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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

A Modest Proposal for V-Chip Expansion

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Common sense and good judgment are valuable and rare commodities these days. That's why we need to economize their use. The new "V-chip "does just that.

For the uninitiated, the "V-chip" is an electronic doohickey that might someday go into every TV set. When activated, it will prevent any "V-encoded program" from appearing on your TV. Television producers will be required to insert a little V-signal into all of their "violent" programming. The result will be a "violence-blocker" for those people who want one. In other words, a $50 replacement for the on/off switch.

They haven't worked out all the details yet, like what IS violence on TV and what isn't. They don't know if the news from Bosnia will be encoded. Or classic movies. Or even when Gilligan gets hit on the head with a coconut. But these are minor details -- as is the question of who's going to decide what's violent and what's not. Details. Details.

Congress has just passed -- and President Clinton has signed -- a bill requiring V-chip technology for all new TV sets. And I, too, want to hop on the bandwagon.

After all, trying to use your own mind to decide what's violent or not is a tiring exercise requiring thought and judgment. It would be much easier if we just installed this chip into all our TV's and let someone else make that decision for us. I mean, who would you rather trust -- Hollywood TV producers or yourself? This "individual judgment" thing can be carried too far.

If it means that we won't ever again be able to watch "Mutiny on the Bounty" (floggings), "Casablanca" (killing at the end), "High Noon"(gunfight), "Julius Caesar" (assassination) or any more of a thousand classic films, well . . . that's a small price to pay for violence-free entertainment. Slapstick will be out, as will much comedy (even slipping on a banana peel and falling down on your rear end is a kind of violence, isn't it?). Most westerns and crime dramas will be gone.

Being bored to death will be a part of that small price we'll pay for our brave new world of non-violent TV.

Look, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but I will. The importance of the V-chip lies not so much in what it will do, but in the doors it will open. It's merely the tip of the iceberg, the first in a whole series of chips. My scientist friends have confided to me that right now they're working on other (and much more valuable) program-blocking chips.

Yes, soon every TV sold in America will be sold with various chips inside, designed to block out what you may find offensive, worthless, or stupid. My sources tell me that the Vanna chip, the Manilow chip and the Roseanne chip will be standard equipment on every TV sold. But you'll also be able to order (and install yourself) a soap opera chip, a commercial chip, or a Mighty Morphin chip. There will be chips to block out news (the Rather chip), talk shows (the Geraldo chip), and sporting events (the Cosell chip).

Some premium chips will block out more than one program. They'll cost more, but be worth it. For example, the "Stooges chip" will block both the Three Stooges AND coverage of the Congress. The game show chip will save you from both "The Price is Right" AND the OJ Simpson trial. The tortoise chip will block any multi-part mini-series AND coverage of Town Meeting.

In fact, if ordered properly, you'll be able to buy a brand-new TV set which won't receive any programming at all!

Now isn't that the kind of television programming we all want? It may take some time and be very expensive, but again -- it's a small price to pay to protect us from ourselves.

Later, I'll give you the details on a new optical chip to be implanted in eyeglasses (or retinas) which will block out any printed text a reader may not want to see. It's an effort to improve on the age-old idea of "blinders."

In our attempts to economize the use of intelligence and good judgment, these are ideas whose time has come.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.