By age 18, a U.S. youth will have witnessed 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Those startling numbers are compliments of the time teens and pre-teens spend on their screens. For example, a study in the Journal of Pediatrics reveals that the average eight-year-old spends eight hours a day on media. Eight hours!
Worse still, teenagers typically spend more than 11 hours per day on screens. What are these young impressionable minds being exposed to with this much time dedicated to televisions, tablets, and phones? Apparently, nothing wholesome. Add to the violence out-of-control sexual content and foul language and parents have to know they’re failing to monitor what their children “entertaining” themselves with.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of that exposure takes place during prime television viewing hours – a time once considered family friendly, offering entertainment suitable for all ages. Gone are the days when a parent could rest easy knowing that shows like Little House on the Prairie, Leave It to Beaver, or The Andy Griffith Show would not only avoid inappropriate content, but would ultimately teach moral lessons and reinforce rather than undermine biblical family values.
An organization that cares
While many are content to allow the entertainment industry to grow darker, some are committed to holding the major networks accountable.
Parent’s Television Council (PTC), founded in 1995, is one of the nation’s premier advocacy organizations pushing back against an industry that bombards children with sex, violence, and profanity on television and other media. With its many resources, PTC educates families to help them be more responsible consumers of media, and to motivate activism to promote cleaner sources of entertainment.
Resources include a family guide to prime-time television, – a background and thematic summary of each show currently airing on major networks during prime time with recommended viewing age – a tech safety guide, facts and statistics about children and media, various original studies and reports, and more.
A recent PTC study revealed alarming information concerning a form of entertainment that was once considered fairly safe for children, but now should be closely monitored or in some cases, removed from their entertainment choices altogether.
Comics no longer safe
Though comics have been around since the late 1800s, it wasn’t until Superman came on the scene in 1938 that they became popular enough to expand into a major industry. The success of Superman gave rise to a series of spin-offs and birthed a whole new genre. Batman premiered less than a year later with characters like Flash and Green Lantern soon to follow. During the years of World War II, Captain America – whose entire creation was based on supporting the country’s war effort – was a fan favorite.
The popularity of superheroes is understandable, especially among children and youth. Children are naturally drawn to larger-than-life characters with special powers and wild and colorful costumes. Very few parents could say their child hasn’t donned a towel for a cape and jumped off the couch pretending to be a daring hero on a mission. What’s not to love about inspiring or patriotic stories of good triumphing over evil?
Since comics were created for children, and early characters displayed admirable qualities and modeled behavior worth emulating, it would seem to be a positive move to bring those characters to life on broadcast television and into the homes of millions of viewers.
Unfortunately, however, according to PTC’s new research, comic book-themed broadcast series expose children to highly objectionable and inappropriate content. And it’s not just the superheroes and villains, even Archie – the early comic that chronicled the lives of Riverdale teenagers Archie Andrews, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the gang – has become nothing more than a raunchy teen TV drama. How far down the sewers have comics drained?
“Far enough that Archie is now having sex in the backseat of a car with his high school teacher, Miss Grundy,” PTC president Tim Winter said. “And keep in mind that this is on broadcast television. Beheadings, profanity, illegal drug use, and even scrotal references are now the norm.”
“… [P]arents who grew up with those characters won’t recognize them today, given the steady flow of extreme violence and adult content saturating comic book-themed programs,” Winter added. “Instead of goodness we have darkness; instead of virtue we have violence; instead of innocence we have debauchery. It is distressing that broadcast TV shows based on child-beloved comic book franchises are not safe for kids to watch.”
The obvious question is why – why such unwholesome content?
“People make the mistake of thinking the television show is the product, when the reality is the consumer is the product,” PTC head of research Dr. Christopher Gildemeister told AFA Journal. “They are selling the consumer to advertisers. As long as the shows generate the numbers they promised the advertisers, they simply don’t care about the content.”
As the author of the study, and an avid life-long fan of comic books, Gildemeister said, “I was shocked to see the frequency of violence, death, and profanity that is found in current comic book-themed TV shows with appeal to children.”
Citing some examples, he said, “Gotham, centered around Batman’s childhood, showed bloody decapitations and dismemberment. Arrow showed the hero committing murder, as well as being tortured. Archie’s reputation is of clean teens having wholesome fun – not having kinky sex with each other, doing drugs, and being stalked by serial killers, as seen in Riverdale.”
PTC’s research, conducted from November 2012 through May 2019, examined comic book-themed prime-time programming on the major television networks. The programs examined were Fox’s Gotham; CW’s Arrow, Black Lightning, The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and Riverdale; and ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s Agent Carter, and Marvel’s Inhumans.
Though the report highlights specific findings for each program, major findings across all programs for the research period recorded over 6,000 incidents of violence, over 500 deaths, and almost 2,000 profanities.
For example, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow included 77 instances of sexual content, 785 instances of violence (including 67 deaths and 11 scenes of torture), and 368 profanities. Keep in mind, as both Winter and Gildemeister stress, this is broadcast television with shows and characters that appeal to children.
One thing is for certain – the problem is not going to resolve itself. And if parents neglect to speak up, the content enticing children and youth across the country will continue to grow darker and darker.
So what can you and should you do?
PTC’s Dr. Christopher Gildemeister recommends: “E-mail, write, or call advertisers and tell them you are very disappointed with them, and may consider using products other than theirs.” That is the same action AFA founder Don Wildmon has advised since the 1970s, and AFA’s One Million Moms online
community continues to advocate.
Gildemeister explained that unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. Some advertisers simply don’t care. As long as they sell products, they see no reason to change. But some do listen, and when they discover their ads are on shows that offend their consumers, they choose to spend their advertising dollars elsewhere.
▶ Visit parentstv.org or call 800-882-6868
Free comic report Not For Kids Anymore in pdf format.
Contact information for major networks and advertisers.
Family Guide rating prime-time shows.
▶ Visit AFA’s onemillionmoms.com.
This originally appeared in the December 2019 print issue of The AFA Journal whose online edition can be found here.