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August 16, 2005

Why we worry about sleaze-"protetction"

One of Jim Wallis' suggestions for Democrats:

As for "family values," the Democrats can become the truly pro-family party by supporting parents in doing the most important and difficult job in America: raising children. They need to adopt serious pro-family policies, including some that defend children against Hollywood sleaze and Internet pornography. That's an issue that has come to be identified with the religious right. But when I say in public lectures that being a parent is now a countercultural activity, I've found that liberal and conservative parents agree.

Jeanne D'Arc responds, saying "the amount of bile that rises when anyone dares bring up [these policies] always surprises me."

Jeanne makes a good case for parents' right to ask society to help them keep pernicious influences away from their children. If we're proposing tax deductions for the purchase of V-chips, I'm happy to chip in. If we're talking about public subsidies for Big Bird and Bob the Builder, that's great.

Still, as a liberal, I'm deeply suspicious of any proposed access restrictions to cultural products for the sake of children's mental health or moral development. I'll even admit to getting bilious from time to time.

Jeanne raises an important question. Why such bitter defensiveness from progressives like me?

Arguments from child protection are insidious because they suggest narrowly tailored reforms that might well benefit kids. Like I said, V-Chips are a great invention. I don't see why the state shouldn't help low income parents have as much choice over their kids' viewing as wealthy moms and dads.

And yet, Jim Wallis and his provisional allies on the right are arguing that what's really needed is general cultural reform. When Wallis tells us that parenting is a countercultural activity, he's telling us upfront that it won't be enough to keep the boobs off the Super Bowl and the beer ads away from Saturday morning cartoons. He wants to "reform" our entire culture to make it healthy for the moral development of children. Frankly, most of our culture is just fine for kids. Parents should get to decide which facets are unsuitable for their children. Society should help make sure that parents retain control--that means stuff like living wages so that you're not working 16-hour days and hoping your kid isn't soaking up Hot Coffee while you're at work.

Progressives should just give up on the idea of forming alliances with religious conservatives over "cultural morality." We don't subscribe to the same morality, and let's face it, they are much more powerful than we are. Talk about getting in bed with an elephant. I don't care if kids see full frontal nudity on TV. The average right wing culture warrior couldn't care less if a corporation is shilling for junk food, or if a network is peddling sexist stereotypes.

Moreover, I already know that sexism, homophobia, unfettered profiteering, and "manly" and "patriotic" violence are pillars of their so-called conservative cultural morality. Some of these moral crusaders wouldn't even want families like mine on television. (I live in blissful, childless sin, you see.)

I get nervous whenever liberals start suggesting that we take a hard line against filth because I also know that if society ever decides to get tough, people like Rebecca Hagelin of the Heritage Foundation will draw the lines.


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» Nice progressive rant from Neurotopia
Lindsay Beyerstein has a nice progressive sound-off about raising kids. She cuts right to the heart of the problem [Read More]


You identify the real problem at the end of your post: we can't agree on what counts as sleeze. I have no problem with my children seeing boobs in the super bowl. The two month old sees a lot of boob whenever he eats. It's actually the machismo and violence of football itself that bothers me. With that in mind, I have no problem saying we should reform all of society to shelter our children. Anything the government can do to promote boobs and discourage football is fine by me.

Also, I would desperately like help from society sheltering my child from...Bob the Builder. Bob the Builder is a product line with some videos attached. Most children's entertainment these days teaches only one value: consumerism. It is very hard to keep my children away from consumer culture (although the no TV rule helps.) If we could purge the culture of consumerism for the sake of protecting my child--cool.

Almost every television manufactured after January 1, 2000 already has a V-Chip in it. And there are set-top boxes available for older TVs. But practically no one actually uses the V-Chip. I wouldn't be against subsidization for the set-top boxes, or even a broad public awareness/educational campaign explaining how to use the V-chips people (mostly) already own... that is, if I thought there was any chance in hell it would get sanctimonious prudes like Jim Wallis and Amy Sullivan to shut the fuck up already. But they're not talking about the V-Chip -- as you say, they're talking about "general cultural reform." In other words, censorship.

Anyone who thinks censorship is a a winning issue for Democrats is completely insane. The TV shows, movies, and video games that the self-appointed culture warriors object to are incredibly popular. Some parents may want lip service from politicians about "the coarsening of the culture," but not even the fundamentalist wingnuts actually want the guv'mint to take away their "Desperate Housewives."

Somebody raked me over the coals for wondering aloud whether Bob the Builder was sexist. I don't accept her right to determine for all of humanity whether BtB is an exponent of positive values or not. I just assumed she must on the side of right and unions and smart development be because of the vehemence with which my progressive friend denounced my (admittedly uninformed) question about whether there were girl builders in addition to Bob.

The whole parents in danger trope is a republican are victimized trope. That's why people --ke me, a filthy yuppie parent --t their backs up when people talk about how tough life is on those who raise kids. Parents who are complaining have it easy, typically, except for the fact that raising kids is a very grueling lovely life. The children aren't threatened by porn, or by violence, by any real measure -- kids have always had problems with sexual predation and violence, in many cases less so than now. Heightened sensitivities, driven by pervasive bad reporting and a cult of victimization, lead people to worry too much about their kids.

The whole bit reminds me of the ridiculous campaign for the WWII memorial on the Mall in Washington. Otherwise sane people arguing that the poor bastards, lionized as the greatest generation in countless books, movies, and convesations for the last twenty years, just hadn't been recognized for their service. There's honor in being in a vet, there's honor in being a parent, but let's not wallow in bullshit. Parents are fine if overanxious, and the Mall didn't need the Memorial. The idea that parents are the counterculture is so perversely stupid that I'm surprised I don't have a Baffler link handy.

BTW, Thomas the Tank Engine is a capitalist tool, Babar is wonderfully weirdly imperialist, and you will choke if you read the first Curious George book. Bob the Builder I've managed to avoid, but Barney insidiously appeared inside the house a while back, with his toothless pedophilic rims. Elmo is the joint, once you've surveyed the field.

"Blue's Clues" is where it's at -- it's soothing, almost hypnotic, even for adults. I've spent hours watching it with my niece and nephew. Yes, there is merchandise attached, but try having a successful kids' show with no merchandise. Fortunately, because it's a show for preschoolers, they don't broadcast commercials during the show, so the only way your kid will know about the merchandise is if s/he sees it at Toys R Us or a friend's house.

My niece is really into "Dora the Explorer" and "Jojo's Circus" if anyone's looking for good shows for girls in the 3-5 age range.

There's not exactly a dearth of quality kids' entertainment out there.

Lindsay: Bob has a friend named Wendy who I think is also a builder. We don't watch the show, so I don't know for sure.

Generally these shows seem great on the surface, with appropriate diversity in characters, etc. It is not like you see Bob the builder running down cooperation or anything.

The problem isn't the content of the show, but the way the show sets itself up in the child's life. It is a brand that the child learns to signify loyalto to by buying a bunch of plastic crap. This is why it would actually require reforming the culture to shelter children from it.

I suppose I should say that i was kidding when I said that the government should discourage football and consumerism. I honestly believe a liberal government should be neutral about such conceptions of the good life.

I would settle for the government not actively supporting football and consumerism.

I think there is a misunderstanding about where the levers of control are placed and about how they can be operated. There are better things to worry about, and more important still, work for.

I don't know what a v-chip is. It sounds like a filter that a parent would have to own and switch on. I think that's asking too much. What if cable companies provided v-chip filtered signals by default that the customer would have to switch off? Sorry, I don't have an idea for wireless tv. I don't watch it anyway.

I think you made a great point in your last paragraph about parents working 16-hour days. (Sorry for not expounding on kids shows) If liberals want to strike at the real root of the problems raising children, it's that nobody seems to raise their own children anymore. Conservatives think the solution is to force women to stay home and tend house. But even in the days where that was not only the norm but expected, fathers didn't work 60-hour weeks. To now have 2 parents working 12 hours a day certainly must push the limits of a sustainable society.
I think Dems hit a home run with the FMLA that allowed new parents to take time off to be with their families or to recuperate from an illnes without risking getting fired. Although conservatives made noise, even right-wingers I know now hold it as a cherished right. Let's explore family friendly policies in that vein. Let's look at repealing and reversing some of the damaging overtime changes the Bushies made recently. Let's make it clear that our future as a nation and as a culture and as a society rests with our ability to raise children. Even though I too am currently living a childless lifestyle, this is an idea that I can get behind without reservation.

This sort of culture-war stuff is a tarpit for Democrats. As far as I can tell, Tipper's PMRC shenanigans cost Al Gore more votes than Nader.

On Bob the Builder, Yes Bob has a friend/employee who is a woman and she occasionaly even occasionaly tops Bob at some of the work. It is not sexist in the least but it is bloody well as if not more annoying than Barney. A good show that isn't perfect but is the least irritating thing my 3yr old son has been obsessed with is the Rugrats. I also find the Veggie Tales to be terribly amusing. One has to get past the christian factor (I am one so it's fine with me) but they take a low key aproach, ie they don't shove Jesus down your throat.

As for the fear of sleaze infiltrating my childs life; society is what it is. My son will grow up in and become a member of this culture. I live in a poverty ridden neighborhood, we have a lot of things happening around us that I find deplorable. We have homeless people around, we have mentaly ill folk in droves, we have prostitutes on our streets and he is growing up surounded by it. Thankfully he has yet to catch on to the prostitution thing but he and I and he and his mom have had many talks about the homeless and the mentaly ill we run into. He has very definate ideas about sharing our picnics with those who are hungry and when I last had him on a job with me to "help" he decided the $5 I gave him should go to help the homeless in our neighborhood.

He also managed to find my Porn stash after some illicit climbing on the furniture. I am pretty sure he was salivating over the boobs as he still fondly recalls the sweet nectar he recieved from his mother's but he did present me with some rather interesting questions - which I was then required to come up with answers to. I was forced to explain about procreation and the fact that the mechanics of it are really quite enjoyable even precluding the intent to reproduce. Now this may come as a shock to some on the right and even to soem on the left but I am nearly certain that with my open and frank explanation of it - he was not in fact traumatized for life. In fact I am rather convinced that he may even benefit in later life as I am sure these discusions will arise in the future and rather than hide it from him and dance around the issues like a fucking moron we will in fact continue with honest discussions.

Puritanical bullshit in the name of our children and "protecting" them from reality (and ourselves along with them) just creates more work for therapists and our prison systems not to mwention helping to fill our state hospitals with maladjusted freaks whose parents thought they were doing them a favor by "protecting" them from our "sleaze" culture.

Oh and thanks Scott, the reason I live in the neighborhood I do and live in poverty is so my son is either with his mother, me or being cared for by one of a couple of my friends with kids his age - often when he is with me we are hanging with some of the kids he plays with when he is not with mommy or me. It would be nice to actually be able to get ahead a little and stil actually raise my son instead of having the daycare or a nanny do it for me.

Of course, the idea that commercial television has corrupted our culture through excessive commercialism, newsertainment, and a glut of bottom feediong reality shows has some resonance. But in addition to just say no, why not get public television back to the level it was when the discourse on TV was a little more civilized. When I was growing up, there were two public television channels out of about 15 (13%). Lets see...on my DirecTV that would mean I should receive about 50 public television stations - I'm lucky to pick up 10 that aren't all repeating the same British 1970s comedies.

My niece is obsessed with Blue's Clues, but the episode she insists on watching over and over is the one where They Might Be Giants show up for a few seconds and play "Clap Your Hands", so it's OK with me.

I think Lindsay makes a good point when she mentions a living wage. That's something EVERYBODY should be able to get behind. I, very happily, have no children, either. But I can see the need to pay people an actual living wage; I barely make enough to pay my bills and I have two degrees. The vast majority of my friends (we are all between 25 and 32) still live at home because paying for rent, utilities, and food is nearly impossible. Not to mention, we are young and like to, you know, actually live a little. While I don't think it's everybody else's problem if you don't like a TV program (turn it off, or, in the case of Janet Jackson, get over it), I do agree that a place to start and build support across political boundaries would be living wage and *gasp* full maternity leave. I'm talking, for six months to a year. I mean, God, I was a mess the first time I left my puppy home alone. I can't imagine if it was a three-month-old baby.

My kids are grown but what worked for us and them was -- don't own a television. Sure, they got exposed to porn and 'filth' but they had to work for it. And that's a great American ethic! They also learned plenty of ugly epithets from their fellow playground and public school attendees, even from those whose parents went to church regularly. Shocking.

I find all the talk about 'parenting' and 'family values' both odd and off-putting. So much of this talk seems to assume that kids are rather more like puppies than not and sometimes the speaker/writer clearly thinks of them as stuffed puppies. Very disconcerting. And of course, the bottom line for the fundie family-touters is how good a parent YOU are, not how well your kids can function in the world as it really exists.

I'm with Lindsay on this. Being a parent/being a child has nothing directly to do with politics. Let's not get sucked into this trend in which the 'good' party has the 'best' definition of 'family values'.

Watching children being used not only as political shields, but as swords as well becomes profoundly offensive. Children do need protection from boobs, but not the variety that are formed of mammary tissue/fat/skin.

Having been through the parenting stage, I am well aware of the obsession that overcomes individuals at that time of life. It is an overwhelming and irrational oxytocin induced protectiveness, that often barely counterbalances the desire to destroy the rotten little beggars. It needs to be focused on the reactions to the child that has kept one up between midnight and 6 am, not on the existence of the adult world in general.

In this haze of everything pink and blue, sweet and spicy, it is too easy to believe that the whole world can be made "safe" for the child. To protect the child from anything and everything. To forget that childhood is but a small fraction of the continuum of life. It serves nothing to keep the child swaddled, if the adult is chained.

Now that grandparenthood is approaching, I truly hope that I can continue to maintain an immunity to this most insidious hormone -- oxytocin.

The worst thing I see on TV is local news. I never watch the actual programs, but that doesn't matter. They stick their fear-mongering into every commercial break, even in kids shows. "Is your child going to burst into flame while he sleeps? Details at eleven! Now, back to Magic Schoolbus."

Many years ago, when I was first learning about politics at the practical level, a very smart person told me, "When they are coming for your money, they use the word 'jobs,' when they are coming for your freedom, they will talk about 'our children.' I have found this to be a useful guide.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Wallis's "God's Politics." There's a lot to like in it, but two things really annoyed me: 1) His naive, if touching, insistence, based on having met President Bush a couple of times, that Bush really does, in the face of all evidence, have good intentions. Guess Wallis overlooked Matthew 7:16. 2) His artificial efforts to strike a false "balance" by treating things the Right does the same as things the Left does in both scope and substance, when in fact what the Right does often is far more egregious (if only because the Right is in charge right now).

Note: off topic --

David, why rag on WWII vets? I can't tell you how much joy the WWII memorial brought to them (and families of those who died). And if you think they were "lionized", well, it's only been in the past 10-15 years. Mostly no one wanted to hear what happened to them in the war. I'm the child of a vet, and I liked listening to those guys, but I'm one of the few that did. When they came back, there was no "PTSD" diagnosis. They just had to pick up their lives and move on after giving up years.

Gary Sugar - are you honestly suggesting that switching on a device already embedded in your TV is too much work? - it's easier than setting up a VCR or TIVO. Anyone that lazy shouldn't have kids. People don't use the V-chip because they can't be bothered. It's a lousy solution to the problem, but that's not why it's not used, as far as I can tell. There are much better technological options possible, but all of them would require being bothered to use them, so until I see more complaints about the V-chip being a blunt object and fewer about how hard it is to use I'm not taking the complaints seriously.

"Mostly no one wanted to hear what happened to them in the war."

Apart from Christianity (maybe), WWII is probably the most written about topic in the English language.

For just a sampling of the vast library of WWII movies, go here:

Most of these movies were made in the 40's and 50's, with a few in the 60's.

'And if you think they were "lionized", well, it's only been in the past 10-15 years.'

They were feted, they were glorified and as lionized as anyone in American history other than the Founding Fathers. It has only been recently that we have been re-lionizing them. I don't begrudge them this, particularly since my father is one of them (though he was stationed in New Mexico the whole time). But I do take issue with anyone who thinks they have not been recognized.

Screw the kids. We live in an adult world, with adult choices to make. One of those choices is whether or not to make children. If you choose to, you should take responsibility for raising them in the fashion you would like them to be raised, be that conservative christian or hippy liberal or anything else.

The V chip is an example of exactly what is wrong with this sort of discussion: we have a closed broadcast system, regulated by the government, so the only solution is to pay money and pass laws to regulate the closed system further.

Compare with the internet. Tons of filth? check. Tons of educational material? check. For-pay systems for filtering content, based on whatever your family values are? check. Free systems for the same? check.

Bingo. No need for "family friendly" legislation. Filter whatever you want in your home. Don't do it in mine, or tax me to ease enforcing your values. Instead, encourage open values and systems, and everyone (save those who want to control others) are happy.

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