Monday, November 27, 2006

Violins on Television...

Steven Spielberg called for a stop to violence on television. You can read about it here.

One interesting thing is that Spielberg squarely places the blame on the producers who make these shows. In the forums responding to his statements, you'll see the same point made over and over. Parents need to be responsible for what their children watch. So who's right?

Can I get away with saying everybody's right? Here's the thing. Today's audiences aren't satisfied watching "I love Lucy" and "The Brady Bunch." The wild success of crime shows like "CSI," "NCIS," "Bones," "Law and Order" (in all its various versions), is telling us something. People like watching twisted criminals. People enjoy watching the obscene. Ever wondered why Ricki Lake and the like are so popular? Heck, tune in any soap opera, and you'll see that within the "acceptable" boundaries, the sexual limits are being pushed, and you certainly wouldn't want your children to learn their morals from soap operas either.

In fact, for every talk show about best friends stealing each other's spouses, it probably happens twice on a soap opera. Sure, they're not showing nipples, but you don't have to be a genius to figure out what's going on under the covers either.

So - audiences want sex and violence, and audiences don't want their children to see sex and violence. Guess what? You really can't have it both ways - not all the way at least. Sure, you can make sure your kids aren't watching tv late at night (when the violence gets nastier) but you can't keep them from seeing every horrible thing that's on television without throwing the boob tube out of your house (and they'll still see some of that garbage at friends' houses).

So what do we do as a society? First, those of us who watch violent television shows need to think about what it's doing to us as people. Are we becoming less and less sensitive to violence? Does it take more and more to disgust us?

Next, we need to think about what we're teaching our children. Do our children sit watching television for hours a day without anyone checking what they're watching? Has the television joined our family with full status as a member, or do we remember where the off-switch is? Does it join us at the dinner table? If we don't live without television, our children won't either.

It's so easy to tune out to a television show - it's fun, undemanding, available. But the television is a piece of equipment. Just like you don't let the dishwasher decide what your family does, you shouldn't let the television. I wonder if it wasn't better in the days before the popularity of television. People went to a movie theater, sat down, settled in, and prepared for the onslaught of images and ideas. Nowadays, we just let it into our house without ever looking at what we get. We decide nothing - just let the network execs choose for us...

So Spielberg's half-right. The level of violence is disconcerting. But the producers are only giving us what we ask for. What does that say about us as a society?

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Oxford Comma

I love the Oxford comma. It disambiguates, conforms to speech patterns, and just makes me feel good.

I'm sure some of you are wondering what the #$@# an Oxford comma is. Well, I could leave you to click the link, or I could explain it to you:

Suppose you were going on a picnic with your brothers and sister and their twenty-two children. Suppose you were making the sandwiches, and you wanted your myriad nieces and nephews to choose their sandwiches from a list. Your list might look like this:
Tuna Salad
Lettuce and Tomato
Lox and Cream Cheese
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Cream Cheese

Now if you wrote it into a list without using the Oxford comma, you end up with this:
The sandwiches available for today's picnic are tuna salad, cheese, hummus, lettuce and tomato, lox and cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly and cream cheese.

So is that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a jelly and cream cheese sandwich? (Trust me, my mom is fully capable of making either option, and many of my siblings will eat them both.)

Now if you use the Oxford comma, here's your sentence:
The sandwiches available for today's picnic are tuna salad, cheese, hummus, lettuce and tomato, lox and cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and cream cheese.

See? Now we're perfectly clear as to what's available for those last two sandwich types.

This is why I love the Oxford Comma.

Now I'm off to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!