When I seek out entertainment, I depend on the various ratings organizations to help me avoid explicit portrayals of sex, gratuitous graphic violence, foul language or unacceptable vulgarity. I am familiar with the movie ratings systems which warn me of “R” or “NR” or “PG-13” content. When I turn on the TV, I check the rating box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and reach for my remote at the first sign of offensive material. When I purchase a video game, I make sure there is no “A”, “M” or even “T” on the box.
While there is no comparable safeguard for web browsing, some simple common sense measures have heretofore stood me in good stead. I don’t respond to email promises to increase the size of my penis or enhance my sexual experiences. I don’t reply to requests from correspondents with names like “CandyPantsXXX” or “NaughtyGirlOXOX” who promise to be my friend or relieve my boredom. Most off-limits websites reveal their intentions right away by bombarding you with racy music, presenting pre-pubescent nymphs who want you to “get to know them” and, finally, soliciting your credit card number in order to see more.
So imagine my surprise as I was browsing the web site of the Parents Television Council, which purports to survey and rate the content of television programming for the parents of impressionable children, so they don’t have to. According to their “About Us” link, the Parents Television Council “is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media.” Attached to each program is a color code rating – green, yellow, red – to serve as a parental guide. These codes are defined briefly as follows:
Red: “Show may include gratuitous sex, explicit dialogue, violent content, or obscene language, and is unsuitable for children”
Yellow: “The show contains adult-oriented themes and dialogue that may be inappropriate for youngsters.”
Green: “Family-friendly show promoting responsible themes and traditional values.
Blue: “Not yet rated by the PTC.”
Well naturally I wanted to know more about what actually goes into the various ratings categories, and so, ignoring the warning that the ratings details contain “graphic descriptions,” I clicked on. I don’t think I can adequately describe my horror at what I discovered.
To my chagrin, I learned that the “red” designation refers to the following words (out of modesty, I have replaced letters with random characters): “Sh*t, d&ck, pri#ck, f@ck, !sshole, c^ck, G—damn, profaning Jesus Christ.” These words in their unexpurgated form were accompanied by explicit details of the types of sex and violence, and their frequency, that would warrant red, yellow or green designations.
I also learned that the frequency of “veiled or mild innuendo” or “responsible discussion of sexual issues” may bump the rating from “green” to “yellow,” where even one depiction or mention of “sexual innuendo, marital sex, sex implied, homosexuality, pre-coital and/or post-coital or responsible discussion of pornography or masturbation” would suffice. More than three occurrences of the former per half hour gets the bump from green to yellow. Three or more per half hour of the latter group gets the red. I think you get the idea.
Here via a link available to anyone, of any age, is web content that would offend everyone, of every age, from the youngest sprout to the oldest beanstalk. So the question springs to mind, who rates the raters? If we can’t rely on our media censors to clean up their act, who can we trust? The Parents Television Council may be performing a noble function vis-a-vis television, film, and literature, but I’m afraid that until they censor themselves, I cannot in good conscience recommend their website.
For that matter, their example suggests that any website, no matter how innocuous, may contain offensive material. Until an organization takes the burden of discovery off of me by publishing a comprehensive rating list of all Internet web sites, I’ll just have to console myself by listening to my new collection of George Carlin CDs.