Thirty some years ago, when the Viet Nam conflict was in full swing, I was working as a spot TV buyer. My client, like many at the time, had a corporate “do not buy” list due to violence. On the list was “The Lone Ranger.” As a parent, I would be ecstatic if that were the most violent thing my boy was exposed to. I could not reconcile then or now, that the news was not on the “do not buy” list. In fact, it was an integral part of the plan. The planners requested that we put X% of our weight in the news due to the reach and qualitative aspects of the programming. It seemed that the violence edict of the client only went so far, and when business interfered, it turned its watchdog eye the other way.
Last night over dinner with relatives, we started talking about having TV shows rated like other content. Including the news. The consensus was that “it ain’t gonna happen.” And yet, there are some things that can be done. Apparently, ABC took a position last week (and let viewers know) that they would not show certain scenes over and over. With the number of news vendors we have today, maybe the media companies could each state their position, so we knew where we could safely tune in with our families, vs. what channel we might tune in to after the kids have gone to bed to get “the whole story.” I believe that screening for content begins in the home, not with the government. We should know what our kids are watching. If a lot of families agreed not to view the news, affecting the ratings, maybe the advertisers would listen and pressure could result in some kind of media disclosure about policies as to what the network will and will not air.
I am not talking about forcing our kids to live in an ivory tower. It is going to be a personal choice of each family whether or not the kids are old enough to see some fare. We made the choice last week that our eleven year old could see the tragedy. Although we supported him in getting back to “regular” programming soon after. He seemed ready to move on before we were. At one point during the past week, he came to us and said, “Dad, I know that this is serious, but when are they going to let me see my regular programs.”
The print media were almost worse that the TV. With the TV, pictures of people jumping, etc. were pulled fairly quickly. But then the weeklies and the weekly feature sections of the dailies had to have their say. And the worst photos were brought back again. I know it is not within our frame of reference to put ratings on print content, yet today it does not seem unreasonable to consider. Over the weekend, MSNBC stated at one point that “you may not want to watch the upcoming feature.” I actually appreciated the warning. There are some wonderful links going around the Web that have photos of all of the positive things people around the world have done to salute the U.S. I wonder if it has occurred to the weekly pubs that these photos would make just as effective a statement as the ghoulish ones in their special issues last week. Might actually be a big seller on the newsstand too.
We have lost a lot of people. But that is the tip of the iceberg as far as the tragedy. Equally important is the fabric of society that they tried to destroy. The safe assumption that dad and mom will come home from work. Which will never be the same in towns like Greenwich and Scarsdale and untold number of hamlets in New Jersey and Long Island.
While life will never be the same, we owe it to the kids and those missing or dead to move on. We need to work with our kids to help them develop positive goals and believe that their future still has infinite promise despite the recent horrors. While we do so, let’s figure out some logical ways to communicate to society what kind of content we are serving up. We owe it to the kids and their kids to establish some new standards.