It’s indisputable. We now have it from the highest authorities that watching TV can undermine character, sexual morality, and respect for the Almighty. That information comes from Brian Fitzpatrick, writing in Human Events. But it is also backed up by Al Gore in his recent book, The Assault on Reason.

Fitzpatrick’s source is a fresh report by the Culture and Media Institute (CMI) which states that the more one watches TV (four hours or more per day is the national average) the more likely the viewer is to be dishonest, uncharitable, and more permissive about sex and abortion. The Institute says that many celebrities and certain types of “news” programs promote love of one’s self in the most selfish way.

CMI interviewed a cross section of Americans and identified 74 percent of the population who believe that TV is “eroding the nation’s devotion to religion.” Examples given were Fox TV’s “Family Guy,” in which God is shown in bed with a woman. Comedy Central’s “Sarah Silverman Show” was equally irreverent by also depicting God having sex in the boudoir. The bottom line, notes Fitzpatrick, is that most Americans believe the nation’s morality is slipping, with television greasing the skids.

Al Gore would certainly second that conclusion, suggesting in The Assault on Reason that TV not only infects average Americans, but that it also corrupts politicians who sell out to the media by spending millions of TV ads when they seek public office. In one of his chapters, Gore quotes brain researchers who claim that moving images on TV trigger trance-like states that “immobilizes viewers.”

President Bush used television to promote his campaign for war against Iraq, say the behaviorist experts, because “the vividness of TV can trigger instinctual responses similar to those triggered by reality itself.” Whereas if the American public had been presented the same propaganda campaign in print, say the scientists, the very act of reading words would have activated parts of the brain “that are central to the reasoning process.” To put it another way, see it on TV and end up in a trance-like state – read the same information in print form and it will be duly processed using logic, reason, and reflective thought. Logic, reason, and reflective thought – compare those attributes to what former NBC anchor Tom  Brokaw calls creeping tabloidism: “Headless body found in topless bar. Details at eleven.”

The Media Research Center’s L. Brent Bozell III notes that the promotion of homosexuality during TV’s daytime and prime time hours is increasing in both frequency and content. Bozell references a recent TV Guide survey that found respondents, by a margin of three to one, believe that there are “too many gay characters and gay plots on prime time.” While several militant gay movements freely admit they are in favor of “breaking down certain traditional values of sex and relationships,” Bozell believes that the real culprit is Tinseltown: “This one is pure Hollywood, which is pushing the envelope without anyone’s prodding. There is no political agenda, just a desire to tear down tradition. And it could care less what the public tells the pollsters. They’re still watching.”

So if immorality is almost as common in the afternoon hours as on prime time, what about the morning hours, those mostly reserved for children’s programming? Unfortunately, more and more violence and aggressiveness are present in these programs, especially cartoons. A real-life child hitting another with a baseball bat during a child’s program would be shocking. But two cartoon characters engaging in the same physical violence seems to be exempt, since the fanciful action can be “undone” by the cartoon animators. But research has shown that many younger children are unable to comprehend the difference and, as a consequence, there have been far too many emergency room visits generated by one youngster acting out a violent cartoon act against a sibling.

Programs such as “Sesame Street” and “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” (the latter now in reruns following Rogers’ death) are, to be sure, nonviolent and frequently convey moral messages. The communications typically stress the importance of honesty, fairness, and kindness, with the obvious intent of having a positive impact on children and adolescents. But even the hours set aside for the youngsters are being invaded. Mattel has started a makeup line aimed at young girls, with TV lolitas showing how to apply eyeliner, mascara, and similar paints and powders.

Some parents feel that promoting the use of such adult makeup by very young girls could put the children at risk of sexual predators. Indeed, there is a large segment of the population that feels strongly that modeling and performing contests in which parents dress their children to look like Las Vegas hookers is not only a disservice to the youngsters, but an insult to their personas and individual integrity. It is precisely this type of exploitation that TV and the marketers thereon (can you say “girl-savvy retail delivery?”) seem to be lining up in their sights.

From the very first day that TV planted a test pattern in our living rooms, there have been naysayers who predicted that watching this new phenomenon was quickest way to reserve a personal space in hell. But now, fewer and fewer vulgarisms are being “bleeped” and more and more explicit scenes of sexual gymnastics are being simulated, if not actually executed. One of the newest wrinkles involves the “reality crime shows.” Since we are portraying actors as doctors, forensic scientists, coroners and morticians, it’s okay to show a “corpse” filleted down the middle like a flounder, or to have a courtroom cross examination that relates in exacting detail how three men took turns raping a teenager over a three-hour period.

Yes, it makes your skin crawl, but raise one objection, and you’ll have everyone from the ACLU to the Screen Actors Guild in your face, arguing that this is “cinema verite,” you can’t eliminate or tamper with these details without damaging the artistry and the sacrosanct plot line of the episode. Besides, these aren’t just two guys in a bar discussing the minute-by-minute account of a vile assault. These are licensed health care professionals and law officers, incidentally portrayed by actors.

L. Brent Bozell noted in his weekly syndicated column, “The mantra within the entertainment community, conveniently trotted out every time it causes trouble, is that it’s giving the market want it wants.” If this is so, count me among the minority of viewers who watch TV through spread fingers, the way jurors look at autopsy photos.

– Chase.Hamil

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