Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Television, Violence and the First Amendment. An editorial rebuttal.

Does anyone here read the Daily Interlake? I catch the online version and about once a week this editor guy Frank Miele writes a little piece of editorial wisdom. I can't say I enjoy reading him but the amazing volume of WTF moments keeps me riveted like a train wreck. Today I was reading his opinion piece and it occurred to me that there might actually be people out there that believe what he writes because it is written by an editor of a newspaper. This guy is in serious need of a rebuttal.

Lets take a look at his latest editorial here: TV infection has no vaccine.

He starts off with the observation that lots of people watch television and television has lots of sex and violence on it. I am not a big television watcher so his implications that teevee is bad has a sympathetic audience with me. He even has some good lines about the morality of television.

It is amazing how many murders, assaults and attacks take place hourly in television dramas without anyone ever once calling upon their God for strength or praying to their God for forgiveness.

A very seductive idea except that he is wrong. He is trying to say that television programs do not balance certain displays generally perceived as bad with other displays generally perceived as good. He might be right in a very narrow context but the last time I checked television has about a zillion channels on it with a wide range of choices ranging from the mentioned violent dramas through comedies, informational programs, news, sports, music, shopping and more. There is even praying to God for strength and forgiveness on television if you care to look for it. So while a specific show may fail to find the balance or wholesomeness he desires, this balance can be found elsewhere on the tube.

Now before your intelligent brain makes the next logical step and you say things like the viewer chooses which channel to watch, or we have the freedom to choose unwholesome fare, or that you can't force values of good and bad on anyone; bite your tongue. These are not the points trying to be made here. Hold that thought and we will get back to it.

Now Mr. Miele makes some quick and amazing leaps a couple paragraphs down, so keep up.

Do we really need a summit on violence to tell us that the root cause of the epidemic of violence in our schools and elsewhere is a growing disconnect between morality and action, and do we really need to look any further than the pandering, slobbering flat-screen hyena in the living room to find out what's chewing at our innards?

There are lots of things going on in this sentence. We learn that there is an epidemic of violence in our schools and elsewhere. We learn that this violence has a root cause, the disconnect between morality and action. And this disconnect is because of television.

Here is your big chance to play along, how many points of faulty reasoning can you find in this single sentence?

I am going to point out my favorite. He does not show any evidence of an epidemic of violence. Sure I have seen the news about how there have been shootings in schools recently. Some unpleasantness involving deaths in Colorado and Pennsylvania. There have been other incidents of guns, and bb guns and so forth. Is this an epidemic? A rapid spread, growth or development? I am going to go out on a limb here and say no. 99% of all schools will not encounter any violence today. Nothing worse than the traditional school bully anyway. I am thinking this is not an epidemic. Could it be that the isolated incidents of violence have been sensationalized through that wicked medium of television? Could it be that our editor wants us to believe, on the one hand, that what television tells us is true, there really is an epidemic of violence. And at the same time television tells us untruths and disconnects morality from our quest for meaning and purpose? Whoa, my head is spinning a little from that one.

The rest of the editorial goes downhill from here. And we are only a third of the way through.

He makes another amazing claim that if television could be conclusively proven to be the root of our evils that nothing would be done about it. He then proceeds to contradict himself by setting up a hypothetical scenario whereby television is conclusively proven to cause increases in murder and rape and suggests this would actually cause people to protest against it. That such evidence could be reason to regulate a more healthy cultural model of what is right and wrong.

He makes it sound like a good idea right? Except here he points out why we cant make such regulations. He has a numbered list that includes goodies like: If you don't like it, just change the channel, adults can make their own choices, you shouldn't force your values on others, and so on. Sounds a little familiar somehow. Oh yeah, we discovered earlier that it is convenient to ignore these points when portraying television as a power for bad things, as though the viewer has no say in it when television is being wicked. These ideas all come from some basic foundations in our society. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Our good editor Mr. Miele goes on to explain that in supporting our cultural values we have gone too far and we are actually causing harm to our own society, that our support for tolerance is causing our moral decline. An interesting point and one worthy of discussion, but then he gets a little weird.

...for a whole society which values its man-made Constitution more than its God-given values. Perhaps it was something like the First Amendment which God had in mind when he cautioned us, "Thou shalt have no gods before me."

Whoa, did he just compare a portion of the bill of rights to a deity? Talk about comparing apples and oranges. Or did he try to say that our founding legal document actually IS an all seeing, all knowing spiritual entity? This guy is scaring me with how his gears are slipping.

He backs off from the weirdness a little and points out that we don't actually have to choose between our deity and the first amendment. (phew) It is only the courts that make us think that. He concludes by pointing out that our lives could be safer and better if we just didn't take the first amendment so seriously.

Now of all the WTF moments this entire editorial inspired that last one has got to be the biggest whopper. A newspaper editor, of all people, advocating for restrictions on the first amendment?!? Let me say it loudly for all to hear. What The Fuck?

I guess it helps soften the blow if you were keeping score of the WTF's throughout the editorial. Curtailing the bill of rights for all Americans is reasonable if you believe these things:

  • You have to believe that television only displays sex and violence and nothing wholesome.
  • You have to believe we are suffering from an epidemic of violence.
  • You have to believe that television is truthful when it sensationalizes in support of our supposition (that there is an epidemic of violence) and that television is evil when it creates our supposition in the first place.
  • You have to believe that television is the conclusive source for evil in our society. (Ha, that lets all the rap music and video games off the hook.)
  • You have to believe that television is the source of that evil only because the first amendment allows it.
  • You have to believe that the first amendment is worshiped like a deity.

I might add that none of these points had any supporting evidence behind them. And there are still arguments to be made about how free speech, as interpreted by those evil courts, is not all that free anyhow because there are restrictions on things like libel, slander, making false accusations, endangering others, displaying nipples on television and so forth.

I do have this to say about Mr. Miele's editorial. I disagree with what he says but I will defend his right to say it.

So how did you do in the home game kiddies? How many logical fallacies, contradictions and WTF's did you find that I missed? Lets play again next week. Frank Miele publicly writes things like this pretty regularly.

Nutjob, indeed.

I have to say, since I've become a dad I've noticed all the violence on television. It's not the programs that bother me -- you can always turn the channel -- it's the d*mn commercials.

I was watching playoff baseball with my son, Mr. Proud, 2.5 yrs old and already a big fan, when a commercial for the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre came on. Ugh. Violent. Horrific. Not at all appropriate for anyone under, say, 14 years old. During a BASEBALL game, fer chrissakes!

My wife wants to chuck the tv altogether. Sometimes I think it's a good idea. But where could I watch the playoffs?
I agree Jay, television is not that great of a device.

My problem with it is the way it reinforces consumer culture. Buying more, bigger, better crap does not make us better people yet this appears to be the whole point to televisions existance.

I would like to suggest chucking the teevee. Give it a two week trial run and see what you think. You can still go out somewhere to see the ballgame.

In my youth my parents one day informed me that the teevee was 'broke' and it took them about five years to 'fix' it. I think that episode helped make me a better person.

That television is bad is a pretty easy premise to stand on. It was amazing the twists of logic that Miele went through to get from there to the notion that the first amendment was to blame.
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