The ancient Greeks had an institution, a marketplace they called the agora. It was where all the people met to exchange goods, money, ideas and influence. In fact, most aspects of life revolved around and through the agora.
Today the agora is television.
That flickering screen in your living room, your den, your kitchen, your office – your bedroom – is where the merchandisers, the advertisers, the politicians, the buyers and sellers and movers and shakers gather. Instead of several hundred citizens on a good day, this agora involves multiplied millions of citizens every day.
Every year, billions of dollars change hands between the makers of products and those who market those products and the TV networks that attract the millions of viewers to those in-home screens. Several billions pass quickly into the hands of the creators of shows the networks feel will appeal to the masses and attract them to the hypnotic, ever-present screens. Those who correctly guess the interests of the masses will become filthy rich, and so will the stars, writers and producers of the “hit” shows.
That’s the way the agora of today works.
And it’s incredibly powerful. It’s very difficult to sell large quantities of anything without entering the agora, and the pressure on the product manufacturers is intense. They spend millions and millions gambling on shows they hope will attract viewers and sales, and low ratings mean they’ve lost their gamble – and the networks will lose their business.
So it’s no surprise that program content has continued to sink to the lowest possible moral level, and even lower. See, the ad agencies have discovered that if they dress gross immorality, even unspeakable depravity, in glossy production values and lots of hard-hitting promotion, an increasingly numbed public will watch it. Who cares about the moral fallout, the depressing and devastating effects on our children, or the perception of America in the rest of the watching world? Almost none of the merchants in the agora seems to care.
Dollars, ratings, power and position – these are the currencies that motivate today’s movers and shakers, the men and women who wield even more influence on our young than parents, teachers and preachers. Every night of the week, and most days as well, the screens are writhing with sexual congress, obscenities, almost total nudity, violence and sadism of every description. While sometimes paying lip service to the regulatory agencies, the writers and executives constantly look for the cunning ways to get around every prohibition, and even to blatantly defy them.
The most shocking, unbelievable evidence of this came a couple of years ago when Sirius Radio gave Howard Stern a half billion dollars – with stock options thrown in – to do and say any filthy, blasphemous, obscene things he wants to, with no one to bridle him in any way. At times, his options have increased his compensation to as high as $800 million – and why? His employers believe his scatological, no rules licentiousness will addict a few million young listeners who will pay hefty annual fees to tune in.
Is there really any difference between this and the drug dealers who use the same techniques to addict millions of young Americans – and incidentally to potentially destroy their futures and their very lives? Is drug addiction really more – or is it possibly less –destructive than the incessant absorption of seductive moral debasement, senseless violence and decadent example? Drug rehab is available, but I’ve never heard of radio and TV rehab. Once morals are corrupted, they generally stay that way.
I’ve served on the board of the Parents Television Council for over 10 years. Until his untimely death, Steve Allen took a leadership position with the PTC, being featured in hard-hitting newspaper ads announcing “TV is Dragging Our Children Into The Sewer” and urging concerned parents to demand that sponsors be held accountable for the programs they pay to put on the air. He even went to board meetings of companies like Time Warner and to boardrooms of huge conglomerates to confront the CEOs with revealing clips of the “entertainment” they were identifying their products with. In a number of cases, the CEOs ordered their ad agencies to remove their commercials from the offending programs. When the execs lamely said, “We’re just giving the public what it seems to want; they’re watching it,” Steve shot back, “Then why don’t you just sell them heroin and cocaine and pot? Millions of kids and young adults want that, too!”
The PTC fights gamely on. There have been notable successes and some big sponsors, including Procter and Gamble, Ford, McDonalds, Johnson and Johnson, Coca-Cola and General Mills, that have made conscientious decisions to produce and sponsor more responsible, family-friendly programming. But others, evidently still motivated by the same old lust for sales at any cost, like Toyota, GM, Dunkin Brands, Payless Shoes, Volkswagen, Geico and Bayer, are consistently on the PTC “Worst Sponsor” list. Apparently, the only thing that will convince them and their ad agencies to quit burying America’s families under an avalanche of immorality is for the public to quit buying what they’re selling – America’s soul.
I strongly urge you to go to www.parentstv.org and sign up, become informed and involved. Together, let’s promote the best television is capable of, and combat the worst. Highly popular shows like “Desperate Housewives,” “Rescue Me,” “The Shield,” the execrable “Nip/Tuck,” “Weeds,” and newer offerings like “Damages,” “Tell Me You Love Me” and “Saving Grace” are still dragging young America through the modern agora into a gold veneered sewer, swimming with the foul dregs of human and animalistic behavior.
There’s still time and possibility, if we really care as a people about our most precious national asset.