Friday, January 4, 2013

Programming Families vs. Family Programming

One doesn't want to label everything that is surprising or offensive as a portent of doom -- as a sign of the collapse of modern culture. Still, every captain of his own little ship wants to remain wary that icebergs are generally smaller at the tip and fatter under water...

"The Family Channel" (or "ABC Family") -- which markets itself to "a new kind of family" (I'll say) -- looks like just such an iceberg to me.

Andy Griffith: family programming: then...
I don't generally see much of an attempt on the channel to keep things family friendly, at least by my standards -- so why market it as a "family" channel?

Here's your typical family channel irony: the other night I was flipping through stations and I saw that a movie was about to come on. It was called Burlesque. The channel, before rolling the film, labeled it as a movie that contains: "intense sexual situations; intensely suggestive dialogue." The PG-13 rating portends partial nudity, profane language and -- go figure -- suggestive dance routines.

In short, not a movie I would sit and watch with my little ones. So...I suppose, to a father of "a new kind of family" -- one that thinks it is okay to watch burlesque dancing with children -- that would all be fine.

I'm no puritan, believe me. But it seems there should have been a time when one could say: "Oh, the Family Channel. Yeah, you can watch that, son..." I'm sure my parents were not too worried about inappropriate content on Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Not anymore. The Family Channel refuses to take responsibility for keeping its content family friendly, it seems -- or, at least, not friendly for the old kind of family that thinks children might not be quite ready for partial nudity and "intense sexual situations."

Ironically -- talk about yer changing times -- the Family Channel runs "The 700 Club" (a Christian program with Pat Robertson) late at night. Before the show runs, they put a stern disclaimer on the screen, stating that the show does not reflect the views of the network or of anyone at ABC or Disney.

I don't know -- when a company is more worried about complaints about a religious program than those about their choosing to run a movie that includes sex, alcohol consumption and profanity, you have to wonder a little.

I know. Religion is evil. I hear it coming. Wars, persecutions, old-fashioned sexism, etc. All of the things listed are bad and can be related to religion in some way. I know. All I am saying is that I would have less trouble explaining a person expressing his philosophically questionable views about God than I would explaining why that man and that woman, who just met in a bar, are now in a car, bouncing off of each other and moaning. Intrinsically, the former is more socially dangerous than the latter, but, from a parenting perspective, I'd rather have a go at explaining why this guy says you will burn in hell for getting a tattoo. (I can just say: he's an idiot. But, saying the car-romping couple are idiots is a little less effective.)

...and now. Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family.
To me, family programming should be based on not causing parents problems. Yeah, you heard me. I'm asking that people who create programming for kids to remain fence-sitters in terms of messages; eggshell-walkers in terms of controversy; to leave the lessons to my wife and me and to allow us to decide when to broach certain subjects with our kids when we deem it appropriate. I guess it does take a village, but I want the village to stay out of my house unless invited in. Family programming should be rated G. I'll decide about the rest, thank you. Or...just don't market it as family programming.

I have said it before: I am against censorship; I'm for a sense of responsibility.

"Don't watch it, if you don't like it," you might say. Way ahead of you. We don't watch the channel, outside of "America's Funniest Home Videos" (which is never not funny; I could spend the rest of my life watching moppy-headed skateboarders who are too cool for helmets smash their noggins on sidewalks and railings).

If you must know, my kids know exactly what sex is and how it works. I'm not shy about it. Many out there might be shocked by my bluntness about it with my kids. It's nature. It's fact. When asked, I answer. My 11-year-old knows, in detail, how the process works. And he got the info from his dad (two years ago), not from some wannabe novelist with an advanced degree who sees a chance to explore the dark places of human nature because he got a job writing for some pseudo-philosophical show about young doctors. My son was taught that sex is a wonderful expression of love, at the right time, with the right person, and that it is never something to be ashamed of and that is never something to be held cheap.

I don't want "The Family Channel" competing with me by painting sex as a casual, insincere part of show biz mentality because someone in marketing has decided how to define my family dynamics. We're all about regulation in our country. Just maybe it makes sense to control what is labeled "family entertainment." I just can't see the subject of burlesque fitting into that.

Ah, but, well... I suppose the Disney/ABC execs don't see how Bible study fits into it either; I mean, they'll allow it, but only after making it perfectly clear that they don't subscribe to Jesus's incendiary ideas (or, to those of a Jesus person -- though, as far as I know, Pat Robertson is no Westboro Baptist nut; I could be wrong).

To each his own. As long as he keeps his own out of my face, I'm good.


  1. When I saw "The Hobbit" last week with my nine-year-old nephew in the middle of the day in a theater full of children, we sat through commercials for two violent video games, a trailer about an assassin who blows people away, and Jennifer Lopez stripping. On the way home, I was glad he didn't notice (so I didn't have to explain) the bumper sticker on the SUV in front of us: "You. Me. Whipped Cream. Handcuffs. Any Questions?"

    This wasn't long after his six-year-old sister watched animated characters getting dismembered in Hell, because her grandparents, not being hipsters, assumed that the Cartoon Network would be a safe haven for kids, not edgy fare for teenage stoners.

    I could summon up dozens more examples from my time with my nieces and nephews, but one thing is increasingly clear to me: "if you don't like it, don't watch it" was once a useful mantra, but now it's obsolete, because it's pretty hard to participate in the culture even to any significant extent and not be bombarded by ugliness.

    And, of course, parents who detach from the culture to raise their kids on their own terms aren't applauded for doing what they think is best, but are relentlessly judged: "She won't let her kids do what? Really, no TV in the house? What kind of weirdo home-schools, anyway?"

    I have little doubt that adult entertainment and safe places for kids can exist side by side if we want them to. But jeez, some days I'm sure glad I'm not a parent.

    1. 'I could summon up dozens more examples from my time with my nieces and nephews, but one thing is increasingly clear to me: "if you don't like it, don't watch it" was once a useful mantra, but now it's obsolete, because it's pretty hard to participate in the culture even to any significant extent and not be bombarded by ugliness."

      Dead-on, Jeff. And is is such an oppressive feeling for me as a dad. The village does get in through the doors uninvited or it seeps in through the vents. It's depressing sometimes.

  2. Another valiant right-on post. I have often suggested some censhorship in private conversations over the years. Most people reject the idea out of hand. I remind them that we censor ourselves every day, admittedly in minor ways, but it is censorship.
    When I was growing up there was no such fare as one finds today. Why? Was it censorship then? Or was it an expression of intelligent self-restraint? Perhaps those people knew the difference between freedom and license.

    1. Thank you, Hunter. I do believe it was "intelligent self-restraint" and it was a culture that had it's feel firm on the ground -- not always right, but at least grounded. Today, morality is on roller skates. I think a lot of it was that it was taboo to presume to take moral risks with other people's children. Now, the "freedom" to depict what "should be" okay is considered a right. There are people out there who are determined to save children from their "unelightened" parents. Scary times.

    2. Apologies -- I got stuck somewhere in between "Lincoln" and "Mr. Hunter."