I have no problem with adults viewing sexual content on TV. I'm an adult and I like to watch it and so does every adult I know. But, I am very concerned about frequent casual sex being marketed to young teens. I am very concerned about sexual violence portrayed in a positive light on TV. I am very concerned about sex being presented repeatedly to young teens without accompanying health info. Combine that with the recent prevalence of abstinence education in an increasing percentage of our schools, and we're going to have some very confused and ignorant teens in this country.
I also agree with the author of a dKos diary that gratuitous violence on TV is an even bigger problem. A bunch of studies have shown that some viewers of violence in the media become violent in real life, and sometimes even imitate the form of violence they watched. An LA Times article yesterday noted that teens who watch a lot of sexual content on TV are more likely to have intercourse at a younger age. This might not be problematic if the shows were teaching teens about healthy relationships and safe sex. But, that's not what the majority of the sex on TV is about.
An ABC News article I read yesterday also said that TV shows that target teens have approximately 7 sex scenes per hour, which is higher than the number of sex scenes in shows targeting adults. A DailyKos commenter wrote that sex isn't on "Sponge Bob Square Pants" and parents can control what their four-year olds watch on TV. Sure - but by age eight, kids are probably turning on TV sets themselves and have moved on to other shows besides Sponge Bob. What this commenter may not realize is that there is a large percentage of children in junior high and high school who come home to an empty house (their parent or parents work) and control the TV set themselves.
The author of this dKos diary suggests that Barack Obama may be raising this issue as a way to move to the center in advance of a national campaign perhaps for president. I disagree. Obama was a professor of mine in law school, and I think he's genuinely concerned about this issue. During Wednesday's press conference he talked about his own two daughters. He told a story of watching TV with his young daughters and a Cialis commercial coming on, and trying to explain it to them when they asked.
I worry about my kids growing up in an age in which porn is now available through video iPods and other handheld devices and pops up on computers when you aren't even looking for it. How will kids today learn healthy messages about sexuality, about flirting, about consensual relations, about contraception and other sexual health issues, etc. if they are seeing hundreds of depictions of unhealthy sex in a visual and auditory form on a weekly basis?
When I grew up, I watched sitcoms with my whole family in the evenings from 7-10 pm. The sitcoms had family-friendly content and attempted to provide good moral messages. At 10pm I had to go to bed, and I know that my parents watched "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" after I was asleep. The networks did their programming around the needs of children. Today, the networks do their programming around what sells and they could care less about how our children will learn to feel good about their bodies and to interact with others in healthy ways.
Is it censorship to restrict sexual programming to after 10pm? I'm not sure. The TV networks used to do this voluntarily. The Washington Post notes that 65% of households do not include anyone under the age of 18, so should TV programming cater to 35% who have special needs? I think so because children are our future and I believe in long-term investing in our country and world. With TiVo, adults in the other 65% of households could watch sexual content at any hour, if they chose. Perhaps the same argument could be made in the reverse - that a time-restrictive law might not be effective because children could watch sexual content at any hour if their household has TiVo.
Technology has certainly complicated media viewing. Parents and schools can use censoring software and Apple can create an adult area in its iTunes store, but the reality is that these programs won't block it all because the creators of the porn will study the censorship software and program around it (and sometimes these censorship programs go way too far and block appropriate sexual health content) and kids are inevitably going to see porn on the computer and through hand-held devices.
How could laws be passed to prevent this while still allowing adults to do what they want? I'm not sure, but I am glad Obama has begun the conversation. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Obama is simply advocating for larger, more thorough on-screen rating descriptions and the voluntary elimination of inappropriate commercials and coming attractions during family-rated programs, but he noted that others in Congress might move toward more censorship. Obama has been quoted this week in a number of newspapers expressing concern about sex, violence, and materialism on TV. To me, that's just way cool. I think he's being genuine, and articulating something a lot of parents feel.
This issue is consistent with all my other Democratic family values like investing in public education, making quality health care accessible to all, supporting reproductive rights, supporting gay rights, celebrating diversity, making quality child care and preschool available to all, and promoting non-violent conflict resolution. I'm sure I'm not the only mom or parent who feels this way, and I don't see Democrats winning by saying this is a Right Wing issue. To a parent like me, that makes Dems look out of touch, too tied to Hollywood, and more concerned with abstract concepts than reality. If you think I'm a Right Wing reactionary because I posted this diary, check out a diary I posted in March 2004 which mentions some local civil liberties activism I did that many would describe as very liberal. Am I being consistent in my principles? I think so.
Speaking out on this issue won't make Barack Obama popular. I'm sure he knows it hurt Tipper Gore and Joe Lieberman among liberals. People will call Obama names and say he believes in censorship (even though he explicitly said he doesn't). I happen to know his daughters attend a very progressive elementary school in Chicago, and I know he's an involved parent and a deep thinker. I see this as one more time when he is willing to say what's right and what he believes in.