KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) --- We don't just speak words, we live by them. We take an oath with words, we make vows using words, and along with actions, we share our character with others through words. Yet, we live in a time when language has been devalued. Objectionable words saturate movie and television dialogue, sending the message to those in our society that obscenity and profanity are now accepted public speech.
So, what do we do? Well, if you're going to a movie, you should read a review first, one that discreetly, but effectively warns of the type of language contained. As for television, that's more complicated. But there is also a solution. Maybe.
Recently I spoke with Britt Bennett, president of TVGuardian, a service designed to aid families concerned with inappropriate language bombarding the airwaves.
Boatwright: "Britt, can you clarify the purpose of TVGuardian?"
Bennett: "It's a filter that allows viewers to watch the programming they want ... without having to hear the language they don't want. That's different from the V-chip, which just blocks out a program in its entirety if any one part of it is deemed unacceptable."
Boatwright: "How did you get involved with TVGuardian?
Bennett: "I was watching the movie 'Mrs. Doubtfire' with my children. When the main character, played by Robin Williams, shouted out, 'Back off, [expletive],' I felt terrible! I had just exposed my children to filthy language right in my own home. A month or so later I heard about TVGuardian and rushed to order one for my family.
"Later when I chose to open a family store online, TVGuardian was the first product I offered. That led to meeting the inventor of the product, Rick Bray, and shortly thereafter being hired to help license it into consumer electronics.
"So I set about contacting all the major TV and DVD manufacturers. Very shortly after getting started, we were excited to get our first account: Sanyo decided they would license TVG into almost their entire line of DVD players. Those players were sold in Wal-Mart, so it brought us a great deal of business.
"Bolstered by our early success with Sanyo, I thought the rest would be easy. So I set out traveling from city to city, touting TVG's features and how they would help manufacturers sell more TVs and DVD players. But nothing ever came as easily as that first big account. Before I knew it, I had invested eight years of my life, traveling to five countries, over 75 cities, meeting with more than 100 companies and 200 executives, and holding over 400 meetings. That's a lot of times to hear the word 'no!'
"Almost three years ago, we set our sights on the major cable and satellite providers -- Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Dish, etc. Since nearly 90 percent of Americans receive their TV through either cable or satellite, this seemed like the perfect way to get this much-needed feature into the hands of America's families ... so we asked our customers and others to contact the leading cable companies, requesting them to add TVGuardian. We figured that if enough of their customers wrote, the cable companies would listen. Within less than a month, over 40,000 customers wrote in asking for TVGuardian. Yet the cable companies still refused to offer TVGuardian to their customers."
Boatwright: "Why do you think there's a hesitance to say yes to TVGuardian?"
Bennett: "The need is there. The logic is there. The business case is there. We have proven time and time again that the companies who offer their customers a chance to filter out offensive language will have more customers, happier customers and customers who'll even pay extra for the feature. Yet they have still refused. Many of these top executives see the need for this technology personally, but can't seem to make a convincing enough case for adding it when they present it to the higher echelons.
"I remember the vice president of one of America's leading cable companies, after hearing our presentation -- how over 40 percent of their customers were personally offended by the language in their programming -- he leaned back in his chair and said, 'Nope. It's just not a sexy feature.' (I remember thinking, 'Exactly! That's the whole point!')."
Boatwright: "So, what's the status on TVGuardian?"
Bennett: "In the midst of these eight years of marketing, Sanyo stopped making TVG DVD players altogether, we ran out of set top boxes to produce, and DVD players with TVGuardian installed have become less and less. So now, while the need to filter language has grown with each year, the ability for a family to go out and buy a TVGuardian to combat that has almost disappeared."
Boatwright: "Are you discouraged?"
Bennett: "I'm happy to report two points of light on the horizon.... The first is a major provider of pay TV -- one of the most famous business names in the world, but I can't share it yet, is on the verge of offering their customers the ability to filter language with TVGuardian.
"The other point of light is legislation undergoing review in Washington right now.... The FCC is looking at advanced parental controls for television, this being potential good news for parents. However, a handful of powerful media companies and their Washington lobbyists are fighting to keep this advanced technology from you.
"The FCC wants your comments on whether advanced parental control technology should be made available for filtering offensive content in TV programming and movies; whether viewed on TV, over the Internet, cable, satellite, DVD Players, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, or other video devices.
Boatwright: "What can we do?"
Bennett: "Your voice needs to be heard! The software for this technology must be built into the cable/satellite boxes and TVs to work with HD televisions. It is being offered to cable and satellite companies for free -- (customers) who want to use it can pay a small fee for it -- and these companies have the ability to download the software into most existing cable/satellite boxes. Still, the industry refuses to give families this individual control. Tell the FCC to let you have a choice."
Current TVGuardian products won't filter a high definition signal, so action in Washington is critical. Comments to the FCC can be made online through May 18 here.To read the FCC's notice of inquiry regarding filtering technologies, click here.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective at previewonline.org. For more information at TV Guardian, visit TVGuardian.com.