Is the Problem Television or Viewers?

The American Enterprise, March 1999 | Go to article overview
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Is the Problem Television or Viewers?


To interject some healthy dissent into the live conference on which this issue of TAE is based, we invited two distinguished conservatives and authorities on popular entertainment who have sharply different views of TV--Michael Medved and David Horowitz--to debate the state of our airwaves. Medved suggests that today's TV is fundamentally corrosive, and urges consumers to be extremely discriminating. Horowitz argues TV has never been better, and that it has bad effects on only a small part of its audience.

The two speakers stake out their sharply divergent views in alternating statements, then engage each other's arguments, and finally address some questions briefly at the end of the debate.

DAVID HOROWITZ: I'm used to being the skunk at the garden party, but it's usually not this kind of party. I disagree with the view of television this morning's speakers have presented, and with their idea of TV's influence. I thought the documentary "Wasteland" was a total misrepresentation of what television is about.

No effort was made to distinguish between network TV, cable TV, pay-perview TV. "Linc" is a black sitcom on Showtime, which you have to buy. The documentary made no effort to distinguish betweens shows on at 8:00 P.M. and shows on at 11:00 P.M. "Linc" is on late at night, as is one of the soft porn shows shown. By the way, the central character on "Linc" is a conservative.

It's bizarre to have Newt Minow quoted about the TV "wasteland." When he called network TV a wasteland, there were three networks. I remember seeing as a youngster all sorts of quality programs on those networks, including a modern opera, the NBC symphony, the Hallmark Hall of Fame's original plays featuring young actors like Paul Newman. There was also a professor who lectured on Shakespeare, as well as Bishop Sheen.

Today's television is a minimum of a 60-channel universe. If all three networks then were decent, we have at least 12 times as many decent channels now. We have the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, the History Channel, the Biography Channel, three C-SPAN channels. We have CNBC, MSNBC, and the Fox News Channel, as well as public television. And then there's Court TV. If a major trial or an important congressional hearing is taking place, you can see it on four or five different channels. And this is just the beginning. TV is going to explode into a 500-channel universe very soon.

For freedom, free markets, and free expression, this is an amazing development.

As for the impact that TV has on America, I recall attending the Clinton-Gore event where they launched the V-chip. They had one professor after another get up and tell us, "You've seen a hundred thousand murders by the time you're an adult, and this desensitizes you to human suffering, and this has a large impact on the violence in society."

Come on. Everybody in this room, then, has seen a hundred thousand murders. Do we have any serial killers here? Exactly the same television is watched in South Central Los Angeles and Beverly Hills; in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Canada. But Detroit has a murder rate vastly higher than Windsor, Canada.

Television can have an impact if you have no family, if you're in an abusive home. You'll see violence on television, and it might inspire you to commit more. But TV is like rap music. Do you think suburban kids, listening to rap, talking about shooting cops and beating up their bitches, then go out, join gangs and do that? It doesn't happen.

Being conservative, I'm more sensitive than liberals to the protection of children, but I think TV's effect is much overrated. And I don't think conservatives should imitate liberalism's campaign against the tobacco companies as a model for what to do to TV.

True, there are some shows that are out of line, from my standard. But we live in an incredibly diverse culture, and not all of it will please everybody.

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Is the Problem Television or Viewers?


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