Verity Johnson: Falling standards? What about Alf Garnett

Sean Connery. Photo / Supplied
Sean Connery. Photo / Supplied

What do James Bond, Zorro and Iron Man have in common? They're all children's heroes. And they're famous for skewering countless villains (and beautiful women). Families sit down to watch them fight their way across the small and big screens.

This has been so for countless years; three generations of women in my family have the hots for Sean Connery. But if they've been seducing, shooting and swearing for half a century, then why aren't we all corrupted by their terrible influence? Because the content of television shows doesn't affect us.

The recent rage about TV and film shows that 73 per cent of us think there's too much sex, violence, and bad language on TV today. The only reason this is bad is because it could hurt younger viewers. Apparently they'll lose it and become lewd, loose and loud-mouthed. This is a popular and resurfacing myth.

Psychologists decided to test it by monitoring St Helena's island in the Atlantic Ocean.

The island was given television in 1995 and the psychologists investigated the effects on youth. The children watched TV shows with identical levels of violence to the then current UK ones. Psychologists monitored children before and after TV's introduction. They found absolutely no difference in behaviour - violent or otherwise. This could suggest children have more sophisticated ways of learning. Has watching James Bond turned me into a nymphomaniac? Not that I'm aware of.

What's more, a lot of the criticism comes from an adult perspective. The problem is that adults and children don't see TV programmes in the same way. In 2010, the children's show What Now drew complaints. It had said "next time I'm holding one of my balls, you're invited". The complaint came from an adult viewer who thought this was inappropriate. But children watching the show wouldn't have seen the double meaning. Adults watching can get offended at innuendo or double entendres on behalf of their children.

But they are seeing it from an adult perspective. Their children aren't offended because they see comments in an innocent light.

The Herald noted that the "concern about sex, profanity and violence on television" is "among older survey respondents". Is the older generation trying to impose their standards of acceptability on young people? Shouldn't the question be whether younger viewers are concerned? Nearly 60 per cent of males from 15 to 21 years don't have any problem with TV content. The people watching it don't feel threatened or hurt. So ignore the older viewers. If we're worried for the children, we should listen to the children's opinion. Furthermore, there is the idea that this is a decline in standards.

But in the 70s, shows such as Till Death Us Do Part were strewn with racism and sexism. This was the show where the main character Alf Garnett called people "coons" and said a woman's place was "chained to the bloody kitchen sink".

They were happy to humiliate black people, but had an iron embargo against nudity. Nowadays, racism is rightly clamped down upon, and we get a few sex scenes instead. I'd say standards have increased over time. Sex didn't cause the slave trade. The shift shows that society's attitudes have changed to addressing more significant harms. Racism spawns hate and division. We have realised this; just look at the rightful sacking of Paul Henry. Compared to racism, the harms of swearing and sex are minimal.

It is good that we are concerned for our children's welfare. But if we really care, then bigger measures than curbing TV content should be taken. Parents, adult friends, family and peers are much greater influences on young people. If we're concerned about swearing, then we shouldn't swear in front of our kids. Kids learn from people they care about, not from TV shows. If you're worried about kids watching sex scenes, then don't be embarrassed. If you're embarrassed, they're embarrassed. Just talk to them honestly and openly about sex.

TV content is not attacking the moral fibre of the nation. The moral fibre of the nation is made of firmer stuff. Young people are taught right and wrong by relationships and experiences.

It's quite insulting to think that they could be so easily swayed. If worse comes to worst, you have control over the TV. If you don't like it, turn it off.

- NZ Herald

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