Significance / meaning of censorship
Success of vchip
History of Media censorship
Link between television violence and juvenile crime
Levels of violence shown on tv
Link between juvenile crime and exposure to violence
Link between juvenile crime and tv
Public policy that led to vchip
Attempts to get industry to self-regulate
Relative success of the vchip
Technological aspects of vchip
How vchip works
Industrial adoption of the vchip
Cultural adoption of the vchip
Public Policy effectiveness
Has public policy paid off?
Has the vchip and other methods actually changed society?
Reduction of Juvenile crime
Effects of reduction
Even before the time of organizations such as the MPAA, efforts to control what children are exposed to through the popular media forms have been paramount for both parents and society. With books we have review boards, with movies we have the MPAA, with music we have the Parental Warning stickers, and now, for television, we have a two-pronged approach, the new visible rating system and the V-Chip. In an age of television where more than three-hundred channels are available 24/7, when there are no meaningful restrictions in place that prevent children from watching whatever is on (just as there are truly no meaningful restrictions placed on the internet so that children are not exposed to even worse than what can be found on TV), we run the risk of a significant sensory overload – where children are exposed to massive amounts of violence, sex, drugs, adult language, and both ideas and themes that simply are too much for young minds to manage. While asking the entertainment industry to police itself has yielded very little results, and software locks on set-top boxes are hard to navigate and are as much an annoyance as they are an aid, industry developed the v-chip – which has been, for the greatest extent, a failure. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the origin of the v-chip, its role in our popular culture, examine the technology, and to look at why it has not been successful. The truth is that children are effected by TV. Their perceptions of the world are largely created around the commonality of TV – by effectively managing television, we can better control the behavior of our children.
Censorship, in whatever form it takes, requires both a personal and a societal approach in order to be truly effective. if, for example, one makes a personal decision that the drinking of alcohol below the age of 21 is appropriate and that coincides with the law, then censorship of drinking behavior is both effective and agreed upon. If the censorship is purely personal, then only a strength of conviction exists – such as making the personal choice to not watch police procedurals. Censorship where the viewer is not a willing participant, however, means that it is up to interested and other third parties to create a system by which the censorship is both appropriate and effective without causing harm to society (Knox, 2000). Ultimately, censorship succeeds when both the public or individual and the controlling body (parents, school, government, etc.) are working in concert with each other.
When it is most effective, is when both society and the individual agree that a particular form of expression, imagery, product, etc., should not be part of the general experience of the community. For example, in most of the European nations, personal ownership of guns is considered to be something of an anomaly and associated only with hunting. Therefore, the social constructs of those countries are such that not only does the government seek to limit public access to guns, the public wants the same thing too.
However, when the society / government seeks censorship and the individual does not participate willingly, significant friction can occur. One of the most poignant examples of this is in the fictional story, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury in which books are banned and burned but the individuals who resist the broad censorship find that they are compelled not only to break the law, but to break from society in order to avoid censorship.
The result, then, is that when we apply the concept of censorship to television, and we do so in order to protect our children from the potential ill-effects of exposure to the themes and imagery so rampant on TV, we are generally doing so in that second form of censorship. Our children, as is true of all curious beings, want to see what we aren’t letting them see. They want to do “bad” things, “adult” things – they want to do what the adults do. Really, has the admonition “do as I say, not as I do” ever been truly effective? The only really effective method of in-home censorship, then, is to either keep the child from ever being aware of a particular form of expression (such as particular language), art (such as pornography or violence), or other vices. Since keeping people in the absolute dark works only to a very limited extent even in totalitarian regimes and the most isolationist of people, abstinence from such behaviors, experiences, and television shows is perhaps the next best thing. If the child does not see the parent doing something, the impetus to imitate and thus participate in a vice is reduced – watching R-rated moves becomes less exotic if they aren’t watched in the house.
But, again, this form of censorship is only as effective as the parent who is willing to forego entertainment that they are absolutely able to experience.
Hobbes noted that man’s very nature is to band together, and that in that banding all give up some of their individual natural freedoms in order to enjoy the protections and benefits of society. Because of this we have to understand that if we want to keep our children from seeing particular kinds of shows, we either have to prevent them from being made (a la prohibition), place very strict and easily enforceable controls on the content (which is the intent of the vchip), or simply rely upon each individual family to police themselves and their children in whatever way they see fit. The latter proves to be only as effective as the family is at enforcing it (Knox, 2000). If television were as innocuous as say, a soccer ball, then our social order would not experience turmoil if people were to play soccer because they see a soccer ball. However, because there is a link between exposure to images and themes of violence, misogyny, and crime on television and actual commission of crimes in the real world, self-policing is perhaps no longer a truly effective or viable option.
There have been many attempts to censor the content that is displayed on television. In the days of broadcast-only TV censorship was effective and easy. A national board of censors had representatives on the set of every television show. Their purpose was to prevent shows from broadcasting images, themes, language or other content that would be otherwise deemed unfit for viewing. However, with the advent of cable and satellite, where commercial TV gave way to subscription-TV, the regulations controlling what went on the air changed dramatically. Now, it is possible to view just about any subject on any of a number of channels that would have previously been considered simply too “adult” to even broadcast – let alone be visible during the hours that children are most likely to watch television.
Take this into consideration as well, that there is a measurable and identifiable link between television and real life violence, and we see that something must be done to help protect our children from the undue influence of particular forms of programming. “Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Unfortunately, much of today’s television programming is violent. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may: become “immune” or numb to the horror of violence, gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems, imitate the violence they observe on television; and identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2007). According to professional opinion, “extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness, a higher likelihood of imitation (particularly when such violence goes unpunished), and that the effects of viewed violence can be immediate as well as delayed by years (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2007).
If we accept that this research is accurate, that the hundreds of studies conducted that looked into and found a connection between viewed or simulated violence and the commission of acts of violence later then we also need to question the very validity of maintaining such exposure (Duncan, 2006. We can admonish parents to keep their children away from particular programming, but as is quite evident, that simply doesn’t work. Parents who are predisposed to limit children’s exposure to violence will do so as a matter of course. Parents who don’t feel that way, will not. Therefore, if parents can’t be relied upon to police their children, then society must- because what social order wants to have violence-overloaded children heaving their criminal behavior upon it?
In the mid-1950’s a Senate sub-committee began to investigate the “sources of the moral rot at the core of an otherwise flourishing postwar America,” (Knox, 4). This committee looked at the comic book industry, movies, and particularly at television. While these efforts did little to nothing to curb interest in subjects considered to be anti-American, or “immoral,” it does show the depth of time and effort that has been spent on this issue – at every level. However, over the course of time, television has become more liberal rather than less. So, in response, the television industry, governmental, and citizen bodies banded together again in the mid-1980’s to begin the process of looking into alternative ways to actually keep children from watching violent acts in a society that maintains that freedom of expression is a critical part of our social order (Hornaday N01). One of the methods that is now commonplace is the television rating scale. Seen at the beginning of shows and upon returning from advertising breaks, broadcast networks have begun to voluntarily participate in the program of flashing a rating such as G, TV-MA, etc. On the screen indicating the content in the program.
Ratings, however, are simply not an effective deterrent. The determined child can simply keep his eyes open and watch as people kill each other on the screen. Ratings do not prevent actual viewing and it is viewing violence that creates violence. Therefore, the only course of action remaining, apparently, is to actually prevent children from watching particularly violent television shows. There are two basic ways to accomplish this that the broadcasting industry has agreed to participate in. First there is the “windowing” of television. During certain hours of the day, the television industry has agreed not to broadcast particular kinds of movies and television shows. This, in part, explains why children do not come home to seeing network broadcasts of Boys n the Hood, or Saving Private Ryan. The second method of approach is to actually physically prevent viewing – thus the birth of the vchip.
Technically, the V-Chip sounds like a very simple concept. The chip is imbedded into the circuitry of the television. Imbedded in the data transmission of the program is information relating to the ratings. The v-chip, then, receives those signals and, depending upon the level of “security” given to it, will simply render the screen unviewable by blocking it out with a color wash (such as all blue or all black) and turns off the audio of the broadcast. For a person to then watch the show, a code must be entered into v-chip via the television remote which then immediately unlocks the screen and allows for viewing.
On the surface, this sounds very good – a highly effective method of actually preventing the viewing of violence. This technology was embraced by both the television industry (looking to cooperate as much as was financially feasible) and the government. The v-chip, to be effective, must be turned on and programmed. The ease of accomplishing this is dependent wholly upon the way that the manufacturer set up the television controls and menus.
But, ultimately, it requires that the parents of the children take an active role in turning on the chip whenever a child is likely to watch TV. This is why the chip has not been very successful: parental effort must be exerted and that, put starkly, is just too much to ask of many people. The v-chip only succeeds in households that use it (Puzzanghera, 2007).
If the v-chip doesn’t work, and we can’t compel television studios to stop producing shows that display the kind of violence that is plaguing our nation, then what course of action do we have? Legislated censorship, perhaps, is the next logical step. But that is a very hard row to hoe. The problem is that our constitution allows for freedom of expression – and that has been expanded to include television shows, music, and movies. While we can slap warning labels and ratings on our entertainment, we can’t actually prevent people from making fictional murder appear on TV.
So, are we stuck? Perhaps we are. Unless a v-chip can be made that operates on some sort of personal or biometric recognition system, our nation is going to continue to see children acting out what they have seen on television on each other and on us – to all of our detriment. Personal policing is the only reliable course of action we have.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2007). Children and TV Violence. Online. Internet. Avail:
http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_tv_violence.Acc: 12 Oct, 2007.
Duncan, P. (2006). Attractions to Violence and the Limits of Education. The Journal of Aesthetic Education. 40:4; 21-38.
Hornaday, a. (Aug 6, 2006) Parents Fret About Children’s Entertainment. The Washington Post. Sunday Arts, N01.
Puzzanghera, J. (Jan 20, 2007). Parents Report More Clout in TV Oversight Los Angeles Times. Business Section. Part C. Pg 2.
Knox, S.L. (2000). A World Made of Glass: Crime Culture and Community in an Age of Hyper-Media. Muse: Essays. 4:4.
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