Google the words 'News for World Peace.' Go ahead, I'll wait. Do you notice something odd about the results? When you search for World Peace online, the first TWO pages of results are for The Artist Formerly Known as Ron Artest, and his now infamous and egregious elbow.
That's right, for the foreseeable future, the phrase World Peace has been ruined for all of us by one of the craziest men to ever play professional basketball (and that's a high bar). Because one nutty thug could not contain his emotions after dunking a ball through a hoop, when young kids search for something as innocuous as World Peace, they will be treated to images of senseless violence and aggression.
Two weeks ago, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in a playoff game that became the most watched non-finals hockey broadcast in a decade, and the most watched since NBC bought the NHL rights six years ago. The reason? It wasn't the 8-4 score. No, it was due to the sheer level of violence in the game, including a raging brawl between the two teams' captains and 148 combined minutes of penalties.
Last week, 38 players, including Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White, filed a lawsuit against the NFL, accusing the league of negligence and material misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment and conspiracy. They claim that the NFL knowingly failed to protect players from brain injuries and dementia, resulting from repeated blows to the head. Earlier this year, much of the coaching staff of the New Orleans Saints was suspended for creating a system of bounties for players who intentionally injured their opponents. The coach responsible for this system had apparently done the same thing on his previous teams.
Yes, there have been suspensions and fines. Yes, we hear that the leagues in each case take these issues "very seriously." Yet we hear no outcry from family councils or congressmen about showing the successive games from these leagues or these teams on national TV. As I wrote this, I watched an NHL playoff game on national TV that made my daughter say, "Why is it so violent?" It was 4 in the afternoon.
Due to the great ratings and sheer volume of money connected to TV sports, there have been NO discussions about taking these games off TV until the level of violence has been addressed. And while the leagues are left to deal with troublemakers in their own kangaroo manner, there has been zero talk about criminal charges against the Saints who knowingly, with forethought and malice, planned to attack and injure members of their own league, union and brotherhood. I know I may sound hyperbolic, but just think for a second: if someone paid someone else to attack another player in a playground pick-up game, isn't it likely that someone would be taken away in cuffs?
On the other hand, two weeks ago, the Justice Department felt compelled to appeal the Janet Jackson nipple slip to the Supreme Court of the United States -- eight years after it happened (I can't even remember what it looked like!). That's right, when World Peace gives an unprotected bench player a concussion, he gets suspended for seven games; but when Justin Timberlake exposes Ms. Jackson's right breast, the FCC issues CBS the largest fine in TV history and the case winds up in the highest Court in the land.
Welcome to TV in America, where violence, no matter how malicious or senseless, is just fine -- no matter the context or time of day -- but sex is decried, maligned, protested and verboten in all but the most secure corners of the schedule or dial. Programs that are intentionally violent appear in every part of the TV schedule -- primetime, daytime, weekends -- but TV's ban on sexuality not only covers scenes of nudity or sexual acts, but our very language itself. Since 1978, when the Supreme Court decided that George Carlin's Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television was too much for sensitive ears, enormous fines have been issued for uttering the word "fuck" on TV, even during live events.
A few years ago, I executive produced a film called This Film Is Not Yet Rated. In it, director Kirby Dick showed how the ratings system in America allows -- even encourages -- extreme acts of violence in our popular entertainment, while censoring seemingly innocent depictions of sex or even uses of language. The latest dust-up over the film Bully is a good example, but so is last year's The King's Speech, which received an R rating because it used the word 'fuck' too many times (when the producers took out 2 'fucks,' the rating was lowered to a PG-13).
The film posits a theory -- that the permissiveness of our nation's censors (appointed and otherwise) towards violence, and their outright derision of sex and sensuality, has helped make our society more belligerent and less tolerant, more prone to conflict than to acceptance.
Look, I am a BIG sports fan. Many times each season; I travel more than two hours to attend Philadelphia Eagles football games (making me the sickest kind of masochist). And I am not for blatant nudity across the primetime schedule. However, I firmly believe that our tendency to overregulate sex and underregulate violence in our media sends a mixed and misguided message to our children. Any scan of the TV dial seems bears this out. Violence of all kinds (see CSI, the NFL, WWE and the UFC) is free to roam all times of day, while sex is most often relegated to Pay TV or after 10pm.
That 2004 Super Bowl is a great example -- how many players from that game are today dealing with their injuries in silence, while Janet's halftime nipple remains held up in court? And, if you need more proof, Google World Peace and note that his team played on national TV this past weekend, at 3:30 in the afternoon.