So the self-appointed media watchdogs of the Parents Television Council released the results of their latest study today. Like most of their output, this one comes with an alarmist title (literally: “The Alarming Family Hour…No Place for Children”) and some authoritative-sounding pronouncements: After reviewing 180 hours of recent network programming during the so-called “Family Hour” (8 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday), the PTC’s crack analysts recorded “2246 instances of violent, profane, and sexual content… or 12.48 instances per television hour.” Terrifying! Hide the kids! But as usual, a closer look at the PTC’s data (link leads to a pdf document) reveals that they’re riddled with statistical tricks and misleading labels.
The PTC’s shameless manipulation is most obvious in the “foul language” section of the report. It cites a whopping 815 instances of supposedly inappropriate dialogue; that includes 195 uses of the word “hell” alone, plus uses of other relatively tame or double-entendre-ready terms like “suck” and “screw,” which the PTC helpfully identifies as a “euphemism for f—.” (Because if Hugh Laurie blurts “Screw this!” on House, he’s obviously talking about raunchy sex.) But that total of 815 instances also includes lots of network-censored swear words (“bleeped f—,” “bleeped goddamn”), where audiences were of course unable to hear the offending syllables. Unbelievably, they boosted their numbers still further by citing 54 instances of what they call “bleep (unknown)” and 9 of “pixelated/obscured mouth.” If even the PTC’s experienced smut-spotters admit they couldn’t decipher these words “by context or lip-reading,” how exactly are they supposed to be harming young viewers? Best of all: Even with their absurdly broad definition of “foul language,” the PTC’s total actually dropped by 25.4 percent since the last time they unloaded one of these studies, in 2001.
The other categories aren’t any more honest. What were the the 677”sexual scenes or spoken sexual references” cited by the PTC? Well, acartoon character on Fox’s American Dad (pictured) once sanga satirical song including the lyrics “We like each other’s butts! Andbig old spending cuts… We like to pack fudge and heat!” Then therewas the time on The Office when Steve Carell had “his arminserted down the front of his pants and his finger sticking up and outthrough his fly… then [made] his finger go limp as if it were hispenis losing its erection.” We’re not exactly talking about hardcoreporn here, but apparently the kind of juvenile potty humor you’ll findin any elementary school lunchroom is enough to scar America’s mostvulnerable TV fans. And violence? I’ll just note that the worstoffender was that notoriously bloody gorefest, The Simpsons, with “30 instances of animated violence per hour.” Somebody lock up Itchy and Scratchy before it’s too late!
I’m of the mind that parents who want to protect their kids from themenace of adult-oriented TV are free to go rent a family-friendly DVDor, God forbid, read them a book. But regardless of what you think onthat much-debated topic, it’s pretty clear that the PTC is cooking thenumbers to suit its prudish agenda. (Of course, don’t try telling thatto Reuters, which reportedon this study without the slightest attempt to examine the data — theirarticle might as well have been a PTC press release.) All in all, thissmells to me like a fat, steaming pile of “bleep (unknown)” — but doesanyone want to defend the PTC’s unusual methodology?
UPDATE: Reuters has since posted a revised story which fleshes out their initial, one-sided take with a brief comment from an industry advocacy group criticizing the PTC’s flawed methodology. It’d be nice to see them actually going into what those suspect numbers refer to, but that’s still an improvement…