Will the V-chip keep Big Brother from watching?


Here's what I don't think:

I don't think violence on TV causes violence in the streets any more than I think laugh tracks cause humor to break out in the streets.

But I do believe that parents should monitor what their children do with their time. And what many children do with their time is watch TV.

Which is to say bad TV.

I've been reading a lot recently about how we're enjoying a golden age of television. This premise apparently is based on the fact that, on any given night, you can watch prime-time drama based in hospitals or in police stations. Gosh, that's new.

The original part may be that in the '90s look at doctors and cops, there is significantly more nudity. Like many of you, I've always longed to see naked cops. And now I've seen Detective Sipowicz' rear end revealed in all its glory. In a less enlightened time, that would not have been possible.

Some parents, though, think their 10-year-old kids may not be ready for nudity on the small screen. Or maybe they don't want them watching gratuitous violence, which is a golden-age TV specialty. Or maybe they just don't want them to watch much of the mindless stupidity that passes for entertainment.

What to do?

We've tried shaming the networks into cleaning up their act. They'd do it, except for one thing -- the ratings. As depressed as many people claim to be about all the sex and violence on TV, we seem to watch the shows with sex and violence in large numbers. I can't explain it either.

We've talked about getting the government involved. Like I want Newt Gingrich telling me what I can or can't watch. These boys, who never blush at the sound of the word "censorship," are the same ones who want to kill PBS, the one place on TV you can

actually find entertainment that doesn't have to be preceded by the word "mindless."

And then there is the chip.

It's called a V-chip ("V" for violence) or C-chip ("C" for choice).

The way it works is that they stick this thing (that's the technical term) inside your TV set -- I think it costs about five bucks -- that allows a parent to block programs from appearing on the screen.

Once, when I was less experienced, when I hadn't yet fully appreciated the folly possible in this world, I would have thought this was a bad idea. I might have said something about parental responsibility and why didn't the grown-ups just turn off their own damn TV sets if this was a problem?

But a couple of things have changed. One, parents have, if possible, gotten even dumber. Two, the clicker.

Say, you're a good, responsible parent. Say, you really care about what your kid does. You let him watch TV. You agree on what he's watching.

But the kid has the remote control in his or her hand. (Yes, young girls compete for clickers. It's only when they become older that they bow to the male urge to keep changing channels until a naked woman appears.) You leave the room, and in a micro-second, your kid's got a Chuck Norris flick on the screen in which Chuckles, in full froth, has napalmed half of some Asian village and machine-gunned the survivors.

In Hollywood, the reaction to the V-chip is predictable. They are crying censorship. It's almost funny.

In fact, it's almost as funny as the politicians who try to suggest that media violence is the real problem in our country rather than real violence. Passing laws to confront make-believe violence is sort of like making antitrust laws covering the game "Monopoly."

Bill Clinton is the latest to join the argument. He likes the V-chip. He likes it because he saw all the good press Bob Dole got for saying Time-Warner had no conscience. I just have this to say to Bob Dole: Check the mirror, pal.

You want some truth? Hollywood doesn't really care about censorship. It just cares about whether you watch enough TV. The politicians don't really care about bad TV. They just want to get your votes.

But in this case, we may be on to something. The V-chip has nothing to do with censoring anybody. First of all, you don't even have to use it. Secondly, all it helps you do is become more involved in what your kid is watching. That's not censorship. That's being a parent.

It's easy to see, though, how some people would get that confused.

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