The V-Chip and the Jurisprudence of Ratings
Monroe E. Price
There's something that was and remains politically mesmerizing about the idea of the V-chip, a magic wafer or combination of wires and plastic that would help salve consciences, allow public responsibility to be satisfied, resurrect parenthood, and urge provenders of programming to be more forthcoming as to the content and impact of the material they purvey. The V-chip, or the concept of the chip, seemed to hit the marketplace of competing ideologies at a moment when legislators and decision makers in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere have had a real political need for this device, some because of the actual addition it could make in the architecture of program choice and screening, and some because of the expedient opportunity the technology presented to permit the inference that government was acting in a way that dealt with important cultural questions in the society. Its genesis was in Canada, but it was the kind of idea that mushroomed and spread throughout the world. The introduction of the V-chip, in a fascinating but subtle way, has been a time for revisiting, in a new guise, the protracted, perpetual analysis of the proper role of government, if any, in establishing cultural norms and protecting them from corrosion.
The V-chip, in its basic form, is specific to television and is part of a very long series of discussions about whether television (or broadcasting generally) deserves some special attention in terms of its accessibility to children, its particular power to affect conduct, and its invasiveness. But as this notion of filtering and labeling has caught the imagination of the regulator, the legislator, and all those who wish to consider new ways to alter bargaining over imagery in society, the very idea of the chip or its equivalent is now moving across technologies. The Federal Communications Commission, having found the broadcasting industry rating system "acceptable," might require the installation of a V-chip or its