Bring back decency

  • November 17, 2010
no swearingAmerican comedian George Carlin earned celebrity in the 1970s with a standup routine that saluted   seven words you can never say on television. But, regrettably, time proved Carlin wrong. Many of those profane words are now routinely heard in Canadian family rooms during TV prime-time hours.

That is hardly news to anyone who spends even a few minutes each evening watching TV. But a study out of Los Angeles by an advocacy group called the Parents Television Council (PTC) shows how startling far society’s decency metre has swung.

The PTC compared the first two weeks of prime-time shows during the fall season of 2005 with those of  2010 and found a significant rise in both the instances of profanity and the coarseness of the language commonly heard on network programs. Our favourite TV actors are cussing more and uttering words that would surprise even Carlin.

Despite focussing exclusively on over-the-air broadcasts, which are significantly more “family friendly” than cable programs, the PTC noted a 69-per-cent increase in profanity in just five years.

Compared to mild profanities, more vulgar language increased at an even greater rate. The same held true for explicit references to body parts and bodily functions, now routinely heard, particularly on sit-coms.

Increasingly crude programming is largely made in the United States but it is a Canadian problem because there are no border controls for over-the-air television. Most Canadians have access to U.S. networks and, even if they don’t, the big American programs are picked up by Canadian networks that rely on the prime-time sit-coms and dramas to sell the ads that pay the bills.

The way it’s going, parents may want to send the kiddies to bed before 8 p.m. The PTC discovered that routine use of the coarsest language, as opposed to the milder taboos, was growing fastest in the so-called family time slot from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. This included the rising popularity of the bleeped or muted f-word and s-word, or euphemisms for those four-letter words.  

Networks not only bombard viewers with unparalleled levels of profanity, said the PTC, but the recent escalation is deliberate, pervasive and overwhelmingly proves that TV executives can not be trusted to act in the public’s interests.

That final conclusion is unsurprising. Competition for TV ratings and advertisers has never been more fierce. The growth of cable television has fractured the viewing audience and advertising pool, while digital entertainment, such as the Internet and video games, means fewer young people are watching TV.

Network executives seem to be responding by lowering standards to win back the eyeballs lost to the more ribald cable and digital outlets. And in a world of softening moral principles, protest is fleeting.

That leaves viewers with few options besides changing channels or turning off the TV altogether.

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