The FCC's long-awaited report on TV violence is finally out, and it's even worse than anybody expected. Not only did the report say the government can and should regulate violence on television, but in interviews explaining, the commissioners were quite clear that they aim to appoint themselves censors of cable TV as well as broadcast. "We can't just deal with the three or four broadcast channels -- we have to be looking at what's on cable as well,'' FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told the Associated Press.
If that ever somes to pass, TV will be reduced to mush. The FCC report suggests that a crackdown on violence will extend into practically every show on television. “A broad range of television programming aired today contains [violent] content," it observes, "including, for example, cartoons, dramatic series, professional sports such as boxing, news coverage, and nature programs.”
So don't misundertand: We're not talking about The Sopranos and CSI here, we're talking about Iraq war coverage on the CBS Evening News and CNN's Virgina Tech coverage, not to mention the lions and tigers on Animal Planet, fistfights at hockey games, and the Nazis in Schindler's List. Anything that some quack psychologist thinks might give a 4-year-old nightmares (or, as the FCC put it, “a definition based on the scientific literature" that "recognizes the factors most important to determining the likely impact of violence on the child audience”) will be fair game. We'll be going right back to the lowest-common-denominator standard of the old three-channel universe.
This is the lunatic endpoint of the whole "it takes a village" school of collective child-rearing. The FCC is saying it doesn't believe parents can be trusted to make decisions about what their kids should watch on TV, so the Nanny State will take over -- and its standards will be inflicted on all of us, children or not.
This report couldn't come at a worse moment. The idiot shrieks of First Amendment Chicken Littles, who predict the end of free speech over everything from Bill Maher leaving ABC to the Bush White House kicking Helen Thomas out of the front row at press conferences, have large desensitized the public to the issue now that there's a genuine threat. And with an election coming up next year, what American politician wants to be the pro-TV-violence candidate?
The last, best hope to divert the kiddie-knows-best steamroller is for cable and satellite TV operators to warm up to the idea of a la carte programming. A la carte service means that subscribers could pick (and pay for) only the channels they want, instead of being forced to accept vast tiers of channels that bore and/or repulse them. There's no technological reason this can't be done. When I was a foreign correspondent living in Nicaragua in the 1990s and watching TV on one of those giant C-band satellite dishes, my satellite company allowed me to choose the channels I wanted from a menu of a couple of hundred.
The cable industry has bitterly opposed a law mandating a la carte service because it's a greedy government-protected monopoly that's used to getting its own way. Why should it let you pay less money for fewer channels when for all these years it's been able to set prices as high as it wanted without fear of regulation or competition? The television industry has sided with the cable guys, because a la carte would destroy its ability to bundle unwanted channels with their popular ones and force cable companies to buy both. Time to wise up, guys. Nobody's going to be buying anything if we have 500 channels full of The Bobbsey Twins Visit Blueberry Island.
I once asked Brent Bozell, the head of the Parents Television Council and the head of the clean-up-TV posse, what it would take to satisfy him. "What would it take to make Brent Bozell shut up?" he paraphrased, fairly accurately. "If we had a system where I can cable television in my home without bringing MTV along with it. A system where every channel in my home is one I invited. A system like a la carte." If the cable industry will put up, Bozell will shut up.