NBC's Dateline program has a reputation, and deservedly so, for preferring fluff to substance. On Jan. 2, however, the popular TV newsmagazine made amends for its obsession with the likes of Jon-Benet Ramsey by airing a segment concerning contemporary teen-agers' sexual attitudes and behavior. Just as you pray most children aren't watching what's on television generally, this was one of those rare times you wish all their parents were tuned in.
The report was especially compelling because of its exploration of the entertainment media's effect on how teens view sex. It began by contrasting old-fashioned portrayals (from the 1950s, I'm guessing) of dating and courtship with brief clips from the megaraunchy 1999 movie American Pie, in the last of which a teen-age girl straddles a teen-age boy and unzips his pants.
Correspondent Keith Morrison tells us that "even though there are some studies that question the media's influence, [the four teens which Dateline interviewed for the story] feel ... otherwise. ... They feel [that] everywhere they turn -- movies, TV, music, the Internet -- there is [sex]." After another video snippet, this one of an uncharacteristically fully clothed Britney Spears singing "I'm Not That Innocent," Morrison remarks, "American morals may frown on teen-age sex, but America's commercial media seem to encourage it."
They "seem" to encourage it about as much as Tiger Woods seems to be a good golfer. One 15-year-old boy comments, "I don't think parents get the fact that they're up against a whole army. It's like your parents at home [are] saying ... `This is what you should do, I'm caring for you, I'm thinking about you' ... [but] then you have every person in the media saying sex is okay and you should do it." As a result of this cultural bombardment and other factors, teens tend to think of sex as "just for fun" and "recreation," in the words of another interviewee, also a 15-year-old boy.
A major talking head in the report is Drew Pinsky, a physician and expert on addictions. He manages to make himself sound sensible at times, such as when he calls the current state of teen sexuality "disturb[ing] ... a mess," and when he claims his "goal [is] to try to find ways to use media ... to move the culture, particularly of young people, in a healthier direction."
But Pinsky, except when he is talking on the record, has been part of the problem. He cohosts the syndicated radio call-in program Loveline -- a version of which had a four-year run on MTV. Loveline has little to do with love and everything to do with sex. …