My all-time favorite television program is probably The Andy Griffith Show.
For the eight years in the 1960s it ran on CBS, the show consistently gave us a healthy dose of homespun humor while always teaching us something about ourselves and the fundamental difference between right and wrong. And while America was in the midst of major, and often tragic, growing pains during its stint on network television, The Andy Griffith Show had a simple and honest way of reflecting the absolute best in our society and inside each of us.
It's been 35 years since The Andy Griffith Show exited stage left from network television. To say a lot has happened to society and our TV airwaves over the last three decades would be the understatement of the century. And Lord knows, even if it were possible, going back in time would be the last thing I would want to do. But the fact is, while many aspects of our society have improved over the years, the level of decency and what's considered "acceptable behavior" is not included.
For those of us old enough to remember, think about going to school 35 or more years ago. No matter where you were from or what school you attended, there was one thing you could count on: the line of "acceptable behavior" was very clear and would be enforced. Touch or cross the line and pay the price.
If memory serves me correctly, the line pretty much started at chewing gum in class and not keeping your shirt tucked in - both no-no's. But where's the line today? Forget chewing gum and shirttails: Is it confronting or threatening a teacher? Is it hitting a teacher? Maybe it's showing up high or drunk to class? Or maybe it's bringing a gun into the classroom?
I'm not trying to single out schools or particularly our nation's educators; they frankly deserve much better. The sad fact is, there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the slow and methodical disappearing act our society's line of "acceptable behavior" has undergone. The line has been pushed back so many times, replaced with excuses, and blurred so badly over the years that it simply doesn't exist as it should anymore.
Nowhere has the great vanishing line been more evident than on our television screens. Gone are the days of family-friendly programming during network television's primetime broadcasts. Instead, parents face the daunting task of negotiating the indecency minefield that lurks with the push of a remote control button. Parents' reassurance in quality programming suitable for all ages has been replaced with anxiety and nervousness about what shocking scene or lewd language will turn up next in their living room.
At last year's live, primetime broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards on NBC, the lead singer for the music group U2, Bono, felt the need to use the "F" word to describe his elation at receiving an award. It was a moment that was raw, unnecessary and completely out of bounds.
But as bad as Bono's judgment to include locker-room language in his acceptance speech, the decision by NBC and the FCC to allow it on the airwaves was simply outlandish! In defending their decision, the FCC said that because Bono used the expletive in an exclamatory way and not to describe conduct, his use of the "F" word met the FCC's decency standards. Here's a word for the folks at the FCC: hogwash!
And who can forget the distasteful MTV-produced halftime performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII earlier this month? When the teams headed off the field, American families gathered around their television sets for a halftime show. Unfortunately, instead of getting a program suitable for all ages, families were subjected to a cavalcade of sleazy performances (capped with Janet Jackson's infamous overexposure) that was better suited for a Las Vegas nightclub than network television. So, what can be done? Well, getting the FCC to start doing its job sure seems like a good place to start!
I've joined some like-minded colleagues on Capitol Hill in making sure the FCC knows where we're coming from and what we expect.
Legislatively, I've co-sponsored a bill (H.R. 3687) that makes it abundantly clear: if you want to use profanity on our nation's airwaves, be prepared to pay the price - no more interpretations, no more excuses, no more trash talk on television. It's a bill that reminds the FCC that they have the authority and responsibility to enforce community decency standards that protect our children from obscene, indecent or profane programming, and that the American people expect them to do their job.
Additionally, I've added my signature to a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell regarding the sorry Super Bowl saga and strongly encouraging Chairman Powell to remain vigilant with the investigation, and continue to work towards ensuring that America's families are not subjected to similar episodes in the future.
Meanwhile, here's a little unsolicited advice to the folks planning next year's Super Bowl halftime show. Drop MTV as a producer, dump the "lowest common denominator," gutter-television approach, and stay far away from pop stars trying to shock and jumpstart their fledgling careers.
My ideal halftime show? I'm thinking a TV nostalgia reunion could be in order. Who knows, there could be a few folks from the fictional town of Mayberry you'd want to check with!
(U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood is an Evans resident.)
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