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'Conservatives' for Sleaze TV

Webster's defines “conservatism” as meaning “marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners.” Sadly, today there are those who call themselves “conservative” who have no interest in preserving tradition, who uphold no standards on the question of taste, and who have no appetite for appearing the slightest bit fuddy-duddy on the question of manners.


This kind of conservative has embraced the anarchical libertarian worldview which on matters of traditional manners and tastes throws caution to the winds, embracing the notion that the “market” – society's lowest common denominator on cultural issues – should decide. And if this erosion of traditional values leads to the disintegration of the culture, so be it.


This might explain why a managing editor of National Review Online, a brand name synonymous with conservatism, would be arguing that the F-word is not indecent on national broadcast television in prime time; insists that the idea of “community standards” in matters of public morality is out of touch; and perhaps most surprisingly, mocks the idea that “the sanctity of children's ears” is a defensible moral cause, as if innocent kindergarteners can't handle full-fledged cussing binges.


That editor, Peter Suderman, wrote an article appropriately titled “Flipping Off the FCC,” which argues that this agency, regulating broadcast television content from its “coastal perch in Washington” (on the coast of which ocean is the District of Columbia?) is simply unnecessary because Hollywood will adhere to market restraints on indecent content.


Suderman wonders “what would really happen if the FCC suddenly decided to take a genuine 'hands-off' approach to broadcast indecency? Would it lead the way, as the Parents Television Council recently warned, to television networks allowing 'the use of the F-word and s-word in front of children at any time of the day?' Probably not.”


Here's Suderman's evidence: “Even on channels like HBO – not exactly known as a bastion of restraint – R-rated and other adult fare is almost always relegated to the evenings. Saturday mornings tend to be filled with kids' shows, and afternoons typically see programs aimed at teenagers.” He says this alleged schedule shows the “best business model” is to “save the rougher fare for after hours.”


There's only one problem with this evidence. It's not true. A casual look at the HBO schedule quickly reveals that “R-rated and other adult fare” are not “relegated to evenings” or “after hours.”


For example, on Wednesday, June 20, at 11 in the morning, HBO aired the movie “Longford” – rated R for adult language and content. On Thursday, June 14, at 9:30 in the morning, HBO aired its movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” rated TV-14 for “graphic violence” and “adult language.”


If, like many families, you get multiple HBO channels, “HBO Zone” routinely runs R-movies in the daytime. On Monday, June 18 at 9 in the morning, it was “American Ninja Zone: Blood Hunt.” On Wednesday, June 20, at 11 AM, it was Spike Lee's “Do The Right Thing.”


As for relegating the “rougher fare” for “after hours,” that's ludicrous. Was the “Sopranos” finale on after 11? On Monday, June 18, at 8 PM, HBO's “family hour” began with their show “Entourage,” which HBO rates TV-MA for “adult language, adult content, violence, and nudity.” At 9 PM, it's the HBO series “Big Love,” the edgy polygamy show, rated TV-MA for adult content and adult language.


Saturday mornings “tend to be filled with kids' shows?” On Saturday, June 22, at 8 in the morning, HBO viewers could wake up to “You, Me, and Dupree,” complete with its stripper humor, a PG-13 movie. HBO's daytime schedule is stuffed with PG-13 films with adult content. That may be fine with parents, but you can't plausibly argue “adult fare” isn't on during the day.


It is ironic that Suderman chose the HBO model to make his case, because ultimately it makes the opposite point. HBO is a pay-per-view cable network, and therefore outside of the FCC's regulatory purview. What is viewed on that pay-per-view network is precisely what would appear on broadcast television if Hollywood were left to its own devices.


One simply cannot dispute that Hollywood has coarsened the culture with its increasingly offensive programming.  So what to do if you're a “conservative” like Suderman? You yawn your disinterest, and play make-believe in your commentary. Perhaps he'd feel differently if he came off his coastal perch at NRO and visited the real world. 


L. Brent Bozell III is President of the Media Research Center.