for release November 8, 2002
by Melodie Davis
A Vast Pig Trough
I used to watch TV frequently with our children. Then they grew into teenagers and now spend less time watching TV.
My personal inclination is not to watch much TV. I have too much else to do. But since I work in the media and sometimes speak about television and how it impacts families, I decided it was time to check in again. TV's "vast wasteland" has turned, I'm sorry to say, into a vast pig trough.
Before you dismiss me as a media-bashing, ranting conservative who blushes at casual references to sex on sitcoms, that's not me. But I'm seeing an avalanche of references to sex, innuendo, and flagrant flaunting of intimacy. For instance, on "Friends," at the end of last season, when good friends Ross and Rachel are desperately trying to think of ways to make their baby come faster (that they accidentally conceived when they got drunk and had sex even though they weren't dating any more), the advice of their friends is that sexual intercourse can sometimes make a woman go into labor. Her friends start reminding her of how long it has been since she's had sex and urge her, "Come on girl, get yours!"
On another show, (and you may think this is not appropriate for a family paper, so quietly hide it if you don't want your sixth grader reading it, but I think it is important to know what is really going on), again best friends decide to have a baby together. The guy, who is gay, decides to help the woman with her biologically ticking clock by donating, shall we say, seed, for artificial insemination. And when those plans go awry, including an episode where this "seed" is accidentally spread as wax over a kitchen floor, they decide to copulate just for the sake of producing a baby. But then can't bring themselves to get naked. So they return to plan A of artificial insemination. But then when he heads for the shower before going to the seed bank, she urges him not to use the portable shower head to pleasure himself and lose his best seed. He says, "Come on, don't you think I have that much self-control?" And then she admits that she didn't have that much self-control when she showered.
This is on TV at 9:30 in the evening when way too many five, six and seven year olds are still watching. Sure, some of the stuff goes over their heads, but once they start going to school, they start figuring it out mighty fast. To be fair, two or three other episodes of this show that I've seen have not been quite this embarrassingly intimate, but overall the conversations about sex are so common and cheap it's like talking about brushing your teeth.
Why does this happen? When lines of acceptability constantly get nudged, crossed, and moved, the TV producers have to come up with new lines to cross and move. I don't think producers and writers are out to corrupt anybody or push a "Hollywood agenda" like you hear sometimes. But, they write and work out of their contexts and world view-which may be a totally different value context than you want to surround your family.
A recent promotion for a horror movie said, "It will put pictures in your head. It will put ideas in your brain." At last-the producers admit it! This applies to all kinds of shows, whether a sexy sitcom, a violence-filled adventure show or the latest thriller. The things we see on TV and in the movies do put ideas into our heads. Sometimes we can easily reject those ideas. The key is talking with children-and even with spouse or friends about our ideas and how they contrast with what we're seeing in the media.
If your child begs to watch the shows that everyone else his or her age watches, sit down and watch two or three of the shows together, then both of you discuss what you like or dislike. Perhaps you can come up with a compromise-like we'll watch it once a month together. Things that are totally forbidden take on a larger-than-life appeal. Use the shows you don't like to talk about your beliefs, ideals and values.
And while I say the fare on TV is like eating at a pig trough, there are a few gems here and there: educational and fun shows on public television, shows like "State of Grace" (which of course got cancelled this fall). Send me your nominations for "shows worth watching" and I'll try to do a follow up.
Send your comments on "TV shows worth watching" to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 780 words; end material = 105 words
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