child friendly programming too (Nick, Nick Jr.)

    At the same time, I’m so tired of rewarding bad behavior. I don’t watch any of the Housewives, I stopped watching the Jon and Kate nonsense long before it turned into a train wreck. This trend of taking people who have nothing to offer besides being assholes and putting them on TV has gone a bit too far.

    In the end, we can only do what works for our families. But I think it’s a sad commentary on where morals and values have gone when a show like Skins is considered entertainment.

    • @Tommy, : “…acknowledging and expressing a difference in values is more productive.” Very well said. I agree. It isn’t my job to tell you what you should believe or how you should parent your child.

      @Kristi–Thanks for reading and commenting!

      @Lance, I agree.

      @San Diego Momma, I wish I had written a lot of what you said.

      @Melanie, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic. There really isn’t one right answer. And I guess that was part of the point I was trying to make–none of us has exactly the same point of view. That’s one of the reasons censorship is so dangerous. When one group of people decide what content is suitable for all, we wind up with books being banned.

      My daughter watched the first episode of Skins and pronounced it horrible. She called it bad TV and compared it to another (short-lived) series MTV ran last year. That show went off the air, because no one was watching it–because it was awful. I’d like to see that happen with Skins, and think, given what I have read, it could. The other thing I’d like to see happen is for the FCC to determine whether or not a law was broken. If it was, MTV should be penalized. We have laws that relate to content in the U.S., (whether or not some of them are outdated, is an argument for another day) let’s let the government take care of enforcement.

  5. I totally agree censorship is a slippery slope but I also think putting profanity/nudity etc in regular cable programming is a slippery slope. I don’t lnow what the answer is here except that the tv execs need to take some accountability for the negative programming the are putting on TV. I did a lot of those things in real life back in the 80′s that they are showing on TV, but that glamorizing it on TV doesn’t seen right. I’m tending to agree with your daughter that show is bad anyway and will be off the air faster that we can blink. I certainly hope that’s the case! Always love your well-spoken (typed), thought provoking take on hot topics. You always make me think. : )

  6. Jennifer, I love that you are alaways calm voice of reason. However, while I agree we are a society where censorship is almost a thing of the past, “Skins” went too far on a couple of fronts which I don’t think were mentioned in your post: the show uses minors (most of the cast is under 18) as actors involved in lewd and criminal activity, and those acts are shown explicitly on national television. This is the reason there is an investigation into possible child porn law violations.

    The difference with MTV’s other crass show, “Jersey Shore”, is that those ‘actors’ are adults — albeit uneducated, unsophisticated, now-famous representatives of a culture obsessed with the fortunes of reality-show train wrecks. (Now, they’re going to Italy to represent our culture, too. Nice export. Guess it’s revenge for all the trash being imported to the US from the UK. Ha!)

    By the way, pulling ads and boycotting or blocking the show will not affect MTV’s bottom line since you and I, and the millions of cable-TV subscribers are paying into the cable networks with our monthly fees.

    So as you correctly mention, while this gets sorted out, all we can do is talk to our kids and teens about what not to do — although I resent MTV wanting to parent us by using the reverse psychology method. Can you believe the creators (British) think a show like this can be “public health programming”? Oy!

    • @Suzette, Thank you so much for your comment, it is great to have dialog on issues such as these. ;-)

      I have absolutely no problem with the FCC enforcing laws as they relate to content. That is their job. And I think I said before, maybe in the comment section on another blog, that if MTV is guilty of violating any laws, they should be punished. I do have a problem with outright censorship, especially when it is used in place of parenting. Parents can block MTV, and that is what they should do if they don’t want their kids watching it.

      And, I am not sure censorship remains a thing of the past, if we are not very careful. As I said in my post, there are people who want The Catcher in the Rye to be banned. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

  7. You all have great well-thought out points. I think considering children and the depiction of their well-being is part of responsible programming. Protecting children from harmful television programming can only go so far, but how far has it come? Parents Television Council releases grim stats that keep getting worse, but many say they just want to censor until everything looks like the Lawrence Welk Show. The legal question is whether Skins and other offensive shows are indecent, obscene or constitute child pornography. Legal standpoints (esp. when based on current “community standards”) vs. parental involvement leaves a lot of room inbetween. Unless there is something of value to be gained (or it is just light entertainment) I question the decision of parents to make light of their kids watching and listening to the smut out there, but also understand what happens if we are too extreme. I think if we allow our kids to regularly listen to or watch what we find objectionable we can not be upset at them if they begin to emulate what they see, but if we shelter them too much, the opposite of wish for them just might occur. Parenting is so grand. Love this smart community we have.

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