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Thursday, Sept. 7, 2000

MEDIA MIX

Educational TV: PTA knows best?


The Data Watching section of the Sept. 7 issue of Dime contains the results of various unrelated surveys regarding the current state of parent-child relationships. In addition to questionnaire answers about corporal punishment and what constitutes bad behavior, there is a list compiled by the Japan PTA in 1999 of the 10 TV shows parents want their children to watch, as well as the 10 shows they don't want their children to watch.

Despite the current debate over the media's role in the rise of adolescent violence, there was nothing on the "disapproved" list that could be considered overtly violent, except maybe Number 5: "all suspense dramas." The fact is, there's much less violence on homegrown Japanese TV than there is on American TV. What seems to bother parents here are TV shows that make irreverence look fun.

The popular animated cartoon "Crayon Shin-chan" is Number 3 on the disapproved list, probably due to the show's scatology. The preschooler of the title likes nothing better than to moon everyone in sight and discuss his bowel movements at length. But since that's something most preschoolers do anyway, it's not exactly clear if "Crayon Shin-chan" is causing antisocial behavior or simply reflecting it.

But at least we know kids watch "Crayon Shin-chan." You can't really say that about some of the other programs on the list. "Wide shows," which are Number 7, are narrowly targeted at housewives and, besides, elementary and junior high school students are in school when they're broadcast -- unless they belong to that growing minority of children who refuse to go to school, in which case their TV-viewing habits are the least of their parents' worries.

"Variety shows" in general are listed at Number 4. This genre, however, covers everything from "Inazuma! London Hearts," a blatantly objectionable comedy show featuring the blatantly objectionable comedy team London Boots (though it should be noted that since the duo moved from late night to prime time, their humor has become less irreverent), which is Number 6 on the list, to "Shitteru Tsumori?," a historical biography showcase that is tied for fourth place on the "approved" list.

Another indication that the survey is less than reliable is the positioning of "Shimura Ken no Baka Tonosama" at Number 9 on the disapproved list. As far as I know, this show, which features veteran comedian Ken Shimura, has been off the air for years now except for occasional seasonal specials.

The reason his name is mentioned is that most of the parent-respondents remember him from The Drifters, a comedy group who were, in their own way, the London Boots of the '70s. In fact, many present boomers think that the Three Stooges-like slapstick of the Drifters encouraged bullying, since part of their shtick was persecuting weaker types. Today's parents don't want their kids watching Ken Shimura because their parents didn't want them to watch him.

The thing is, Ken Shimura, as well as the rest of the surviving Drifters, are now respectable show-biz fixtures. It's ironic, in fact, that "Takeshi no Banbutsu Soseiki" is on the approved list. Ten years ago, Beat Takeshi would have probably wound up on the disapproved list more than once, and definitely for "Genki ga Deru TV," the show that took the Drifters' adolescent irreverence to new heights of mindlessness. The fact that Takeshi has made the leap from parental pariah to role model says more about his attitude than it does about society's in general.

Then again, Takeshi's show is a nature program, of which there are four on the approved list, thus proving that the violence typically found on animal shows is parentally acceptable. Predators catching and eating prey as well as unfortunate creatures falling victim to some form of natural or man-made disaster (not to mention mating habits) are considered OK for youngsters to watch because, well, that's life and you have to get used to it.

What we see on nature shows, however, is not exactly life in the raw (which is much duller). It is life as framed and exaggerated by TV. A lot of people -- kids and adults alike -- get off on wildlife shows because of the violence and sex. That's why the Discovery Channel's video series on predators and mating are perennial best sellers.

Obviously, parents want their kids to watch nonfiction programs. (The only fiction series on the approved list is the classroom drama "San-nen B-gumi Kinpachi Sensei," whose overwrought idealism is irrelevant to most Japanese adolescents' high school experience.) That would seem to mean that they want their kids to know what life is really about. So the fact that "Aisuru Futari, Wakareru Futari" ended up Number 1 on the disapproved list makes no sense at all.

"Aisuru" was the infamous program in which couples contemplating divorce discussed their problems with a panel of celebrities. Dime doesn't say whether the survey was conducted before or after the show was canceled because it was found that some couples were ringers. In any event, it seems parents don't want their kids watching married couples airing their dirty laundry on TV, but if I were a parent I think I'd make my kid watch it. It has more relevant things to teach about the mating habits of humans than any nature program on NHK.

What could be more educational?



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