Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chipping Away at Sex and Violence

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chipping Away at Sex and Violence

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton has appropriated a major conservative issue with his campaign to require manufacturers to install the so-called "V-chip" in all new TV sets.

The chip, as everyone knows by now, would - in conjunction with an industry agreement to encode its programming with movie-like content ratings - allow parents to block reception of programs that are too violent or too sexy for the health of their children.

Naysayers will complain that the whole idea chips away at parental authority - handing control over to faceless rating panels. But Clinton, having grabbed himself a doozy of an issue, isn't about to yield to such nit-picking. He spent last week coddling electronics manufacturers, participating in focus groups and soberly predicting that his purloined initiative "might actually change the content of programming."

Actually, I'm starting to like the idea that technology can extricate us from our moral difficulties.

Amitai Etzioni, the George Washington University savant, says Clinton may be going for the wrong technology - or, more to the point, that he shouldn't specify the technology at all. Etzioni's notion is that the government should be content to identify the social need to be met and then leave it to the private sector to figure out how to meet it.

He notes that environmentalists, who once demanded smokestack "scrubbers" as a way of reducing harmful factory emissions, now simply demand that the harmful emissions be reduced. This frees inventors to try new approaches and new technologies that just might give us cleaner air. In the same way, he argues, mandating the V-chip may have the perverse effect of discouraging the development of cheaper, more effective and easier-to-use methods of cleaning up the TV airwaves.

Etzioni's own favorite is a category he describes as "parental filters." You know those numbers listed on the TV schedule that allow you to program your videocassette recorder to tape them with no further attention from you. Well "parental filters" would let you use those same codes to block the programs from reaching your TV screen.

But that's all quibble. The point, which Etzioni implicitly accepts, is that technology can facilitate choices that parents are too busy to make. …

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