Television ratings are adequate enough tools
// Julian Legere

In accordance with what seems to be tradition, the Superbowl halftime show stirred up controversy a few weeks ago when M.I.A flipped off 114 million people. The event has been compared to the now-infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of 2004, which sparked an enormous debate (especially in the US) about broadcast decency. Since then, the debate has continued to rage and parents especially are concerned about the content to which their children are exposed.

According to Statistics Canada, youth spent between six and seven hours a day in front of a computer or TV from 2007 to 2009. TV shows such as Criminal Minds, CSI, and Grey’s Anatomy, with their gruesome violence and fairly graphic sex, are consistently among the top 30 most watched in Canada, and shows produced by the American CW network (The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl among them), which are specifically targeted to the teen and youth demographic, have some of the most graphic sex and violence on network TV.

With the prevalence of sex and violence in entertainment media, especially that which is targeted toward younger audiences, advocacy groups have been working to help keep families informed. One of the most prominent of these groups is the Parents Television Council, which has its own system of rating shows on major TV networks for sex, violence, and language, which are easily accessible and clearly laid out in weekly television schedules. These ratings are available for every primetime show on NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and CW.

That should be the key role of such an organization: providing information so that parents can make informed decisions for their kids, but all too often the focus is on activism. The PTC homepage features links to “contact the networks, sponsors, your elected officials, and the media” as well as a prominent page on how to file a complaint with the FCC. Occasionally, I concede, there will be a genuinely heinous flouting of decency on television, but parents should worry more about staying informed, and less about trying to change what’s on TV.

Another source of information for families is the “official” ratings of shows and games. Canadian TV networks use content ratings, as well as the common “viewer discretion is advised” disclaimer. These ratings, and their American counterparts, have been criticized for lack of clarity and for the fact that they are only briefly shown. The ratings systems for video games, and also for movies, are based on similar principles, and have both stirred up their own shares of controversy over lenience and lack of consistency. I have to wonder, though, why so many people opt to criticize the ratings instead of simply spending a few minutes to figure out what they mean. In the age of Google, it is so easy to find information that claiming not to understand the ratings is a bad excuse.

Watching TV and playing video games are hugely popular ways for young people to spend their time. Yes, some of the shows and games are violent; yes some of them have sexual content; but between the cheerleaders and the full contact, so do most sports. Why don’t I hear anyone complaining that kids shouldn’t be exposed to a football game at BC Place? Why don’t parents stop complaining about what’s on their TV and sit down for five minutes to watch what’s on their TV so they can decide for themselves whether or not they want to let their kids watch or play it?

Everyone says the government has no place in our bedrooms, but I don’t think it has any place in our living rooms either. Making these decisions the responsibility of the broadcasters and of the government is lazy at best and irresponsible at worst. It’s not the job of artists or entertainers to constantly censor themselves in case children are exposed to their work; it’s the job of parents to decide what’s appropriate for their kids, and to accept that in our modern world, you can’t protect them from everything. We have to pick our battles, and I’d say The Vampire Diaries is probably not one that’s really worth fighting.

//Julian Legere, writer
//Graphics by Camille Segur

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