The Broadcast Nannies vs. Jack Bauer

The Parents Television Council is back, and this time they’re gunning for Jack Bauer:

Nipples are so three years ago. Janet Jackson’s 2004 flash at the Super Bowl reawoke the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to decency issues and left producers scouring TV footage for too droopy bathing suits. A few fines and a lot of blurred-out prime-time flesh later, the bare-breast buzz has faded from the headlines.

But don’t relax yet, River City: the guardians of decency are warning about new trouble, with a capital T, which rhymes with V, which stands for violence. The Parents Television Council (PTC), the group at the vanguard of the TV-sex wars, has lately focused on prime-time blood: power-tool torture on 24, serial killing on Criminal Minds, vivisection on Heroes. And the FCC has prepared a draft report suggesting that Congress authorize it to regulate broadcast violence, as it now does obscenity, and possibly force cable companies to let subscribers opt out of paying for channels that run brutal content.

In short, torture is the new sex. Jack Bauer is the new Janet Jackson.

The Great Sexwatch of 2004–05 was an artifact of its political era–remember “values voters”? But so is the violence crusade. Democrats now control Congress, and they get as exercised about violence as conservatives do about sex. Liberal Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia threatened that if broadcasters won’t police violence, “the Federal Government must step up.” If you favor Washington oversight of media, gory TV is your new opportunity area.

Exactly why Senator Rockefeller believes that the government “must step up” is, of course left unstated. But the real need for any government regulation of television just doesn’t exist anymore. Even if such regulation could have been justified in an era where people only had access to a handfull of television stations, and I don’t believe that it was justified even then, the idea that the state needs to step in and regulate the content of television in an era when the average viewer has access to dozens, if not hundreds, of different alternatives is simply absurd. If you don’t like the violence, or sex, or whatever it might be you see on Fox, change the channel.

Your puritinism is not license to regulate what I watch on television.