North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer sent the letter below to the FCC today opposing a move by the agency to relax decency standards. This comes in the wake of the FCC giving Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz a pass on his emotional and profane speech in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
“We cannot underestimate the power of mass media’s influence on social behavioral norms,” Rep. Cramer said in a press release accompanying the letter. “If we want to effectively stem the tide of rising violence in our society, we need to address the level of profanity, sexuality and violence portrayed in the media and consumed by the general public.”
As a father, I’m not really keen on out-of-place, random profanity on broadcast television. But do we need the government to uphold that standard? Can’t broadcasters curtail such things to match the preferences of their audiences?
I’m not sure I buy the tie-in between sex, violence and profanity on television in violence in our society, either. It sounds suspiciously like those who claim that the mere presence of guns in our society promotes violence.
And rising violence? That doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Even as there is more violence and profanity in television, movies, video games and on the internet violent crime rates in America are falling:
What’s more, as more and more sexual content is present in our entertainment media, sex crimes seem to be dropping as Chicago Tribune columnist Steven Chapman noted in a 2011 editorial:
Rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the past two years, when the FBI reported upticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.
Nor can the decline be dismissed as the result of underreporting. Many sexual assaults do go unreported, but there is no reason to think there is less reporting today than in the past. In fact, given everything that has been done to educate people about the problem, and to prosecute offenders, victims are probably more willing to come forward than they used to be.
Chapman cites research which indicates that the greater availability of pornography and other sexually explicit content may actually be driving this trend:
Perhaps the most surprising and controversial account comes from Clemson University economist Todd Kendall, who suggests that adult fare on the Internet may essentially inoculate against sexual assaults.
In a paper presented at Stanford Law School in 2006, he reported that, after adjusting for other differences, states where Internet access expanded the fastest saw rape decline the most. A 10 percent increase in Internet access, Kendall found, typically meant a 7.3 percent reduction in the number of reported rapes.
For other types of crime, by contrast, he found no correlation with Web use. What this research suggests is that sexual urges play a big role in the incidence of rape — and that pornographic websites provide a harmless way for potential predators to satisfy those desires.
At best, government-imposed decency standards (which have little traction these days given the increasingly small sliver of content subject to broadcast standards) allow government prudes to deny Americans access to content they want. At worst, the standards may actually be making us less safe.
But ultimately, aren’t we all capable of censoring our own content?