Oh, it's a beaut, the PTC ad. I've spotted it repeatedly in The New York Times, although I'm told it runs in other metropolitan dailies also. You may have seen it. There's a priceless head shot of comedian and 'honorary chairman' Steve Allen, who attempts to smile bravely but is obviously suffering. It would make a great 'before' picture in an ad for Preparation H. However, it turns out that Mr. Allen's pain is caused by "coarse humor" on several channels of his cable system. He has also seen TV programs with "violence" and "pre-marital sex" that could be wending their way into "children's bedrooms" right now! And it's Madison Avenue's fault, really. You see, the heads of the companies that advertise on TV "are fine people," notes Mr. Allen, and for once he's not kidding. "Many are parents and grandparents. The trouble is they've been letting their ad agencies and others decide which programs to sponsor and they are unaware of the harm they are doing."
So now you know. Advertisers: clueless about where their ads run, but fine folks, with kids and grandkids. Ad agency people: sneaky purveyors of smut, and presumably childless.
Of course, as a soldier in the new culture wars, Mr. Allen is in good company. New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is currently trying to evict the Brooklyn Museum of Art, for daring to show artworks from adman Charles Saatchi's collection that Hizzonner deemed offensive. There are also attempts by parents' groups in at least five states to have school districts ban the Harry Potter children's books. That's because some of the plots involve sorcery. And, back in the ad world, a local anti-porn campaign in Memphis warns of the "lifethreatening" nature of dirty pictures. One spot shows footage of serial killer Ted Bundy's final interview, in which he alleges that his death row buddies were once avid consumers of porn. (The implication seems to be that there's a causal link between seeing sex pictures and becoming a violent criminal, although one person involved in the campaign told me that's not what they meant: "Not everyone who uses pornography enters a life of crime. In fact, only a small percentage of persons do so." Hey, thanks for clarifying. I'd hate to see Pee-wee Herman end up on the electric chair.)
What these busybodies appear to have in common is a desire to determine what everyone else should be allowed to see and read. Take the Harry Potter books: A parent surely has the right to decide what his or her own child may read -- just not the right to control what other people's children may read.
Still, I'm not tarring all the fingerwaggers with one brush. The Parents Television Council and the Memphis porn fighters are exercising their First Amendment rights without necessarily seeking to restrict those of others. The same cannot be said for the would-be book banners, nor for Mr. Giuliani, whose actions in the Brooklyn museum case are not just laughable but unconstitutional, as the courts will affirm.
As for Mr. Allen, he once proudly featured Jack Kerouac and Lenny Bruce (Lenny Bruce!) on his show. Whoa. You have to wonder how many kids slid irretrievably