Anyone with cable television in his or her home ought to have a sticker on the remote control warning: "Subscribers with children under 18: Abandon hope, all you who push these buttons."
As bad as broadcast TV has become, with sex and violence and explicit language pouring through the screen, it's nothing compared with what children can find, day and night, on basic cable. Not obscure, late-night, pay-per-view cable, but the cable on your set right now. Offensive content was more than twice as frequent on original cable programming as on broadcast TV, according to a recent study by the Parents Television Council.
The indecency debate is only half-addressed if Hollywood and Washington don't address indecency on cable as well. Take this stomach-turning new example. On the April 6 edition of the cable channel FX's shock-a-thon "The Shield," one of the cops is overpowered by some gang thugs. What comes next is definitely a foul new frontier in cable television content, as grotesque an image as ever has been shown on TV: The cop is forced at gunpoint to perform fellatio on one of the gang members. The camera goes into minutes of graphic detail of the man demanding "Suck it," the head bobbing, the gagging and choking, and then the gang members take photos of this homoerotic humiliation on their cell phones.
We're only lucky that after the act was finished, they didn't shoot the cop in the head on camera, splattering blood and guts all over themselves in the process. Maybe FX is saving that treat for next week.
Basic cable has become a kind of Pandora's box for families. Many parents welcome basic cable into their homes because it opens up a whole universe of family-friendly programming. There's the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, ABC Family Channel, the Discovery Channel and more. But to access these sometimes educational and usually family-friendly networks, they are also forced to pay for channels they don't want. Now, in addition to trying to protect their children from the filth on FOX, NBC, UPN and the other broadcast networks, they also have to try to protect their children from the much more explicit fare on FX, MTV, Comedy Central, Bravo, and on and on.
In the aftermath of the Super Bowl MTV raunchfest, how many parents now being forced to take (and pay for) MTV would continue to do so if given the choice?