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The Run for the Remote

Susan Flynn
The Salem News
January 31, 2009

The new president inspires Americans with his message of hope and unity.

Personally, I love what the guy has to say about TV.

President Obama stated he resents the fact that he can't sit down to watch TV with his two daughters — supposedly safe, family-friendly shows — without worrying about the content of the TV commercials.

"I'm concerned about sex," Obama said during one debate, "but I'm also concerned, you know, (with) some of the violent, slasher, horror films that come out — you see a trailer, and I'm thinking, 'I don't want my 6-year-old or 9-year-old seeing that trailer while she's watching 'American Idol.'"

He used the word concerned. I would have preferred outraged.

It's insane that a parent with young kids can't leave the room to go to the bathroom or get a bowl of ice cream during the commercials of family-friendly shows. Your hand must remain on the remote control, always vigilant to make a quick switch so the first-grader doesn't catch the ad for the supernatural horror thriller "The Unborn" shown during an afternoon basketball game.

Have you seen the commercial? One word: Nightmares.

Sometimes, our TV remote is a little temperamental, or missing, so we end up yelling at our girls to close their eyes because we can't change the channel fast enough. I have a photo of my daughter holding a new L.L. Bean sled in front of her face on Christmas Day to miss a violent commercial aired during the 6 p.m. Celtics-Lakers game.

It would be a funny picture if it didn't make me so mad.

Plenty of parents I know try to be responsible about the TV shows they let their kids watch. But the commercials keep undermining our efforts.

Last Sunday, our family sat down to watch a Celtics game on ABC. At 1 p.m., the network decided it was a good opportunity to solicit viewers for its gritty police drama "Life on Mars." There were guns and bullet wounds. They aired the spot for the 10 p.m. show at least three times; we sort of lost count. They also ran a commercial — again, more than once — to promote the new R-rated movie "Defiance."

It was 1 o'clock on a Sunday. Can't the family sit down together, relax and watch the guards shoot, not the cops on TV?

An NBA spokesman in New York referred my call to an ESPN spokesman who assured me the company does review the content of ads on a case-by-case basis. So were the "Life on Mars" and "Defiance" spots deemed appropriate?

"I can't speak specifically to individual commercials," ESPN spokeswoman Amy Phillips said.

They do, though, take a tough stance on commercials for distilled spirits. Personally, I'd take a vodka ad over a bullet wound any day.

Josh Golin works for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston. He fields calls from parents angry about the content of commercials all the time. He also hears complaints from parents who go to G-rated movies and then rush to cover their kids' eyes when the preview for "Transformers" comes on.

"That's a very, very violent PG-13 movie," Golin says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement two years ago calling for a ban on erectile dysfunction TV commercials before 10 p.m. But anyone who has watched TV lately knows how successful they've been. Those side-by-side bathtub shots prompt all sorts of questions from kids and clumsy explanations from parents.

To date, it's been left up to the TV and movie industry to police themselves.

"Which is like the fox guarding the hen house," Golin says.

Maybe, Golin says, a president with young children in the White House might be more sympathetic and push for some regulations. We can only hope.

"It shouldn't," he says, "all be on the parents."

In the meantime, we should probably invest in a better remote.





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