With "Friends" Like These

The road from the V-chip to Big Brother is a short one. Today the government puts a chip in your TV set, tomorrow it puts one in your head. At least that's how critics see it, the censor-chip as part of a kind of cultural domino theory. The V-chip, henceforth required in new TV sets under the recently enacted telecommunications law, will work along with a new voluntary ratings system to give parents the ability to lock out undesired programming. Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales claimed that supporters of the chip "will be relying on the great god of technology to deliver them from the great satan of technology."

Despite such apocalyptic warnings, there's a growing sense that altogether too much sludge is pouring into our dens and living rooms through the tube, and a emerging consensus that something ought to be done about it. Some think that merely rating the sludge is not enough.

"The television industry owes America's families more than good warnings on bad programming," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, one of a group of religious and political leaders who called on Hollywood to "go beyond the V-chip" and clean up network TV programs. "If you put a rating on garbage, it doesn't thereby become high-quality programming," Lieberman said.

Sleazy TV isn't about to disappear anytime soon. Even some of the best-written shows include, as a matter of course, language and behavior that many find objectionable. What episode of Seinfeld doesn't include (usually off-screen) casual sex involving Jerry, Elaine, George, or even Kramer(!)? Not to mention tabloid made-for-TV movies, daytime soaps and trash-talk shows, and the rash of Current Affairs spinoffs.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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