What Children Watch
With the Writers Guild on strike in
The publicity put the show on the TV map, but it also largely scared advertisers away from the premiere. But the program itself wasn't exactly Stalag 17. The show's “reality” plot is simple. In a ghost town called
That doesn't mean it doesn't feel like child exploitation on some occasions. When “reality” show contestants break down and cry on a show like The Bachelor, lamenting a lost love of the last 17 days, it can be easy to cast a skeptical eye on the emotion-wringing process. But when a nine-year-old girl on Kid Nation cries and wants to go home, you feel for her – and then resent the people fueling their Cadillac Escalade hybrids by manipulating these sob scenes for TV.
Often these Kid Nation cast members seem older than their years, sometimes in all the wrong ways. For example, Greg, the show's surly long-haired bully, unleashes profanity-laced tirades on camera, which the producers bleep out. So why is bleeped profanity necessary? It's not live television. Instead, it's carefully edited into the show. One of the show's girls was shown cursing as well, but at least she apologized for it. It would be nice if the producers apologized for making sure the outburst was broadcast. This is TV about kids, for kids. Would it be so unreasonable to scissor the bleep scenes?
Kid Nation is not alone. Other “reality” shows have used bleeped profanity to underline how children are out of control. Wife Swap, Supernanny, and Nanny 911 have all featured bleeping as a plotting exclamation point, an Instant Brat Alert. Bleeping expletives has become so routine on their trip into the cultural mainstream from MTV shows like The Osbournes that many parents probably don't even pause when they watch the children on TV spew them.
This is doubly important because “reality” shows are a top viewing option for children. Of the top 20 shows watched by the nation's youth, only seven were traditional scripted series. The others were “reality” shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and game shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? With the way we have been inundated with gruesome CSI knockoffs and sex-obsessed Grey's Anatomy spinoffs, it would be nice if somehow the networks and the viewers could sustain more positive, family-friendly “reality” TV shows.
By contrast, six of the top seven scripted shows watched by children carry some of the nastiest sexual and violent content on TV, and they're also the ones most likely to have a major following among parents, including the aforementioned CSI and Grey's Anatomy. Two of those shows with heavy “adult” themes are Fox's Sunday night cartoons Family Guy and American Dad, a weekly double feature of filth from creator Seth MacFarlane.
Family Guy is so prevalent everywhere it can be seen at all hours of the day. TBS even shows full episodes on the Internet. It's become a marketing juggernaut. When Fox wanted to hype the debut of its crude R-rated teen comedy Superbad, it paired the stars with four episodes of Family Guy on Fox, including that infamous episode where Bill Clinton is so seductive he has sex with both Peter Griffin and Lois Griffin, the cartoon's leading man and woman.
Now Fox's iconic idiot is even making its way into commercials, with Peter the obese title character touting the Subway Feast: “it's as big as my head.” Fox's army of merchandisers is delighted. “Subway's attitude and irreverence is the perfect platform for the Family Guy brand's trademark twisted humor,” said one Vice President for Spinning Off Sleaze.
The latest Family Guy plot featured Peter touting how he tattooed his private parts to look like the space shuttle. As for American Dad, it recently aired an episode with themes of incestuous masturbation. Perhaps Subway can work all that into a commercial, too.
The network chieftains approving all this “adult” TV would assert that it's unreasonable for parents to think their children aren't exposed to this kind of “reality” in their daily lives at school or in the neighborhood. But if parents worry about the problem of “monkey see, monkey do,” nobody's a bigger monkey to children than Hollywood.
L. Brent Bozell III is President of the Media Research Center.