Glee, Sex, Censorship and the PTC
The Parents Television Council (PTC) are back in the news again. Now they are complaining about the March 8 episode of Glee featuring a scantily-clad Gwyneth Paltrow opening up her shirt. PLC is often found where there's any connection between young people, sex and TV shows that are popular or, more accurately, will popularize them. It is not the first time they have complained about Glee since coupling their name with a well known show is good publicity – almost priceless.
Dan Isett, PTC's director of public policy, told The Hollywood Reporter the Glee scenes he watched were "pretty appalling." And "Most notably was the discussion between a couple of students about wanting to become famous by making a sex tape." Apparently he was referring to Mark Salling and Ashley Fink's characters and their decision not to make a tape after being informed by Holly Halliday that it would be child pornography.
The complaint seemed pretty standard and I was not surprised when I saw who was making it. The Parents Television Council had made a complaint against Skins when it first aired. Then I was interested enough in the complaint and the issue to write about censorship, since I thought the complaint, although misguided, was made in good faith. After writing the article, I continued to make updates as information on viewership and the controversy unfolded.
However, I recently decided to check out PTC since I am always concerned about the motives of those who are interested in interfering in the lives of others in matters of morality. PTC's history is interesting and like all history elucidates the present. And even understanding their position as late as last year makes it difficult to believe that all of their actions are not at least partly self-serving.
As recently as on the 25th October 2010, nymag.com reported in an article entitled “Parents Television Council Falls on Hard Times” that the organization itself was in trouble: “According to a story in today's Times, revenues have dropped by 26 percent, staff has been reduced by 38 percent, the organization has likely been fudging membership numbers, . . .” Since that time, the PTC has moved into high gear in looking for appropriate targets to fill its coffers. Certainly it's difficult to believe their activity since that time has not had a lot to do with its own financial wealth-fare.
PTC's use of questionable methods and resorting to blatant untruths in its approach to advertisers and would-be funders and supporters has been much remarked on. However, even with its checkered past, PTC remains a force that has an impact on the development and content of TV shows as well as influencing their life-blood, advertising.
Among advertisers that have pulled their sponsorship from the show are Taco Bell, the first advertiser to be persuaded into pulling their advertising from Skins. Other advertisers who have been persuaded to pull their advertising including Wrigley's, the chewing gum giant; General Motors; and H & R Block, one of the shows largest advertisers. It's a lot of power for a non-profit organization to wield, particularly when its methods are based on falsehood and its motives obviously compromised and corrupt.
I now understand why an episode of Glee featuring Gwyneth Paltrow is one that would be chosen by PTC to put in their sights. Putting an organization forward as a defender of the morals of the young is an excellent fund-raising strategy when the criticism is leveled at a target that guarantees so much publicity.
Some non-profit organizations properly compensate their executives; however, those non-profits who seem to be moral based and very much in the business of making judgments about others should make sure that their organizations are a model to be emulated. To be open to a hint of impropriety for this type of non-profit opens it to a charge of moral hypocrisy.
PTC's criticism of the Glee episode seemed nonsensical. Isett, in the same interview to The Hollywood Reporter, said: "It's sort of funny how the show has evolved, because they sort of subconsciously put in these sections that talk about real consequences of behavior like that, but then focus on more [bad] behavior. They try to have it both ways."
Often PTC's criticisms are odd since the shows or scenes they typically target should be interpreted in a way consistent with usual exegesis practice and be at odds with the Organization's rather imaginative interpretations and claims of how young people's philosophy and behavior are affected. These shows often offer practical, sensible and, most importantly, fairly realistic advice in situations that are not uncommon to young persons. But these are not your grandfather's family TV shows.
The PTC seem to want to tap into those in the culture who believe in a past, mythical golden age when young people were not being subverted by TV shows. And there was a time that all American families on TV were portrayed as an ideal that pretended to be real. The Cleaver family as portrayed in Leave it to Beaver in the '50s and '60s was how a supposedly typical middle-class family was presented; eventually, older people seem to forget how much their parents had worried about them and felt they belonged to a generation that had gone to hell in a hand basket – and were lazy besides. It's a belief that has been held by older generations worrying about the morals of the young since time immemorial – the belief was held long before TV and the internet were invented!
When Skins first appeared on TV, I wrote an article on the show and censorship because I credited PTC's criticism as being more honest than I now believe. Although the first season is not over, much of the controversy that surrounded Skins has disappeared. And I have come to recognize that those who appear to be in the business of censorship should be scrutinized themselves. They seem to be in the business of making sure others behave properly while often being financially well rewarded for their neighborly concern about the shows that might influence our children's thinking or behavior.
The Parents Television Council, like a lot of other non-profits, is very successful at raising a great deal of money from those who worry about the declining morals of the youth – the elderly can always be counted on to generously give to causes that seem designed to mirror their own views. But a lot of money seems to end up in executives' pockets leading some to believe these organizations tend to select targets that will provide good publicity that will help with their fund-raising – fund-raising that usually furthers the financial goals of the executives rather than the goals of their organization. Past complaints filed by The Parents Television Council and fund-raising activities were really little more than a cynical money making ploys necessary to maintain a rich standard of living for its executives, is a conclusion that is easily drawn and confirmed by at least one ex-employee.
It is no surprise that In October 2010, The New York Times said that the Parents Television Council (PTC) had mishandled mailings to hundreds and thousands of members and donors. They noted that The American Institute of Philanthropy, based on Internal Revenue Services, had rated PTC “C+”.
Jonathan Storm, writing in Philly.com, says that “According to Charity Navigator, President Timothy F. Winter was paid $167,280 in fiscal year 2008, nearly 3.5 percent of the entire organization's expenses.” It seems the height of cynicism to make money off the back of people by manipulating their principles. However much I disagreed with the Parents Television Council's views on censorship, their attempts to gain publicity for the purpose of fund-raising seems to largely undercut their claims to be an organization that's based on good old fashioned principles!
Matthew Lasar, writing in ars technica, notes that PTC claimed to have fired ex-PTC Vice President Patrick Salazar while he says he resigned. Regardless, there is reference to an email from Salazar that is well-worth reading. Among his accusations in the email against PLC, he says he witnessed a number of grotesque fundraising practices that he thought misleading to the public, “and in contrast with the PTC's stated mission. PTC education programs with the stated intent of serving the public were actually hollow fundraising schemes. The organization relied on inflated membership numbers to mislead donors, regulators and legislators all in an effort to increase the PTC's the relevance and cash flow.”
In the email, he goes on to say: “As stated in the NY Times, the PTC routinely solicited donations by sending out surveys or petitions to Congress, the FCC or television executives. When responses came in, nearly two hundred thousand of these petitions were opened, checked for donations, and, after months of sitting in a warehouse in Ohio, were thrown in the trash.”
Even if you believe in the stated objectives of organizations such as the PTC, you might be better advised to keep your money. It seems that big business and organizations that you believe are fighting moral battles on your behalf are sometimes more interested in your money. Those wishing to combat immorality in the young are often contributing to organizations more interested in money than morality, and would-be donors are well advised to look into any non-profit organizations, particularly those who claim the moral high ground!