MTV steps up for the blue states
by David Bauder
Approaching the first anniversary of Janet Jackson’s famed wardrobe malfunction, a study released Tuesday criticized MTV for the "incessant sleaze" of steamy programming aimed at young people.
During one week last March, the watchdog Parents Television Council said it counted 3,056 flashes of nudity or sexual situations and 2,881 verbal references to sex.
"MTV has clearly chosen to cater to the lowest common denominator, to offer the cheapest form of programming to entice young boys … dangling forbidden fruit before their eyes," said Parents Television Council President Brent Bozell.
MTV labeled the report unfair and said the group ignores the network’s public service efforts, like its Emmy-winning "Choose or Lose" campaign on the presidential election.
An independent analyst said the findings shouldn’t come as any surprise to people who watch MTV regularly but would be eye-opening to people who don’t – just like the MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show did when exposed to a large audience on CBS last year.
"There are a lot of things that most rational parents of 12-year-olds would be uncomfortable with their children consuming," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
The group decided to look at MTV’s programming after the Jackson incident and picked the network’s annual "Spring Break" week of shows to study.
In an episode of "One Bad Trip," MTV depicted a human sundae competition where men licked whipped cream placed on women’s bodies – with a cherry for each breast. In "Spring Break Fantasies," five women in swimsuits rubbed lotion on a man, using more than their hands. An episode of "Room Raiders" showed a man looking through a woman’s underwear drawer and commenting on what he found.
The Parents Television Council said MTV’s reality programs have even more sexual content than its music videos.
During the week, the group said it recorded 3,127 instances of profane dialogue "bleeped" out and another 1,518 other instances of rough language.
MTV spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas said the network follows the same standards as broadcasters. MTV reflects the culture and what its viewers are interested in, she said.
"It’s unfair and inaccurate to paint MTV with that brush of irresponsibility," she said. "We think it’s underestimating young people’s intellect and level of sophistication."
Besides the "Choose or Lose" campaign, MTV won a Peabody Award last year for the "Fight for Your Rights" series that focused on issues such as sexual health and tolerance, she said.
Thompson said the report offers valuable consciousness-raising, particularly when many children have televisions in their bedrooms that aren’t monitored by parents. He said, though, that it’s dangerous to leap to a conclusion that MTV’s programs influence young people’s behavior.
The Parents Television Council has frequently monitored the broadcast networks for sexual content, bad language or violence. MTV has roughly three times as many incidents throughout the day as ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox do at 10 p.m., when standards are generally loosened because most children have gone to bed, Bozell said.
"I have done thousands of these studies over the years and I knew these numbers would be troublesome," Bozell said. "I had no idea it would be this bad."
His group favors requiring cable and satellite companies to offer "a la carte" programming, giving customers a chance to pick and choose which networks to buy. MTV is generally included in basic cable packages that most customers get whether they want it or not.
"The incessant sleaze on MTV presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice," Bozell said.
Bozell acknowledged that the Parents Television Council could be criticized for singling out MTV’s spring break week, a particularly hormonally charged time for college students. But he said that was fair game because MTV uses it as a showcase for new programming.
… and Flanders for the red
by Frazier Moore
Good heavens! Ned Flanders has come into his own.
A zealous instrument of God, Ned has long been instrumental to "The Simpsons" as it lampoons organized religion (that is, when not mocking virtually every other human institution, from business to democracy to its own TV network).
But lately the ground has shifted beneath the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield, U.S.A., along with the rest of the nation. The new term has begun for a president whose re-election was clinched by the "moral values" ballyhoo. The current climate finds faith synonymous with patriotism, while "secular" is code for un-American.
Ned stands front and center in Sunday’s edition of "The Simpsons" when, in an unlikely collaboration with Homer, he co-produces the Super Bowl halftime show as (what else?) a biblical pageant. Homer portrays Noah. The stadium is flooded from a Duff’s Beer blimp. Ned preaches the Word. Take that, Janet Jackson.
(The episode follows Fox’s real-life Super Bowl telecast, except in the Pacific time zone, where it airs at 7 p.m.)
Ned answers the call of show biz after seeing a sex-aid commercial for seniors and declaring, "There’s nothing but filth on TV." He seizes his camcorder and films a backyard biblical drama: a bloody re-creation of the story of Cain and Abel, with his two young sons in the starring roles.
Homer’s wife, Marge, is troubled by Ned’s "Passion of the Christ"-inspired antics. "There’s more to the Bible than blood and gore," she says.
But Ned (voiced by Harry Shearer) sneers in response, "I guess you’d rather see a film about a liberal European wizard school. Or the latest sexcapade of Miss Ashley Judd."
Ned’s cinematic crusade fizzles when money man Mr. Burns withdraws his backing. But a panic-stricken Homer – who was hired to create the Super Bowl show, then can’t think of anything to do – desperately needs Ned to help him.
"Maybe," says Ned, thrilled to get this globe-spanning pulpit, "God brought us together for a reason."
Whatever the reason, Ned has been a holier-than-thou thorn in Homer’s side since the very first episode of "The Simpsons" in 1989, when Ned decorated his house with a dazzling array of Christmas lights.
"Too bright," pouted Homer, embarrassed by his own house’s shabby display.
Homer still feels bedeviled by Ned’s goody-two-shoes style, his glossy cheer, his habit of injecting "diddly" into things he says, like his chipper greeting, "Hi-diddly-do!"
In a startling admission, Ned once disclosed that he was 60 years old, then attributed his youthful appearance to "the three C’s: clean living, chewing thoroughly and a daily dose of ‘vitamin church.’"
Mighty easy to see why Homer would say, "I don’t care if Ned Flanders is the nicest guy in the world – he’s a jerk!"
Of course, Homer knows jerks from the inside out. For 16 seasons of "The Simpsons," he has been a champion jerk – lazy, dimwitted and irresponsible. His chief pleasures are beer, snacks and endless hours of television while planted on the couch. He reigns as the flawed Everyman.
"I think Homer is a pretty bad guy in a lot of ways," says "Simpsons" executive producer Al Jean , who helps shape his personality, and adds, "The writers like Ned as a person better than Homer."
But Ned’s faith-based deficiencies serve "The Simpsons" well as a Homer counterbalance. Spiritually in bondage, Ned is a model of righteousness gone wrong.
He must surely have been shocked to behold (or, more likely, learn about second-hand) Janet Jackson’s flash dance during Super Bowl XXXVIII, and definitely would have supported the anti-media backlash. Like he says, "There’s nothing but filth on TV."
But how to explain why his squeaky-clean extravaganza flops with the public?
"All over America today," reports newsman Kent Brockman, "viewers were outraged by the Super Bowl halftime show’s blatant display of religion and decency."