The San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday, March 5, 1996 · Page B8
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Praise the Lord! Home Is Safe Again!


I'M SURE THAT WE all understand that the V-chip is just so much damp straw, so much sawdust and grain-byproducts and stable sweepings. Kind of your Kabuki government ritual humiliation deal, with politicians and executives lying and smiling.

But let's go through the drill one more time. Let's think about the V-chip. Those of you in the back of the room, stop giggling.

The V-chip is a device, as yet uninvented but hey we're Americans we can do anything, that will be placed in or on your television. Each major broadcast entity has warranted that it will broadcast some kind of ``danger Will Robinson'' wave along with its TV signal that will activate the V-chip (just as imaginary as it was in the last sentence) and scramble the signal so that children will not be able to see Colombian drug lords dying bloody deaths or Pamela Anderson running along the beach.

Unless it's the news, which shows the bloody bodies of real Colombian drug lords as well as train wrecks, abused children, mutilated dogs and war widows. If it's news, it's protected by the First Amendment and is therefore 100 percent V-chip- immune. Fake violence is bad and real violence is good. I know you parents will be comforted by that.

And since ``Bay Watch'' is more popular than Jesus (compare relative revenues -- ``Bay Watch'' is the most-watched TV program in the world), there will be a gigantic fight in which ``Bay Watch'' will be presented to regulators as a series of CPR instructional films. And because money talks, Pamela will still bounce along without her V-chip while less popular people in bikinis will be unavailable to children.

Following this so far? NOW, THE DECISION to activate the V-chip will be in the hands of each and every consumer. Suppose the kids are safely tucked in bed and Mom wants to watch ``Gals Who Kill Guys and How They Get Away With It,'' which is a fine made-for-television movie fully V-chipped for your protection. So there must be a switch or a button or a lever or some damn thing that deactivates the V-chip and lets fine adult programming into your home.

We live in a nation where more than half of the VCRs are still blinking ``12:00,'' so you know the V- chip deactivation device is going to have to be simple to operate. It'll be a lot simpler, say, than the child- proof cap on an aspirin bottle.

Which means that any human older than 7 will be able to figure it out. Which means that any person over 7 left unattended will be able to deactivate the V-chip in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

Attended children are already protected because Mom can just turn off the TV and force the kids outside to watch beetles breed. The problem is parents who use the television as a baby sitter. Sometimes they are slothful and careless parents; sometimes they are parents who have to work three jobs just to put food on the table, so they can't be around to share the magic of Mister Rogers with their kids.

So the only children who are protected by the V-chip are children so small that they should not be left alone under any circumstances. If you have a 3-year-old alone in the house, the fact that he can watch ``The Jeffrey Dahmer Story'' is the least of your problems. HERE IS THE THING we cannot admit: We are vulgar beasts. We watch vulgar things. Our children are vulgar beasts and they like what we like to watch. All the same species.

We may wish to fight against our vulgar natures. It's a hard fight but perhaps worthwhile. The government is useless in this fight; technology is useless. We must do it within ourselves and within our families; we must make time and make commitments.

If we hate our televisions, we must throw them away. No other solution will work. Do you have the courage to do that? If not, don't blame the government; don't listen to the sweet-talkin' liars. It's on you, babe.

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Tuesday, March 5, 1996 · Page B8 © 1995 San Francisco Chronicle