Parents Television Council Says American Idol Finale Crossed the Line

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Parents’ Television Council is angry about the American Idol Season 8 Finale results show, aired on May 20, saying American Idol crossed the line of decency and cautioned FOX that the popular “family-friendly”, “family-hour”, prime-time show may alienate viewers. Parents Television Council (PTC) is a self-proclaimed, non-partisan Watch Dog group, founded by Brett Bozell in 1995 as an “education organization advocating responsible entertainment, to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media”.

PTC President, Tim Winter, says the “finale of American Idol demonstrated all the aspects that make television great — a months-long competition coming down to two finalists with a Cinderella story ending. Unfortunately, it also demonstrated what’s wrong with television when Fox decided that gratuitous shock value in front of a huge family audience is a good thing, rather than a bad thing. If Fox isn’t careful, they will alienate the family audience foundation upon which the success of Idol has been built.”

PTC voted American Idol on Fox the worst TV show of the week, followed by Family Guy in the number 2 spot. Vote For The Worst, probably the bane of American Idol’s existence, flippantly reported: “PTC is angry that Kara DioGaurdi took her dress off, Bikini Girl made an appearance, and the Black Eyed Peas performed a song with swear words in it.” VFTW concludes that PTC’s concerns about Katrina Darrell’s return as the Bikini Girl showing off her “new enhancements”, and the Black Eyed Peas performance of “Boom Boom Pow” with sexual lyrics and profanity means “they’re just homely old shrews who need to get a life”.

simon-cowell-thumbs-down According to Reuter’s write-up on PTC, Americans would have to be living under a rock not to have noticed the steady “increase of sex, violence and profane language shown during the traditional, early-evening “family hour” of broadcast television viewing”, where families with young children and tween/teens gather around their television sets for “family-oriented” programming. But, perhaps parents and concerned citizens are all just “old shrews who need to get a life” as VFTW would have you believe.

According to a study by Parents Television Council, entitled The Alarming Family Hour…No Place For Children (PDF), instances of violence during family-hour broadcast TV had increased by 52.4 percent since it conducted a similar study in 2001, while the amount of sexual content grew by 22.1 percent, amongst other concerns. The “Family Hour” time slot includes television programs starting between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and between 7 and 9 p.m. on Sundays, in the Eastern (EST) time zone (7 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the Central time zone).

The PTC summary says “The American public is overwhelmingly concerned. In a March 2007 Zogby Poll, 79% of respondents agreed that there is too much sex, violence and coarse language on television. Other surveys have shown that parents are so fed up that they would welcome more government regulation to rein-in television content. However, through responsible self-regulation, the entertainment industry might eliminate the need for further legislative or regulatory action.”

Not surprisingly, TV Watch, a group opposed to “increased government regulation of television broadcasting”, quickly criticized the study saying PTC used “faulty analysis, biased methodology and suspect omissions to influence the debate and raise money” as part of an ongoing effort to influence regulators and lawmakers to take family viewing decisions out of the hands of parents and give them to the government.

Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, says parents have the “means to control and monitor what their kids watch, with the use of the “V-chip” feature built into TV sets that allow parents to set controls based on program ratings”. Television ratings and movie ratings claiming TV programs and movies are appropriate for children should only be viewed as a guide for parents, as programs become more “edgy”, “hip”, “keeping up with the changing times”, etc.

turn-off-the-tv Parents of young kids, under the age of 17, if you and/or your kids watched the American Idol Finale Results Show, raise your hand. Were you at all surprised, even shocked by any of the performances or lyrics? Did you put your trust in FOX and American Idol big-wigs to choose child, tween/teen appropriate songs and performances for your family? American Idol ratings scored an all-time low for the Idol finale results show, the lowest rated finale EVER in the show’s history, where Kris Allen was crowned the new American Idol over fellow contestant Adam Lambert. The reasons for the low ratings are up for debate.

Some parents felt they were blindsided by Flo-rida’s Right Round performance on American Idol, never having heard of the rapper before the show aired, only to discover the lyrics left parents of younger children scrambling for the remote. Where will FOX draw the line between “staying current” and being over-the-top? Time will tell, but parents would do well to do their research ahead of showtime to find out everything they can about performers, songs being sung, and the associated lyrics and make an informed decision of whether to watch or not.

“Increased government regulation”? How about just enforcing decency laws already on the books? PTC’s FAQ’s page clearly states that they’re in agreement that parents are primarily responsible for their child’s television viewing habits. However, PTC makes this analogy regarding joint responsibility for television content:

The fact that parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s upbringing does not free the entertainment industry from taking responsibility for their product. The assertion that the sole responsibility lies with parents is a self-justifying claim usually made by people who wish to evade accountability. It is much like pumping sewage into a town’s river, while maintaining that parents are responsible for protecting the health of their own children. Parental responsibility is the beginning, not the end, of the story.

Regarding the question, “If you don’t like something on television, why don’t you just change the channel?”, PTC says this:

Television is the most public and powerful means of mass communication. It drives changes in social customs, speech, and attitudes, especially among youth. Because of its pervasiveness and persuasiveness, opting out is an entirely inadequate response to the dramatic rise in the amount of televised graphic sex, obscene and profane language, and gratuitous violence found on television today. These depictions affect everyone, including our children’s classmates and friends. Vulgar television means a more vulgar society; sex-saturated television means sexualized children stripped of their innocence; violent television results in desensitization to violence.

TV Trends columnist, Chritopher Gildemeister, writes in his article entitled “Networks Change Their Tune on TV’s Influence” how FOX (supported by CBS, NBC, ABC, the ACLU and others) told the Supreme Court (regarding the 1978 FCC vs. Pacifa decision) that “the broadcast networks should not be subject to decency laws. This would mean that the networks would be able to use any foul language they want, in any amount, at any time of day – no matter how many children are watching. In fact, the networks went so far as to say that broadcast decency laws are a violation of the First Amendment.”

The results of a June 2007 TV Watch Poll (PDF-opens in new window) is quite telling, as far as the percentage of parents who actually monitor their children’s television, computer and internet use versus those who don’t. Some parents are seriously slacking in their responsibilities towards their children. I don’t subscribe to the idea of increased government regulations, but I do believe media marketers as a whole have grave responsibility in what is being projected towards children and teens on TV, magazines, clothing styles, movies etc, and that existing decency laws should be enforced.

What do you think? Was the Idol Finale Over the top, too controversial, too “sexy”, too……something? Why do you think the American Idol ratings are so low?

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8 Responses to “Parents Television Council Says American Idol Finale Crossed the Line”

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  1. Todd Morris says:

    Hi Lin,

    I guess I must be a “bad” parent, because I thought this year’s finale was the best American Idol yet. And I didn’t see anything that caused me want to cover the kids eyes/ears.

    If seeing a silly girl in a bikini on the tv is going cause parents to freak out because they might have to answer questions they don’t really want to at that moment in time; then I’m sorry but they’ve got bigger problems than what’s on the boob tube (pun intended).

    Personally, I’m a bit more concerned with the violence in movies, video games and on tv.

    But even on that front, I don’t want the government deciding for me what is and isn’t “appropriate”. I always thought that was my job … as, you know, the PARENT.

    Just my opinion,
    Todd

    • Lin says:

      Hi Todd,

      I, personally, didn’t have a real problem with the Bikini Girl skit or Kara’s revealing her bikini under her dress. I do think that inappropriate performers singing songs with sexual lyrics are not appropriate for “prime time” family “friendly” tv shows, including Idol. Even though I was not personally familiar with the song Boom Boom Pow until learning who would be performing, I did take the time to look up the Black Eyed Peas and I knew what to expect. Parents need to fully inform themselves prior to watching stuff on tv, but I do feel there is “guilt” on the side of the media, including Fox.

  2. Mike J. says:

    American Idol is one of the best shows on TV. It is the parents responsibility to remind their children about the show and explain some things that might change their way of thinking. That’s why we have this “Parental Guidance” stuff to remind us every time we watch the TV!

    • Lin says:

      Hi Mike,

      What I found interesting and very telling with the poll and surveys mentioned in this post is the number of parents who still don’t monitor what they’re kids watch on tv or what kids do online. Then they’re shocked from what they find their kids watching on tv etc. I’m definitely not interested in more government involvement in these things, but parents really need to pay closer attention and not just assume any show will always be up to their expectations or values.

  3. Given the reality that many children do watch tv without any parental guidance or control do we as a society need to consider the research connecting tv violence, including sexual violence,with increases in our lives, and decide whether we want to give up some liberty in exchange for some influence on how our children are being trained & what they are learning from a major influence on them? We will live with the results for a long time!

  4. Janet Fox says:

    My two cents..

    As a parent, what all will you sheild your kids from. Shutting their eyes and ears is not the solution. Rather, as a good parent one should educate kids not to get enstranged or impacted in a bad way even if exposed to these kinda elements..

  5. Briana says:

    Grr. A parent myself, I get so annoyed by these brigadier patrols of parenting deciding what is right and wrong for TV to show. If they’re worried about “sexual lyrics” then surely half of pop music has to go?

    Every Britney Spears song at the very least alludes to sex, if not positively promotes it. The final of American Idol didn’t even touch that closely. If I deem something to be inappropriate as a parent then I’ll bloomin’ well turn it off myself, not because the PTC tell me to.

    Apologies for the rant!

    Sally

    • Lin says:

      Hi Briana,

      No apology necessary for a rant; I’ve ranted a few times myself. 🙂

      I really think that the intention of PTC and TV Watch and any other organization like these is to keep the public informed on changing trends towards more and more explicit sexuality and language etc being put on tv/radio/internet during the times when young children are watching.

      I’ve written a couple of “sexualization of children” posts already on how marketers are purposely targeting young children, and I can see how these organizations are trying their best to keep the public/parents informed. Once informed, then parents can decide for themselves.

      Unfortunately, far too many parents are not monitoring what their kids watch on tv and then become outraged at some point when they discover what they’re kids have been seeing and hearing for quite awhile without their knowledge.

      Parents need to keep themselves informed and knowledgeable at all times, and not leave this responsibility up to anyone else.