Cover image for Vulgarians at the gate : trash TV and raunch radio : raising the standards of popular culture
Vulgarians at the gate : trash TV and raunch radio : raising the standards of popular culture
Allen, Steve, 1921-2000.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
419 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1992.6 .A38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PN1992.6 .A38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1992.6 .A38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1992.6 .A38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



As a key player in the creative excellence that made TV's Golden Age so memorable, Steve Allen is disgusted and outraged by what he sees on television today. Whereas talent and quality were the benchmarks of the early years of television and radio, pandering to the lowest common denominator in pursuit of advertising dollars and audience share is the main focus of today's programmers and performers.

More disturbing than the issue of artistic quality is the effect that such low cultural standards are having on our children. Every day America's youth is being exposed to hideously inappropiate speech and behavior by role models in TV, film, radio, and the music industry. Concern about this crass promotion of sexuality and violence to children is not just an obsession of the religious right. A growing number of people in the entertainment industry, as well as citizens from all walks of life, are disturbed by the coarsening of American entertainment with its glorification of violence and casual, no-consequences sex.

To fight this slide toward Gomorrah a campaign called "The Parents Television Council" has been launched, the goal of which is to improve the quality of television and all other facets of the entertainment industry. As honorary chairman, Steve Allen describes not only what the council is doing to raise our cultural standards, but more importantly what all concerned citizens can do to help. Allen argues against complacency; adults may ignore the content of television programming and other entertainment, but children are certainly paying attention and imbibing the not-so-subtle violent and sexually charged messages.

The question, says Allen, is: What kind of a society will we bequeath to our children, one dominated by media conglomerates that push anything for a quick buck, or one that reflects the highest standards of our heritage? It's up to us to do something about it, to raise a chorus of protest that echoes the words of the TV anchorman from Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Author Notes

Steve Allen (1921-2000) was known as television's renaissance man. He authored more than fifty books and composed over 8,500 songs. Allen was the original creator and host of the award-winning PBS series Meeting of Minds.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

At the forefront of television's Golden Age in the 1950s, Allen reigned for decades as a top TV comedian. However, his serious side has always been evident in his 54 books from his autobiographical Mark It and Strike It (1960) to Ripoff: The Corruption That Plagues America (1979). In recent years, Allen became increasingly disturbed by the entertainment industry's declining cultural standards and "the general ugliness and immorality of much of popular culture." He made his position clear in letters, lectures and articles and by serving as the honorary chairman of the 600,000-member Parents Television Council. Here, he conducts an "admittedly unscientific study of modern television programming," yet offers an array of statistics, survey findings and clippings to back up his assertions targeting TV writers, programmers, performers, network executives and corporate giants. Tracing a pattern of denial, he moves on to "late night raunch," public-access channels ("actual pornography of the most explicit sort"), "family-friendly" sponsors responsible for sending prime-time "depravity into the home" and violence in children's programming. At the core of the book are lengthy attacks on Madonna, Howard Stern, Jerry Springer and rap music. Dismissing "the suggestion that networks can police themselves," he concludes by surveying such solutions as letters, picketing, boycotts and religion. An appendix lists 21 key organizations. (Apr. 15) Forecast: Allen undoubtedly would have promoted this book had he lived to see it published (he died last October at age 78). Still, his name and credibility will attract attention. Current controversies on media sex and violence could put this title in the spotlight, and word-of-mouth among members of conservative organizations like the Dove Foundation will fuel sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One THE PROBLEM Like a child acting outrageously naughty to see how far he can push his parents, mainstream television this season is flaunting the most vulgar and explicit sex, language, and behavior that it has ever sent into American homes. --New York Times, April 1998 Can you find more than an hour-and-a-half of TV that you'd want your kids [to watch]? --Susan Sarandon On Wednesday, July 21, 1999, an important blow was struck for responsibility and decency when the following appeal was publicly announced by a group of respected leaders at a media conference in our nation's capital: American parents today are deeply worried about their children's exposure to an increasingly toxic popular culture. The events in Littleton, Colorado, are only the most recent reminder that something is deeply amiss in our media age. Violence and explicit sexual content in television, films, music, and video games have escalated sharply in recent years. Children of all ages now are being exposed to a barrage of images and words that threaten not only to rob them of normal childhood innocence but also to distort their view of reality and even undermine their character growth. These concerns know no political or partisan boundaries. According to a recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, 76 percent of adults agree that TV, movies, and popular music are negative influences on children, and 75 percent report that they make efforts to protect children from such harmful influences. Nearly the same number say shielding children from the negative influences of today's media culture is "nearly impossible." Moreover, there is a growing public appreciation of the link between our excessively violent and degrading entertainment and the horrifying new crimes we see emerging among our young: schoolchildren gunning down teachers and fellow students en masse, killing sprees inspired by violent films, and teenagers murdering their babies only to return to dance at the prom. Clearly, many factors are contributing to the crisis--family disintegration, ineffective schools, negligent parenting, and the ready availability of firearms. But, among researchers, the proposition that entertainment violence adversely influences attitudes and behavior is no longer controversial; there is overwhelming evidence of its harmful effects. Numerous studies show that degrading images of violence and sex have a desensitizing effect. Nowhere is the threat greater than to our at-risk youth--youngsters whose disadvantaged environments make them susceptible to acting upon impulses shaped by violent and dehumanizing media imagery. In the past, the entertainment industry was more conscious of its unique responsibility for the health of our culture. For thirty years, television lived by the National Association of Broadcasters [NAB] Television Code, which detailed responsibilities to the community, children, and society and prescribed specific programming standards. For many years, this voluntary code set boundaries that enabled television to thrive as a creative medium without causing undue damage to the bedrock values of our society. In recent years, several top entertainment executives have spoken out on the need for minimum standards and, more recently, on the desirability of more family-friendly programming. But to affect real change, these individual expressions must transform into a new, collective affirmation of social responsibility on the part of the media industry as a whole. We, the undersigned, call on executives of the media industry--as well as CEOs of companies that advertise in the electronic media--to join with us and with America's parents in a new social compact aimed at renewing our culture and making our media environment more healthy for our society and safer for our children. We call on industry leaders in all media--television, film, video, and electronic games--to band together to develop a new voluntary code of conduct, broadly modeled on the NAB code. The code we envision would affirm in clear terms the industry's vital responsibilities for the health of our culture; establish certain minimum standards for violent, sexual, and degrading material for each medium, below which producers can be expected not to go; commit the industry to an overall reduction in the level of entertainment violence; ban the practice of targeting of adult-oriented entertainment to youth markets; provide for more accurate information to parents on media content; commit to the creation of "windows" or "safe havens" for family programming, including a revival of TV's "family hour"; and, finally, pledge significantly greater creative efforts to develop family-oriented entertainment. We strongly urge parents to express their support for this voluntary code of conduct directly to media executives and advertisers with telephone calls, letters, faxes, or e-mails and to join us at And we call on all parents to fulfill their part of the compact by responsibly supervising their children's media exposure. We are not advocating censorship or wholesale strictures on artistic creativity. We are not demanding that all entertainment be geared to young children. Finally, we are not asking government to police the media. Rather, we are urging the entertainment industry to assume a decent minimum of responsibility for its own actions and take modest steps of self-restraint. And we are asking parents to help in this task by taking responsibility for shielding their own children and also by making their concerns known to media executives and advertisers. Hollywood has an enormous influence on America, particularly the young. By making a concerted effort to turn its energies to promoting decent, shared values and strengthening American families, the entertainment industry has it within its power to help make an America worthy of the third millennium. We, as leaders from government, the religious community, the nonprofit world, and the private sector, along with members of the entertainment community, challenge the entertainment industry to this great task. We appeal to those who are reaping great profits to give something back. We believe that by choosing to do good, the entertainment industry can also make good, and both the industry and our society will be richer and better as a result. STEVE ALLEN, author, entertainer WILLIAM J. BENNETT, co-director, Empower       America DAVID BLANKENHORN, president, Institute   for American Values SISSELA BOK, distinguished fellow, Harvard       Center for Population and Development       Studies FREDERICK BORSCH, bishop, Episcopal Diocese       of Los Angeles BILL BRIGHT, founder and president, Campus       Crusade for Christ L. BRENT BOZELL III, chairman, Parents Television       Council THE REV. DR. JOAN BROWN CAMPBELL,       general secretary, National Council of       Churches SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-Kan.) JIMMY CARTER, former U.S. President LYNNE V. CHENEY, senior fellow, American       Enterprise Institute STEPHEN R. COVEY, co-founder and vice       chairman, Franklin Covey Co. MARIO CUOMO, former governor of New       York JOHN J. DiJULIO JR., professor of politics,       University of Pennsylvania PAMELA EAKES, founder and president,       Mothers Against Violence in America DON EBERLY, director, the Civil Society Project AMITAI ETZIONI, professor, George Washington       University VIC FARACI, senior vice president, Warner       Brothers Records GERALD R. FORD, former U.S. President WILLIAM GALSTON, professor and director,       Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy,       School of Public Affairs, University of       Maryland ELIZABETH FOX-GENOVESE, professor of       humanities, Emory University MANDELL I. GANCHROW, M.D., president,       Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations NORTON GARFINKLE, chairman, Oxford       Management Corp. ROBERT P. GEORGE, professor of jurisprudence,       Princeton University GEORGE GERBNER, telecommunications professor,       Temple University, dean emeritus,       Annenberg School for Communications,       University of Pennsylvania PATRICK GLYNN, director, Media Social       Responsibility Project, George Washington       University OS GUINNESS, senior fellow, Trinity Forum ROBERT HANLEY, actor, writer, director;       founder and president Entertainment Fellowship STEPHEN A. HAYNER, president, InterVarsity       Christian Fellowship ANDY HILL, president of programming,       Channel One Network GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, professor emeritus       of history, City University of New York MARK HONIG, executive director, Parents       Television Council JAMES DAVISON HUNTER, professor of sociology       and religious studies, University of       Virginia KATHLEEN HALL-JAMIESON, dean and communications       professor, Annenberg School       for Communications, University of Pennsylvania SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHINSON (R-Tex.) REP. HENRY HYDE (R-Ill.) NAOMI JUDD, entertainer JACK KEMP, co-director Empower America SEN. JON KYL (R-Ariz.) RABBI DANIEL LAPIN, president, Toward       Tradition CAROL LAWRENCE, actress, singer SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-Conn.) SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-Ariz.) E. MICHAEL McCANN, district attorney,       Milwaukee County, Wisc. MICHAEL MEDVED, film critic, radio host THOMAS MONAGHAN, chair, Ave Maria       Foundation RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS, president, Institute       on Religion and Public Life ARMAND M. NICHOLI JR., M.D., associate       clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard       Medical School SAM NUNN, former U.S. senator from       Georgia NEIL POSTMAN, professor, New York University ALVIN POUSSAINT, M.D., director, Judge       Baker Children's Center, Boston GEN. COLIN L. POWELL (ret.) GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF (ret.) GLENN TINDER, professor emeritus of political       science, University of Massachusetts       C. DELORES TUCKER, chair, the National       Political Congress of Black Women JOAN VAN ARK, actress, producer, director JIM WALLIS, editor, Sojourners magazine;       leader, Call to Renewal Program DAVID WALSH, president, National Institute       on Media and the Family JERRY M. WIENER, professor emeritus of psychiatry       and pediatrics, George Washington       University ELIE WIESEL, professor of humanities, Boston       University JAMES Q. WILSON, professor emeritus, UCLA ALAN WOLFE, professor, Boston University DANIEL YANKELOVICH, president, the Public       Agenda     Although networks and production studios deny responsibility, their reasoning is no more complex than that which made the executives of America's tobacco companies lie through their teeth for decades when they were privately perfectly aware that their product was addictive and injurious to health as well. Even after it had been clearly established that well over 400,000 Americans were dying every year from the effects of tobacco smoke--with uncounted millions throughout the rest of the planet--the lying continued. Do not be confused, therefore, by the evasive denials now emanating from those who create and market our various forms of public entertainment.     Parents and other concerned adults are under a moral obligation to provide themselves with basic relevant information. For example, according to the A.C. Nielsen Company the average child (age 2 through 11) watches nearly four hours of television per day. In August 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under the age of two not be permitted to watch television at all, on the grounds that doing so deprives them of social interaction which is critical for early brain development. The same physicians' organization recommended that older children sleep in media-free bedrooms to reduce their exposure to questionable references. And yet more than half of all children in America have a television set in their bedrooms. A 1994 study by the Center for Media and Popular Culture reports an average of fifteen violent acts being televised per channel per hour between 6 A.M. and midnight, an increase of 41 percent in only four years. In his 1999 national address on media violence after the student massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, President Clinton reported that "by the time the typical American child reaches the age of eighteen, he or she has seen 200,000 dramatized acts of violence and 40,000 dramatized murders." And there are scores of reliable studies suggesting that television violence may contribute to aggressive behavior.     My purpose in writing this book, therefore, is to provide responsible adults with the ammunition they need to wage a successful cultural war for the attentive consciousness of America's children. (Continues...) Copyright © 2001 Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. 9
Introductionp. 13
1. The Problemp. 17
Do We Deserve Our Freedom?p. 32
Starting Pointp. 68
Troubled Countryp. 70
The Role of Network Executivesp. 73
A Cause That Is Neither Conservative Nor Liberalp. 77
Sumner Redstonep. 83
An Ironic Twistp. 85
Shasta McNastyp. 86
Pushing the Envelopep. 88
Shock-Jock Firedp. 89
Late Night Raunchp. 90
Pornography Availablep. 91
Just Shoot Mep. 93
Awards Showsp. 94
The Tabloidsp. 97
Peoriap. 101
Childrenp. 102
The Occasion of Sinp. 107
The Parents Television Councilp. 110
Reaction to Action Should Be Revulsionp. 114
Self-Policing of Popular Entertainmentp. 118
What Would You Think?p. 125
Weak Argumentp. 127
2. The Denial of Responsibilityp. 129
The Issue Is Misconstruedp. 130
The Fragility of Civilizationp. 133
Judgingp. 138
Influence of Media on Childrenp. 139
The Unabomberp. 142
Not Sexp. 144
Normalp. 146
Media Advisorsp. 150
The Suburbanization of Televisionp. 151
Sexual Harassmentp. 153
Advertisers Are Part of the Problemp. 154
Misplaced Industry Concernp. 159
Sen. Joe Liebermanp. 163
3. The Audience for Garbagep. 165
The Youngp. 166
Children's Programmingp. 171
Only Some Audiences Want Smutp. 173
4. The Offenders: A Closer Look at One Teen Idolp. 179
Madonnap. 180
Statement to Time-Warnerp. 213
5. Shock Jocks and Confrontation TV: Howard Stern and Jerry Springerp. 219
Howard Sternp. 220
Jerry Springerp. 239
6. Popular Music and Recordingsp. 243
Music and Violencep. 268
7. Violencep. 277
The Problem of Violencep. 278
Statisticsp. 288
Evading Responsibilityp. 289
Stop Teaching Our Kids to Killp. 292
8. Censorshipp. 303
Censorship/Humanismp. 317
An Ancient Legal Principlep. 319
9. Conclusionp. 323
The Print Mediap. 329
Pax Networkp. 337
The Function of a Parentp. 338
Questioning versus Simply Rejecting Authorityp. 340
Bertrand Russellp. 342
National Public Radiop. 345
Restraintsp. 346
Social Unrest and Delinquencyp. 350
Dove Foundation Studyp. 355
Better Alternativep. 358
Strengthening Moral Valuesp. 362
Humanitas Prizep. 365
The Power of a Letterp. 366
Picketing and Boycottsp. 368
The Religion Solutionp. 369
Distribute Literaturep. 370
Keep Filesp. 370
Jack Valenti on Teaching Morality in Schoolsp. 371
Federal Trade Commissionp. 372
More Good Newsp. 376
And Still Morep. 378
The Power of a Starp. 379
Appendix A Resource Organizationsp. 383
Appendix B Media Contactsp. 399
Recommended Readingp. 407
Indexp. 411