TV Watching in the Red States

The New York Times tries to figure out today why “Many Who Voted for ‘Values’ Still Like Their Television Sin.” The Times find it remarkable that shows like “Desperate Housewives” and the “CSI” variants are among the most-watched in both blues state cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as conservative cities like Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

Of course, like most Times articles, rigorous study of the electorate and who the viewers are isn’t a consideration. Only state colors (red or blue) and the evident hypocrisy of “morals” voters’ and their viewing habits are the issue.

In the greater Atlanta market, reaching more than two million households, “Desperate Housewives” is the top-rated show. Nearly 58 percent of the voters in those counties voted for President Bush.

And in the Salt Lake City market, which takes in the whole state of Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming, “Desperate Housewives” is fourth, after two editions of “C.S.I.” and NBC’s “E.R.”; Mr. Bush rolled up 72.6 percent of the vote there.

The Times interviewed sources who explained the phenomenon by saying people “compartmentalize their lives and entertainment choices” and that people behave differently between their public and private choices. And, they are correct. One source they interview, Gary Schneeberger of Focus on the Family, said:

“History has shown that even people who could be described as values voters are prone to sinful behavior and watching representations of sinful behavior. Is it shocking that people would be enticed by it? It’s not shocking, but it is tragic.”

My thoughts:

1. There are, and always will be, hypocrites in the church. As my pastor in Los Angeles used to say to those outside the church, you are welcome, because one more hypocrite isn’t going to make any difference.

2. Christians are no less susceptible to the allure of prurient programming than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean they want the temptation around. Contrary to the perception of many, when many if not most Christians succumb to temptation, they are overcome with conviction about letting God down, and their personal failure. That’s why they try to take measures to not be in situations where they are likely to stumble.

3. TV (and movies), if it reflects life, is not going to be devoid of depictions of sin. The difference is if the subject matter is gratuitous and degrading, or instructive and rehabilitative. It doesn’t have to be “Touched by an Angel.” “Saving Private Ryan” had an immensely instructive and powerful message, despite its extreme violence. On another level, “The Incredibles” is a realistic telling of family life, warts and all, without the offensive imagery onslaught.

4. Christians are increasingly finding it difficult to protect their children from suggestive and violent media. There are things that adults can handle and children cannot. Our family must be continually vigilant while watching sports events because of the attack of commercials for other network programs. And because a la carte channel choosing is not an option and parental blocking is not perfect, it is difficult to leave your children alone in a room with the TV on.

I don’t know what the solution is, but the major media networks certainly aren’t sensitive to the concerns of those of us who want some protection.

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