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They Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

There is something I don't understand about the "V Chip" and, by extension, Internet content rating systems such as PICS, or more specifically some of the reaction to it.

For the cave dwellers among us, the V Chip is the "blocking technology" (in the words of the statute) mandated by the new telecommunications bill for inclusion in all "apparatus designed to receive television signals." The requirement is to start within a few years (no less than two years but the exact timing is up to the FCC) and will mean that all TV sets with a picture size of 13 or more inches sold or manufactured in the United States must include the ability to block programs which include a rating that exceeds some customer-set threshold. For this to work, TV shows will have to include content codes hidden in the broadcast signal. The idea here is to give an enforcement tool to add to a parent's admonition to their child not to watch "that" kind of show. Adults could also use it to protect themselves from channel surfing across a show they would rather not see. (I'm sure this idea is a comfort to all those parents who have to get their kids to fix the VCR so it does not blink 12:00.)

When this feature of the bill was being considered and still now even after the law was signed, we have been hearing a great deal of whining and gnashing of teeth from the direction of Hollywood. It will be the end of civilization as we know it (as if one can speak of civilization and Hollywood or its products in the same paragraph.) No one, the claim is, will be willing to produce shows that might be blocked because there would be a bad connotation, advertisers would not buy time on the shows and so the stations would not run them, thus we are implementing government censorship.

This does not jive with history or even a perfunctory analysis.

Hollywood has played the ratings game before. Today, most movies shown in the U.S. have an MPAA rating, this was not always the case. Back in the early part of the century Hollywood films got progressively more risqué until a backlash in public opinion (or at least in political opinion) caused a very strict set of guidelines to be instituted. Hollywood was freed of these guidelines when the MPAA ratings were adopted. Hollywood now had a way that they could justify risqué (at the very least) films because, with the ratings children would not be exposed to things that they should not be seeing. From observation, it would seem that Hollywood feels little inhibition in making just about whatever kind of film they feel like. It would also seem that there are very few "G" rated films, it is almost like filmmakers avoid getting their films labeled G because they don't sell well.

Why wouldn't this also happen with the V Chip? In a few years, the makers of TV shows can say that they can make and broadcast just about any sort of show because 'all the new TVs can be programmed to protect kids and sensitive adults, and TVs are cheap enough that any parent wanting to protect their kid can go get a new one.' The American public has generally demonstrated that they are less rejecting than some of the politicians in what they will watch. (Some will even watch the politicians, for example.) If the audiance is watching the advertisers will be there as well. You might not get the same advertisers but even people tuning in for titillation are consumers and there will be many companies that will want their business.

So I don't understand Hollywood's lament, seems to me a bit like Brer Rabbit pleading with Brer Bear not to throw him into the briar patch.

disclaimer: Harvard always rates at the top (always in its own mind, often others agree), but the above are my observations not Harvard's.