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Serial murder as entertainment?

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Feb. 11, 2008 at 5:34 am with No Comments »
February 11, 2008 5:34 am

I don’t have Showtime, so I’ve never seen that cable channel’s “Dexter” series, whose anti-hero is a serial killer who works for the Miami Metro Police Department as a blood pattern analyst.

But now the series will be shown on CBS. And that has the Parents Television Council up in arms, even though the network says the series will be edited somewhat to tone down the graphic violence.

Wikipedia describes the PTC as “a nonprofit organization run and founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III, whose stated goal is to ‘promote and restore responsibility to the entertainment industry.'”

Unfortunately, whenever the PTC gets upset about something on TV, it generates a lot of form e-mail letters to the editor. We won’t run any of the ones that are obviously part of the letter-writing campaign.

Here’s the anti-“Dexter” letter we’ve received – again and again and again.

I am outraged that CBS is planning to bring the Showtime series Dexter to broadcast television. This community does not need a series that glorifies a sadistic serial killer coming into our homes. Nothing justifies using the publicly-owned broadcast airwaves to expose potentially hundreds of thousands of children to a series that glorifies a ruthless, bloodthirsty killer.

CBS is claiming that the series will be edited to comply with broadcast standards, but editing in the way they edit a feature film for broadcast, even one about a serial killer like Silence of the Lambs, will not make Dexter appropriate for broadcast TV. The biggest problem with this series is something they can’t get around with any amount of editing: i.e. the series compels viewers to feel empathy for a serial killer, to root for him to prevail, to hope he doesn’t get discovered.

CBS insists Dexter will be scheduled "responsibly" in the last hour of prime time, but scheduling a program for the 10:00 time slot does little to ensure children will not be exposed to the content. After all, 10:00 in the Eastern and Pacific time zones is still only 9:00 in the Central and Mountain time zones – an hour when many children are still awake and watching TV. In fact, most 10:00 dramas – many of which contain intense violence or sexual content – are viewed by hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 18 and as young as 2-11, according to Nielsen Media Research.

For example, during the week of December 10-16, 2007 C.S.I. Miami was watched by 423,000 2-11-year-olds and 400,000 12-17-year-olds. Furthermore, we’ve all seen content – foul language, explicit sex and nudity, and even graphic violence — that was once confined to the 10:00 hour creep into earlier time slots, even into the Family Hour – where millions of children are exposed to it. Bringing Dexter to broadcast TV, even in the latest hour of prime time, ensures that broadcast standards will be forever changed.

CBS also claims that Dexter is no different from other crime dramas, like Law & Order, Criminal Minds, and C.S.I., but unlike those other crime dramas, the hero is not a police officer, forensic investigator, or FBI agent trying to capture the criminal so they can be put to justice – the hero in this series is a cold-blooded serial killer. Unlike other crime dramas where you root for the "good guy" to prevail, Dexter asks viewers to root for the criminal.

There is no denying TV’s influence, and that influence is especially concerning when a television show centers around "anti-heroes" or "criminal protagonists," because audiences come to see their actions as not only justified, but heroic.

Broadcasters must use discretion in deciding how they use a public resource, i.e. the broadcast airwaves, because unlike books or magazines or even cable programming, which have to be sought out, purchased, and brought into the home – broadcast TV comes into every American home with electricity and a television set – bidden or unbidden. Broadcasters therefore have a unique obligation to be responsible with the content they air. This is why the NAB for years had a code of conduct which stipulated:

– The use of horror for its own sake will be eliminated; the use of visual or aural effects which would shock or alarm the viewer, and the detailed presentation of brutality or physical agony by sight or by sound are not permissible.

– Criminality shall be presented as undesirable and unsympathetic. The condoning of crime and the treatment of the commission of crime in a frivolous, cynical or callous manner is unacceptable.

– The presentation of murder or revenge as a motive for murder shall not be presented as justifiable.

– It is not enough that only those programs which are intended for viewing by children shall be suitable to the young and immature. Television is responsible for insuring that programs of all sorts which occur during times of day when children may normally be expected to have the opportunity of viewing television shall exercise care in the following regards:

– In avoiding material which is excessively violent or would create morbid suspense, or other undesirable reactions in children.

Dexter could not have aired on broadcast TV under the NAB’s Code of Conduct. Although it is no longer binding (thrown out on anti-trust grounds, not because the principles behind it were bad), broadcasters should continue to exercise the same care and restraint out of respect for the viewer and the unique privilege they have in being granted use of the public airwaves.

Please, take a stand against Dexter. Our community deserves better.

Taking notice
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