J.J. Babb argues that Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl incident should
“expose” to us the importance of parents monitoring their
children’s programming. The problem with this argument is that it
if we reduce the issue exclusively to the individual level of
parental responsibility, then we take all responsibility out of the
hands of the broadcasters. In the United States, the vast majority
of the mainstream media is controlled by six corporations.
Decisions on what to air are almost exclusively determined by
ratings. For the most part, it doesn’t matter if a program is
violent, sexual, racist, sexist or otherwise objectionable, as long
as it sells.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Most Americans do not know that
legally, the airwaves belong to the people. We accept what
broadcasters want us to think: that if we don’t like what’s on the
air, the only power we have is to change the channel or prevent our
kids from watching. It’s too bad we don’t think of ourselves as
media citizens who have the power to protest media we don’t like
and lobby for media we do.
Almost all Western countries in the world offer comprehensive
media education programs in the schools. The United States is the
exception. Instead of media activism, and instead of media
education, Americans often feel the only solution is for parents to
change the channel. Media is too complex and important to simplify
the issue exclusively to the issue of parental responsibility.
Assistant professor of Media Studies, Department of Speech