Hollywood may be taking a drubbing lately for its content and marketing practices, but if you ask Mark Honig, the industry has no one to blame but itself.
Honig, the executive director of the Los Angeles-based Parents Television Council (PTC), a national watchdog group, says, "Hollywood doesn't have a monopoly on the First Amendment. They have every right to put out whatever product they want, but that doesn't mean we have to sit by and keep quiet when they broadcast atrocious and violent program-ming to our children at 8 o'clock in the evening."PTC, founded in 1995 by noted conservative Brent Bozell, is chaired by Steve Allen and has grown to 535,000 members nationwide. Its rapid expansion stems largely from the organization's national full-page newspaper ad campaign, which has run more than 1,000 times. In the ad, Steve Allen urges parents to join PTC, thus sending a message to Holly-wood that "we're not going to stand by and accept their raunchy programming any longer."
Clearly, PTC is swimming against the cultural tide. Its staff must watch the very shows they abhor in order to tally the acts of violence, vulgarities and sexual references that appear every hour on prime-time television. For example, during four weeks of programming last fall in the 8 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot, PTC counted 1,173 vulgarities, nearly five per hour on six net-works, and a rate five times higher than in 1989. Honig, who is Jewish, admits that despite the work of PTC, the overall quality of television continues to decline. Still, he can point to some successes. After Allen showed up at an MCI Worldcom shareholders meeting and blasted the company's advertising support for UPN's "WWF Smackdown!," the company pulled its advertising dollars. PTC efforts also led to others doing the same, including Ford, Coca-Cola, M and M Mars, and the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
PTC worries about what it considers the inappropriate content of much of today's tele-vision offerings. Their newsletters warn parents about particularly sleazy shows, and lists names, addresses and phone numbers of companies advertising on them. However, they also laud shows they consider wholesome, such as "7th Heaven," "Touched by an Angel," and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."
Honig claims that it isn't sufficient to tell people to just turn off the TV. "Even if your own kids aren't watching, your neighbors' kids are being influenced by it."
Honig also points to several studies, including a University of Michigan researcher's 22-year study which linked prolonged television exposure with violent acts committed by youth, such as rape and murder. In the past 18 months, four people have been killed imitating wrestling matches from the popular and ultraviolent wrestling programs, such as "WWF Smackdown!" For this reason, "Smackdown!" continues to be a prime target of PTC's efforts to wean advertisers off programming.
Honig disagrees with Hollywood claims that warning labels and ratings should be enough. "V-chips and warning labels are only Band-Aid approaches, and they have the unintended conse-quence of giving the industry a protective shield without addressing the underlying problem of the sexual and violent content."Besides, Honig says, many parents complain that the ratings system is complicated and confusing. "For some reason, networks now feel they have to offer edgier and shallower content, which often deals flippantly with issues of teen sexuality, incest and violence."
As a nondenominational group, PTC includes people of all faiths. But Honig's Jewishness motivates his work with the group. "My Jewishness affects my entire life," he says. "I believe that as Jews we should try to set examples that are moral in nature. The popular culture has become so powerful that this is one way where I can effect change for the better."
Some prominent Jews on PTC's advisory board include Michael Medved, Mort Sahl and Senator Joseph Lieberman, whose vice-presidential candidacy thrills Honig. "He has seen the content that he speaks about and has raised this in the national debate," Honig says. "I hope all the candidates continue to address it."Honig says he is sometimes "saddened" by the number of Jews involved in writing and produ-cing some of what he would call Hollywood's worst products. "Unfortunately, most Jews in Hollywood don't ask themselves, 'How can I as a Jew put out a product that will uplift us?'" He hopes that Jews in Hollywood might band together in an organized way to work toward that goal, just as more than 1,000 Christian actors, writers and producers have in the group Intermission.
"We want to reach out to all who are concerned about the direction of our popular culture, and that obviously includes the Jewish community. For thousands of years, Jews have helped shape values that know no time constraints. Therefore it's very important that we address this issue, especially considering the large Jewish contingency in Hollywood."
For more information about Parents Television Council, visit www.parentstv.org