Our colleagues down the hall and in Los Angeles at the Parents Television Council were not thrilled to see the Washington Post TV writer Lisa de Moraes (pronounced de-more-ice) crack wise over their study on Friday. Just check the headline: "Violence! Violence! Violence! Burps! Nose Picking!" She began with a dismissive tone: "Self-appointed TV watchdog Brent Bozell has put out the gazillionth study on children's television, in which he reveals that there is more violence on children's entertainment programming than in prime time." She makes fun that the study's author, Kristen Fyfe, and the PTC gang that watched the kiddie shows counted for gross bodily functions.
On her Friday afternoon online Post chat, when asked why she even bothered with the PTC study, since the questioner thought, "why do they deserve your attention? I think their claims are so ridiculous that they shouldn't even appear on the TV pages," she replied, "because, my avid reader, having covered the TV industry for so long, you get a sense of when there is going to be a 'pile on.' And you never want to miss a good pile on..."
She did not, however, cite the gross-out material to give the reader a chance to see just how gross it can be on kids' TV. (See below). She did not express any sympathy or understanding for the idea that just as Thomas Jefferson told us eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, so in today’s mass-media world, is eternal vigilance over media is the price parents pay for decent, well-adjusted children.
Parents today rejoice at the idea of television they can safely let their children view without monitoring every second. For them, Dr. Michael Rich doesn’t have the most comforting words when he warns that children under the age of eight are "developmentally incapable of making a clear distinction between fantasy and reality, we need to reexamine what even our ‘safest’ media are portraying as the ways of the world."
With that in mind, the PTC studied TV programs designed for children aged 5 to 10 on broadcast and basic cable networks that aired during the summer of 2005. The results were discouraging, and occasionally shocking.
Some of the findings parents might expect. For example, in the 443.5 hours analyzed, there were 3,488 instances of violence, or 7.86 violent incidents per hour. Even when familiar "cartoon violence" is extracted, there were still 2,794 instances of violence, or 6.3 incidents per hour. Now consider that this is more violence than the broad public sees in prime time (4.7 instances per hour in a 2002 study).
Some of the violence is downright creepy. On Fox’s "Shaman King," a fight between two characters ends when one kicks the other in the head and knocks him unconscious. The victor then picks up the loser by his hair, and reaches into his chest. The loser screams. The victor takes out the loser’s soul and puts it in his own body. The loser appears dead.
On a related note, the study found 81 references to the occult, witchcraft, or cults, with some programs built entirely around the theme of witchcraft, such as "W.I.T.C.H." on ABC Family Channel. There’s an obvious sign Rev. Pat Robertson sold his channel to ABC.
What about sexual themes? On children’s television? Well, it’s nowhere near violence in the equation, with just 0.62 instances per hour. But parents surely don’t really expect any sexual themes. The Disney Channel show "Sister, Sister" had sexual content in several categories, from references to pornography to a "Gay Policeman’s Ball" to innuendo about massage and arousal.
And then there's the gross-out stuff.
One vile little cartoon is "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" on Cartoon Network. When Billy tells Grim (a cartoon Grim Reaper) what he thinks of his "stupid rules" by farting, he then says he has to go change his pants, implying he soiled himself. Another gross-out scene comes when Billy’s dad picks his nose so much that he pulls his brain out, and thinking his brain is mucus, he eats it.
Eek. These are not your father’s Bugs Bunny cartoons.