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Many agree that something is wrong with television today, and that this is an indication of problems in society in general. But is television programming merely a reflection of society, or does society mirror television?
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In part two of this series, we conclude our look at television, beginning with the shows of the past and moving to the programming of today. The content of television programs has changed dramatically from its early days. This was once a much more wholesome form of entertainment. Series such as Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It To Beaver, captain Kangaroo, The Andy Griffith Show, The Big Valley, The Lawrence Welk Show, the Red Skelton Show and lassie come to mind. No ratings needed here! There was a clear portrayal of what was right vs. what was wrong. The majority of programs taught and promoted good manners, proper respect, values and morals. Many times, a particular episode would teach a helpful, valuable lesson about life. They tended to show the negative effects of wrong behavior.
Foul language was non-existent. There was no gratuitous, graphic violence or sex. The comedy shows were clean. TV shows pictured traditional families with a husband, wife and children. The father was portrayed as the breadwinner, head of the home, capable, wise, intelligent and able to lead his family. The wife was shown in her proper role, following and supporting her husband’s lead, caring for the children and the home. Children were obedient and well-behaved, and they honored and respected their parents. Proper correction and discipline were evident.
And for the most part, society reflected all of this. Not so today!
Television today is far removed from this type of programming. And society has moved right along with it. The old TV shows have given way in recent years to shows such as Dark Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Boston Public, Home Improvement, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Like Family, Becker, Sex and the City, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and other such programs.
While some of these shows’ titles might lead you to think they provide quality entertainment, they do not. The content of seemingly harmless programs is full of coarse, vulgar language, sexual innuendo, scenes of adultery and fornication, homosexual relationships, graphic violence, sarcasm and putdowns. This was rare—if not unheard of—in the early years of television.
Recall that, in 1972, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office found a link between viewing violence on television and aggressive behavior. In testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Surgeon General Jesse Steinfeld said, “It is clear to me that the causal relationship between televised violence and antisocial behavior is sufficient to warrant appropriate and immediate remedial action…There comes a time when the data [is] sufficient to justify action. That time has come.”
It is estimated that the average child will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence on television by the time he leaves elementary school. By age 18, that number will increase to 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. As viewing continues throughout adulthood, this number will only increase. It is no wonder that so many, having been conditioned from an early age, seek to solve problems and conflicts through violence.
But has anything changed? Are acts of violence shown on TV decreasing?
Not according to a study conducted by the Parents Teachers Council, published in a report titled TV Bloodbath: Violence on Prime Time Broadcast TV, A PTC State of the Television Industry Report. It stated that “PTC analysts examined all prime time entertainment series on the major television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and the WB) from the first two weeks of the 1998, 2000, and 2002 November sweeps periods…A total of 400 program hours were analyzed. Television broadcasts of movies, news, and sports programs were not included in this analysis. PTC analysts reviewed the programs for all instances of violence. Mild forms included threats of violence, mayhem or pyrotechnics (fires, explosions, car crashes), deaths implied, and fist fights or martial arts fights. More extreme examples of violence included use of guns or other weapons, depiction of blood, graphic depictions (e.g., a dismembered body), deaths depicted, and torture.”
Some of its findings (from www.parentstv.org):
• Overall, violence increased in every time slot between 1998 and 2002. On all the networks combined, violence was 41% more frequent during the 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) Family Hour in 2002 than in 1998.
• During the second hour of prime time (9-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), violence was 134.4% more frequent in 2002 than in 1998. During the third hour of prime time (10-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), violent content was nearly 63% more common in 2002 than in 1999.
• In qualitative terms, television violence seemed to have become more graphic over time. In 1998, the most common form of TV violence during all hours of prime time was fist fights or martial arts combat (in which no one was killed). By 2002, these relatively mild fight sequences became less frequent and were supplanted by more frequent use of guns or other weapons. In 1998, 44% of all violent scenes during the Family Hour were mild fight sequences compared to 32% in 2002. In 1998, 29% of all violent sequences included the use of guns or other weapons. By 2002, that number increased to 38%.
• Looking at the second hour of prime time, violent scenes containing depictions of blood were 141% more common in 2002 than in 1998.
Language that was once unacceptable is now common in a wide variety of shows. Another study the PTC conducted during the same time period as mentioned above reviewed programs for all instances of foul language, including curses, offensive epithets, sexually suggestive or indecent and censored language. Among other things, the study found:
• Foul language increased overall during every timeslot between 1998 and 2002. During the Family Hour, it increased by 94.8% between 1998 and 2002 and by 109.1% during the 9:00 p.m. ET/PT time slot. Ironically, the smallest increase (38.7%) occurred during the last hour of prime time—the hour when young children are least likely to be in the viewing audience.
• One teen-targeted network had a 188% increase in foul language during the Family Hour between 1998 and 2002. Such language increased by 308.5% during the second hour of prime time.
This use of foul language has carried over into everyday conversations. American Demographics recently published a survey indicating that 55% of women and 72% of men say they swear in public. It is even more prevalent among younger generations, with 74% of 18- to 34-year-olds swearing in public as opposed to 48% of 55-year-olds who responded to the survey. The use of curse words is also slowly creeping into the vocabulary of younger and younger children.
Today, there is a trend in TV programming geared toward degrading and undermining the roles of husbands and fathers in the family.
One might ask, “What is wrong with the shows mentioned earlier? Don’t they provide an overall message of ‘good triumphing over evil,’ and promote ‘good, wholesome American values’?”
While this might appear to be the case on the surface, a closer look at the content and dialogue of such shows paints a different picture.
Husbands are constantly depicted as bumbling, ignorant, insensitive dunderheads. They are the brunt of jokes and always in trouble in their relationships with family and friends. They just can’t seem to get it right. If it were not for the advice of their wives, they would be totally inept at managing their lives, marriages and families.
Wives are shown as wiser, smarter, better educated and more level-headed, always knowing what to do, no matter the situation. The woman is portrayed as the guiding, stabilizing force in the marriage and family. If it were not for her, everything would fall to pieces.
How about children? Are they respectful to parents and one another? Hardly! Sarcasm and putdowns flow freely from their mouths to parents and each other in a never-ending game of one-up-man-ship.
It seems that no aspect of family life is off-limits to the writers of so-called “TV sitcoms.” What is supposed to be quality family time spent around the table sharing a meal together is reduced to a trip through the sewer.
As with everything else on TV, families begin to emulate these actions, thinking this is how they are supposed to act.
Television also attacks families in other ways. In the place of traditional families, it promotes homosexual lifestyles. Each season brings more of this programming content. One-quarter of movie ads aired during the so-called “family hour” are for R-rated films. Time spent watching television (over 4 hours per day for the average American) leaves little time for meaningful conversation with children (38.5 minutes per week). In fact, 54% of 4- to 6-year-olds would rather spend time watching TV than spend time with their fathers.
As it has with every other standard of decency, television is constantly pushing the boundaries in regard to sex. What was once unmentioned and left in the bedroom is now standard fare. Not content with innuendo, virtually every prime time show has explicit scenes of fornication or adultery. Little is left to the imagination. Partial nudity is becoming more prevalent during prime time, even among the major networks, as they strive to compete with cable and satellite television. It is almost impossible to watch any show without being subjected to sex.
How much sex is on the tube? A study, Sex on TV 3: Content and Context, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, holds some answers.
Among its findings:
• Almost two-thirds of all shows (64%) have some sexual content, including one in three (32%) with sexual behaviors (the rest include sexual references in conversation). This rate of sexual content is similar to that found two years ago (68%), up from about half of all shows (56%) four years ago.
• One in seven shows (14%) now includes sexual intercourse, either depicted or strongly implied, an increase from 10% of shows two years ago, and 7% four years ago.
• In the top 20 shows among teen viewers, eight in ten episodes include some sexual content (83%), including one in five (20%) with sexual intercourse.
• Overall, 15% of all shows with any sexual content—including those with more modest content such as talk about sex, kissing or touching—included a safer sex reference, up from 10% two years ago and 9% four years ago. The rates for certain programs with more advanced portrayals were much higher, as noted above (for example, in shows with sexual intercourse, where the rate was 26%).
No longer content with “make believe,” television has moved into the world of reality. With the introduction of shows such as Survivor, The Mole, Big Brother, Fear Factor, The Bachelor and Scare Tactics, reality television is coming of age. Yet, these shows are just more of the same, with the added dimension of reality. They contain just as much sex, violence, and filthy language. Added to the mix is competition, scheming, backstabbing, plotting, humiliation, fear and the like. These shows seem to fill the viewers’ need for voyeurism and to live vicariously through the lives of others.
As with anything mankind creates, television is a mixture of good and evil (Gen. 2-3). While some programs are good, such as certain nature, history, documentary or educational programs, most of it is very bad. Under the influence of Satan, the god of this world (Rev. 12:9; II Cor. 4:4), man has followed a path that seems right to him, but that ultimately leads to pain, suffering and death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). What could be used as a wonderful tool to teach, guide and instruct mankind in RIGHT ways, is instead more often a destructive force in society.
Through television, the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:23-24) are under attack. Husbands and fathers are portrayed as pitiful and bumbling, and ineffective at leading the family. Wives’ roles have been reversed. Instead of honoring parents as God commands (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16), children are shown as sarcastic and disrespectful. Families are portrayed in every dysfunctional way possible, all in the name of comedy. Homosexual and other “alternative” lifestyles are promoted as viable, acceptable and normal.
Television has moved sex from the proper confines of marriage between a man and a woman, to endless innuendos and depictions of seemingly harmless casual sex. In truth, TV promotes fornication and adultery. It is constantly breaking the barriers in its use of coarse, foul, filthy and crude language. Violence is glorified in such graphic detail that it no longer shocks or disturbs viewers. It leaves them numb to real-world violence. And since society has come to mirror television, as much as television mirrors society, “reality TV” is not that much different than what viewers have been watching for the last few decades.
While society in general may see nothing wrong with the content of television, the Creator God feels differently. Through the prophet Isaiah, He declares, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9).
God describes this present society and television programming in the following way: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perverseness. None calls for justice, nor any pleads for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity…
“Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goes therein shall not know peace” (Isa. 59:2-8).
Is all TV bad? No. Is it okay to watch some programs? Yes. There are some good, wholesome programs. Some are helpful and educational. Others are historical and informative. Some are clean entertainment. But sadly, these are becoming fewer and farther between. It will take work and effort to find them. But this can be done!
Christ told His disciples to “watch” and be aware of world events in order to be ready for His Return (Matt. 24:44; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36). Watching the news to keep abreast of world events, trends and conditions will mean that seeing acts of violence or evil is unavoidable.
Yet, these things should not consume an unreasonable amount of our time. A balanced approach should be taken. There are many alternatives to spending endless hours in front of a television, viewing programs with no redeeming value.
Read a good book, talk with your family, play board games together, visit the zoo, library or museums. Take a walk. Get some exercise. Almost anything burns more calories than watching TV. Learn to use your mind, instead of allowing TV to numb it. Find a hobby, such as music or arts and crafts. The alternatives are endless!
King David said, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me” (Psa. 101:3). He strove to avoid seeking after, or purposely setting before him, anything contrary to God’s Law.
The Bible tells us to “flee fornication” (I Cor. 6:18) and to “put away from you a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from you” (Prov. 4:24). This ought to be done no matter what form these things take!
When Christ returns to set up the kingdom of God, every evil, wicked and wrong way will be done away. The time is coming when “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).