Viacom Contributes to Cultural Corrosion

According to the National Cultural Values Survey released March 7 by the Culture and Media Institute, 74 percent of Americans believe that moral values in America are weaker than they were 20 years ago. These people also believe that the media are second only to parents and families in influencing America's moral values.  Channel surfing through the vast wasteland that is television reveals that one of the prime contributors to this moral decline is Viacom – owner of MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Nickelodeon, Logo, BET, Paramount Studios and several other entertainment outlets.

The programming dominating Viacom-owned networks is a sewer of cultural corrosion pouring into literally hundreds of millions of homes around the globe every week. If America's only export to the world were the material produced by Viacom subsidiaries, this country would be viewed as morally bankrupt.

    MTV broadcasts hours upon hours of highly sexualized videos, obscene language and celebrations of sex, drug use, drinking and in-your-face defiance of authority.  Shows like Real World, Spring Break and Wild Girls of Makos highlight debauchery day in and day out.

    Comedy Central recently aired a six-episode series featuring raunchy comedienne Sarah Silverman, who worked vaginas and homosexuality into almost every episode of the series.  The finale featured Silverman easing God out of her bed after a night of casual sex.

    A staple in the Comedy Central lineup is the raunchy animated series South Park, a huge hit among teens with more than two million viewers each week. Episodes regularly plumb the depths of moral degradation in the name of satire with stories like a kindergarten teacher having sex with one of her students, or a provocative mockery of Christian camps for children confused about their sexuality.  In that episode several of the “bi-curious” kids are shown committing suicide while pictures of Jesus and crosses hang in the background.

    Logo, the gay-themed network, promotes the gay/lesbian/bisexual/  transgendered lifestyle.  Shows like Get Real, in which a British prep school boy shares an “intimate” encounter with another boy, encourage adolescents to deal with “teen angst” by deciding they are homosexual and coming out of the closet.

    VH1 offers up I Love New York, in which a female castoff from another VH1 reality show, who goes by the moniker “New York,” tries to find “real love” among 20 men doing whatever it takes to gain her attention and affection.  Foul language and sexual themes are regular features of the show.

    BET is frequently criticized for glamorizing black-on-black crime and the drug culture, and perpetuating black stereotypes.  In The Washington Post's March 21, 2007 edition, a letter to the editor about a story entitled “More Money, Less Booty for BET” expresses pleasure with the network's plan to change its programming. Viacom is increasing the budget for original programming, which will replace the current heavy emphasis on hip-hop videos. The writer of the letter contends that BET has been “anti-black, anti-American, anti-family values, anti-woman and anti-child.”

    Even Nickelodeon, the children's network, contributes to the decay.  A study by the Parents Television Council found violence, foul language, sexual content and rebellion woven throughout the network's programming.  Scripts laced with name-calling and bullying in the name of “humor” encourage kids to act out on playgrounds and in classrooms.  The PTC study showed that Nickelodeon's cartoon storylines promoted disrespect for authority figures significantly more than respect.

While not all Viacom offerings are offensive, tasteless or obscene, examples like these explain why the National Cultural Values Survey found that 68 percent of Americans, including majorities in every demographic group, believe the media are contributing to moral decline. 

Social science indicates this intuitive sense is on target.  Hundreds of studies show a direct correlation between exposure to violent images on television and aggressive behavior.  Recent brain mapping studies show that the brain changes physically in response to violent images.  Other studies show a strong correlation between sexual activity in children and listening to explicit sexual lyrics in music. 

The consumption of media is not without consequences.  Businesses bank on the ability to influence buying decisions through advertising on television, radio, print media and the Internet.  And they spend a lot of money to do it.  The No. 3 telecom provider, Sprint, currently has its $1.2 billion advertising account up for review. If advertising in the media did not affect human behavior, the multi-billion dollar ad industry would evaporate.  Anyone who contends that the programs on these same media don't affect opinion, values and conduct is living in a state of denial.

Viacom's entertainment tentacles reach a gigantic audience.  The question must be asked: “How powerfully could Viacom enhance traditional values and promote morality if Viacom boss Sumner Redstone made a corporate commitment to do so?”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute (, a division of the Media Research Center.