Tuned In

Jack Bauer: The New Janet Jackson?

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It seems like just the other day I was speculating that, with the shifting political balance in Washington from Republicans to Democrats, activists who want more regulation of primetime TV would shift their focus from sex to violence. Oh, wait: it was. Well, today comes news that, in fact, the FCC wants to ask Congress to pass legislation allowing it to police violence on TV.

There are a lot of ways violence is different from sex. (In terms of TV. As for what goes on in your bedroom–hey, as long as you’re both into it…) The biggest is that sexual and obscene content are more objective. A f___ is a f___. (Even if there’s a lot of parsing as to which usages of the verb count as obscene.) A nipple is a nipple. But what is excessive violence? A punch? A really, really hard punch? One of those 24 jobs involving a power drill? And where’s the line? (If you’re a decency hound, of course, ambiguity is your friend. The dream is to get the networks so terrified that anything could get them fined that they pull back entirely.)

Where you have ambiguity, you also have space for court challenges, and the task of regulating violence seems like it might be too complicated to handle constitutionally. But that doesn’t mean no one will try it. The FCC’s Republican chair Kevin Martin and Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps are advocating the change together, again proving how decency makes strange bedfellows. (Indecency does too, but in different ways that I can’t describe here.) Conservatives blame society’s weak morals and Democrats blame media consolidation and big business, but authoritarians in both parties find common cause on it. And there just happens to be a big old election in two years, and a big fat country of nervous Moms and Dads to pander to.

In the meantime, what’s a parent to do? You might just want to consider not letting your 8-year-old watch 24. But I’m just thinking out loud here.