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Is Britney a role model or the devil's spawn?

Not That Innocent

If you want your kids to be angels, act like one

By Gina Arnold

THE MADDENING thing about this year's Winter Olympic Games is that they're taking place in Salt Lake City. The one year when I'm sure to be lying awake nursing at 3am, and the events are taking place practically in our own time zone. Any other year, and I'd be able to watch live feeds of the events on ESPN at 3am. This year, no such luck.

Left hanging, I lie awake and think about other things instead, like how there's really nothing good on television. As a parent, you immediately start wondering what the effect of media and mass culture will have on your child, and how you can control it. A few years ago, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) denounced the entertainment industry for marketing inappropriate materials to children 12 and younger, but I haven't seen much of a change since then. Obviously, as a parent, one ought to monitor what goes into their little minds, but to what extent? Should parents turn off the TV only when people are fighting and yelling? Should we also stop playing music by Prince, the Butthole Surfers, Custom and N.W.A.? And of course: What to do about Britney Spears--or whoever her equivalent is--in the year 2005?

It's an interesting conundrum, and yet there is no real compelling research to support either side of the argument. To allow one's children to wallow in American media and pop culture, or to cocoon them away from it? That is the question. I can't help but feel that the last choice is a losing battle, but what do I know? I recently looked at a number of websites on the topic, but although there is plenty of evidence that watching violence on television increases aggressive behavior in youngsters, there is some question in my mind as to its validity. After all, there are certainly plenty of shy, quiet, not-so-aggressive youngsters who have also been exposed to plenty of TV. And what about music? I refuse to believe that it makes listeners who weren't already prone to violence violent or suicidal. Kids who aren't feeling angry and angst-ridden tend not to like Tool and Metallica. If you want your kid to grow up all gentle and innocent, then behave gently and innocently around him or her, damn it.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association recently advised that parents not allow children under 2 to watch television at all, but their argument is more about spending more face-time with your child than about TV's effect on developing brain stems. As for music, we've all heard politicos on the subject and figured out where the flaw is--labeling sexy violent music just increases sales. Such stuff is naturally popular.

That would explain why the content of movies, videos, TV and music seems to get bluer and bluer with each passing day. This is partly because the FCC, which is supposed to monitor indecent and obscene material, is a reactive rather than a proactive organization. That means that before it will act it has to have a complaint: and the complaint has to be given in a certain form. In other words, if you hear something you object to, it's not enough to call the station and speak to the manager. You also have to file a complaint with the FCC, which may take years and years to be investigated.

It's a losing battle, unless you're willing to move to Pennsylvania and become Amish, or are willing to live in modern society without a TV or a radio or a computer yourself--which might be even harder. For those (like me) who aren't willing to do that, there is always the argument that children need to watch TV and so on in order to be given the same set of tools and values and images and sense of community that their peers have--in order to live in this (somewhat flawed) world. Rather than turning off the TV and the radio, perhaps a better idea would be to teach kids critical thinking, so they can see through some of the ploys being used on them in the media. As a critic, I can get behind that idea 100 percent, and maybe everyone else should too.

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From the February 14-20, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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