"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, November 18, 2004

TV Networks, Boohoo

The media have had a field day with ABC's ignorant teaser for last Monday night's NFL football game, which was only to be expected. The brief promo piece combined policy and prurience, and it doesn't get better for TV controveries than that.

The first thing I thought about this situation was that there would have been little or no trouble if the player involved had been caucasian and not a jackass. Having the odious self-promoter Terrell Owens and the formerly gorgeous but now ghastly Nicolette Sheridan in an embrace while the latter is presumably naked was definitely a damfool thing to do.

Several prominent African-Americans such as Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, have pointed out that the use of a black NFL player--rather than, say, a white owner or coach--plays into some decidedly revolting stereotypes about both athletes and black American males. And I could not agree more: immorality is not the exclusive province of any racial or professional group.

Moreover and more importantly, irresponsible behavior--such as a player skipping part of a game (in a sport where he is paid literally millions of dollars per year) so as to indulge in a momentary dalliance with a female fan, is not the slightest bit amusing, nor is it something most young males (a good part of the Monday Night Football audience) will understand as clever satire. Especially because it was neither clever nor satire.

Leftists in the press, for their part, have been boohooing over the fact that several TV stations refused to show Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's gory and boring WWII epic, supposedly in fear of having the FCC question their licenses. The specter of Censorship has thus descended on the nation.

Pardon me, however, if I do not panic. The TV networks, after all, do use the public airwaves to purvey their product. And if you use public land to graze your cattle, you have to abide by the rules for use of that land. Nobody objects to that. But put a little fake journalism on the airwaves--as the networks do for approximately a half-hour a day--and suddenly everything you do on the public airwaves is seen as sacred and beyond criticism, let alone censorship.

The very same people on the networks, and their phony civil-libertarian flacks (who have no such enthusiasm for, say, protecting the free expression of religion in the public square), who complain so vociferously about this immiment danger of censorship (which never seems to arrive, as it happens), are the same ones who are so intensely critical of what, say, oil companies, lumber firms, and airlines are allowed to do on public lands. Yet the latter at least produce something that is real and cannot be obtained in any other way. What the TV networks do is entirely redundant: other media deliver entertainment and information just as well.

But even that blatant expression of hypocrisy is not the full measure of the networks' chutzpah. No, remember that just a half-dozen years ago the Clinton administration gave the networks a huge amount of the electromagnetic spectrum--the very scarce "land" in which the entire U.S. public sends and receives electronic messages--for free.

And yet these people invariably complain and shout censorship! when other citizens ask, not force, them to act like decent human beings every once in a while. Sorry, but I cannot call up much sympathy for them.

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