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September 4, 2006

L. Brent Bozell May Be Gone, But the PTC Rages On

I think I've heard some of the best news that's come my way in a while over the weekend, when I found out from Dave Meltzer's site that L. Brent Bozell, the head of the Parents Television Council, has resigned from his leadership position. Why was I excited?

I have no problem with grassroots groups of citizens who get together to call for industries to have more scruples, to consider showing more compelling content, etc. I am disgusted by these groups, though, when they become not just media watchdogs but media censors. Warning parents about media that may not be inappropriate or calling for more family-friendly programming is one thing. Trying to eliminate programming one does not agree with is another.

I've made my opinion of L. Brent Bozell clear in the past, such as here and here. The man led the PTC through some major victories, including the decision earlier this year by Congress to dramatically increase the fines for "indecency." Again, the problem here is who gets to define indecency, and these types of fines usually lead to a certain degree of fear to air certain content or to take risks, exactly the opposite kind of environment we need to be in to encourage networks to take advantage of the new possibilities offered by convergence culture.

Bozell has been a thorn in my side as a fan since his 1999 full-fledged attack on World Wrestling Entertainment. At the time, he not only targeted WWE on the Web site but personally led a campaign against WWE's advertisers, trying to force them to drop the show. All of this, of course, is within his rights, but he then started lying in his press releases, claiming to stop people from advertising who never advertised with WWE in the first place and even claiming to stop some people from advertising who were still running ads!

WWE did two things in response--they created a group of characters called The Right to Censor (RTC) to make fun of the PTC and what WWE Owner Vince McMahon considered "Puirtanical" values, which aired on television on a weekly basis, and they sued the PTC. In fact, the lawsuit ended in a several million dollar settlement on the PTC's part and a public apology to McMahon and the WWE.

So, you may be able to understand my enjoyment when Bozell was finally removed from power. But, then, simultaneously, news has come out that the PTC has filed an indecency complaint against the Emmy Awards. Now, I was expecting some feeling of distaste over the airplane scenes when I heard that someone was upset with the Emmys, since I knew there had been some discussion of that. Otherwise, I couldn't remember what it was at the Emmys that was so upsetting.

Then I read this article from Ira Teinowitz at TelevisionWeek explaining that it was the PTC filing charges because of comments made by Dame Helen Mirren and Calista Flockhart about not falling "ass over tit" up the stairs to the stage. The article said that the PTC's major objection was more to the word "tit" than the word "ass."

The PTC has taken legal recourse here, but I'm interested in seeing what happens. Coarse language has become more acceptable in mainstream media and on broadcast networks, in primetime or daytime. I heard a character on As the World Turns call someone a "son of a bitch" not too long ago, surprising for me considering the lack of salty language in daytime for quite a while.

But we'll see what happens with this one. And, in the meantime, it seems that the PTC's claim to be watchdogs really just leads to the same old song and dance about indecency in the media, usually attacking the most trivial of moments instead of the types of trends that may really be disturbing on TV, with our without Bozell. Why doesn't the PTC put all its big bucks into helping new networks develop compelling counter-programming if they feel the needs of families are not being met, instead of trying to eliminate most of the programming on the networks?


A few years ago as part of an assignment for Dr. Kevin Sandler's Censorship class at the University of Arizona we collectively had the opportunity to interview one Brent Bozell. Bozell had recently written a scathing editorial entitled Sickos Celebrate Sin City (about Frank Miller's gorey movie of the same name). Bozell argues, among other things, that instead of marketing to violent movie fans studios "should be hustling them off to therapy," that because wrote such an effusively positive review of the violence in the film the publication "should never be allowed to lecture anyone ever again about morality of any kind," and that film is "intoxicating. Can you sit on the fence while this cinematic disease spreads?" He concludes with a warning - "just wait until the Sin City DVD starts traveling around in teenagers' backpacks."

While I'll grant that the image of teenagers with backpacks as literal carriers of a disease is a poetic one I wasn't that surprised that he didn't further explain or justify what he was saying there. This was an emotional appeal rather than a rational one. It was a little like the lawyer who goes on a long rant that he knows is inadmissable because he also knows that even if the judge rules that the jury will have to discount what they've heard that they really can't.

Our class, which had just taken a field trip to see the movie at the local mall, had the opportunity to respond. My essay, unfortunately, never reached his desk (my fault, not his.) But, some of my finders were: The preview of the movie DID mislead audiences into believing that the film would be a standard, cartoonish R rated horror movie rather than an unmercifully chunky, bloody torture flick. In the preview the camera cut away at all of the moments of violent impact and the most sickening scenes aren't even hinted at. Sin City really was the most violent movie I've ever seen and I'd never care to watch it again. As I argued in the paper, "You get the distinct impression that Sin City was rated R because anything less would have been out and out lying and anything more would have guaranteed the film didn�t turn a profit."

But my argument was that Hollywood should switch to a ratings system that provides more detailed information about the types of potentially objectionable content in the film. Bozell never offers a suggestion other than "hustling [fans] off to therapy." Honestly, though, it's the same old war that's been waged a million times now and nobody ever wins. You knock Bozell out and like some violent movie special effect a new head is just gonna grow out of the PTC's bloody body. Such violence as Bozell is perpetuating towards teenagers does turn my stomach but I guess that's the price we pay for free speech.

Of all the things I have ever said about Bozell, that someone should shut him up really isn't one of them, although it would be nice and convenient. He has the right to say the things he says, but his tactics have sometimes bordered on not just dishonesty but deception, in the legal sense when it came to the WWE.

Your account is a fascinating one because it shows that Bozell takes rational thoughts to an extreme, as does that whole censorsing strain of thought. And, as you said, it isn't like the PTC is going to be different now that Bozell is gone. The mission will still be the same. It's just a shame that they can see no alternative between anarchy and complete censorship.

Posted by: Sam Ford | September 9, 2006 8:04 PM
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