Tim Winter talks about how the media industry targets children and teens, and how even what parents watch on TV and click online will influence what is produced in the future for themselves and their children.
TRACI GRIGGS: This is Family Policy Matters, a weekly radio show and podcast from NC Family, designed to better inform listeners about the critical issues of the day and encourage you to be voices of persuasion for family values in your communities.
Today we bring you part two with a two-part show with Tim Winter, Presient of Parents Television Council.
TIM WINTER: So, your question is about: Is this really a thing where some of these programs are slipping content in that most parents would think is vile? The answer is “Yes,” and they have a constitutional First Amendment right to produce this type of content. But I think it is outrageous that a publicly traded corporation like Netflix would market and profit, they would profit from children who watch a show that is now being linked to increased rates of suicide of children.
TRACI GRIGGS: Wow. I’ve seen that show, 13 Reasons Why, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. One of my biggest concerns is how the revenge that she gets really aggrandizes suicide. It’s like, yes, if you are to commit suicide, look at how you’ll get back at all those people who hurt you. And, of course, we know that’s just unrealistic to portray suicide in that way. I think this—we could probably agree—that this message is incidental in this particular instance. It’s a hurtful message, but I can’t imagine that Netflix, or anyone who produced it, their goal was to get more kids to commit suicide. But what about some of these people who are putting messages in that are specifically designed to sway kids to think differently about things that may disagree with what their parents believe?
TIM WINTER: I’ve worked in Hollywood now for almost four decades and what I’ve learned is that while nobody in Hollywood, I don’t think, wakes up in the morning thinking: Gosh, how can I hurt children? What they do is: “How can I get more people across the country, around the world, to agree with me, to think the way I think, to believe the way I believe, to hold similar values as the values I hold? And I’ve even spoken with producers, creators of some pretty explicit content here in Hollywood, who may not have understood the impact they really have at a younger age. But as they mature, they realize: Wow, I really do have an impact or a way to shape values, to shape culture. The ability to shape culture in Hollywood is huge.
It’s not that you see one show and then children go off and act in a certain way, but when it’s repeated, you know, it’s like the old constant beating of the drum, it wears you down. When children, especially, who are so vulnerable to content/entertainment, having it help shape their values, when they become desensitized to certain themes, they see that while their parents may think that x, y, or z is bad, if the entertainment media culture is saying that x, y and x is not bad, and that’s the way most other people think, then it causes a child especially, but even adults, it causes us to think, well, maybe I was wrong about that, or maybe my parents were wrong about that and what they think is bad is really okay.
That’s kind of how Hollywood is able to do that. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s not intentional, It just happens to be, for lack of a better term, consensus, that a lot of shows might contain similar content. So, I don’t think it is always by design—sometimes it’s by design—but there is so much content out there that asks us to think similarly. It requires a parent keeping on top of things and making sure that the parent can communicate with the child about what those messages are.
TRACI GRIGGS: You mentioned adults and how it can have an influence on them as well. I sometimes think as adults, we give ourselves a pass. It’s like, well my values are set, my ideology is strong, I can subject myself to some of this and not be influenced by it. But I think sometimes we’re wrong about that, aren’t we?
TIM WINTER: Yeah. What’s interesting is this type of issue cuts across every political belief on the spectrum of political beliefs. You have folks from every angle […] of the political spectrum that hold beliefs and they try to use media to encourage people to think their way politically. I think it’s more political than it is on the social side. But the reality is that even adults are impacted by what they see in the entertainment media. When you look at how entertainment paid for, primarily it’s advertising. I think the number was $80 billion last year that was spent on television in the United States by advertisers. Eighty billion dollars across broadcast and cable and local and national television. Eighty billion dollars was spent to change the behavior of the viewer. Nobody spent a dollar on advertising expecting that their commercial would not: change their views on something, go buy a new product, go on a trip that they weren’t gonna go on, buy a car they wouldn’t have otherwise, you know, a different type of car. So, the ability to influence the viewer doesn’t end when the TV commercial is over, and the show comes back on. The ability to influence a viewer is while the TV set is on and people are watching. There is an impact that’s happening. And so whether that’s a child—we know from scientific evidence, academic proof, and a parent’s instinct that when it’s a child there is an increased impressionability—But we also, as adults, we are shaped by what we see on TV. We hold beliefs based upon what we see in the media that we either believe to be true, or we’re thinking is to be reasonably true. Sometimes we can cognitively dismiss things we believe are untrue, but we are shaped by what we see. And it’s important for parents also to set a good example for themselves and for their kids about you making good media consumption choices.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, you mentioned ads, and of course if you watch Netflix or Hulu, there are no ads. But that doesn’t mean that what we’re watching is not influencing the kinds of other products or entertainment that’s going to be produced, right? How are we kind of voting by watching things on some of these streaming services?
TIM WINTER: Well, that’s one thing. When we were campaigning against the 13 Reasons Why show over the last year or so, we actually asked at the shareholder meeting—We own stock in corporations, and so we ask the CEOs and the Boards of Directors of publicly-traded companies to defend their actions publicly for things that they do that we believe might be harmful to children. We asked the CEO of Netflix at the shareholder meeting—we had to submit a prepared question, but he read it. The question was: How could you possibly justify 13 Reasons Why? And he said: Well, it’s a popular show and nobody has to watch it if they don’t want to. We thought that was a very arrogant answer. Of course, nobody has to watch it if they don’t want to. But the problem is, children are watching. Parents are totally unaware and children are watching, and some children are taking steps to hurt themselves after they do so. So, just because they don’t have advertisements that are supposed to pay for the content and influence the behavior of the viewer, the reality is that the shows do have an impact. I was with the creator of TV programming not that long ago […] and he was dismayed that many children today believe that when they see history and science depicted on TV, that they believe it to be real. And he’s somebody who believes in education. And he was deeply disappointed that kids today seem to believe that what they see on TV in terms of history and science is what’s real. And so even though you have platforms that have no advertising whatsoever, the content of the show is helping to shape views, especially for children, but even for adults.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right, and I think it’s also important for us to realize, as adults, that when we watch things, there are people that are taking note. So, if we watch a lot of a certain show, Netflix, Hulu sees that that’s popular, they’ll do more of that, you know? And when we click on things on YouTube, when we watch things, we don’t think anybody knows what we’re watching. Well, they’re people that are watching and they’re taking note and we’re basically voting by watching those things. So, I think that’s important for adults to understand, even after the kids go to bed, that you are influencing just by clicking on something, what’s going to be produced potentially next year.
TIM WINTER: That’s a very important observation you’re making. You know, when people think they’re watching something on their computer or on the cable in the privacy of their own home, your Internet provider knows what websites you go to. Your cable company knows what channels you’re watching. You know, they keep that information to themselves but they know exactly what you’re watching and that will trigger them to market more content just like that to you. And it will encourage folks like Netflix to produce and distribute more content like that to you as well. So I really commend that observation.
TRACI GRIGGS: So just to wrap up, what are some takeaways for parents who are listening to this as far as what they need to be mindful of in regard to what their kids are accessing entertainment wise?
TIM WINTER: The most important thing, if we were to say, what’s the takeaway of our time here today? And I’m grateful for this time with you. A couple of things: First and foremost, parents, you need to be aware of what your children are consuming. You are so careful about the food that they’re eating. You’re careful about being safe: Safety is so important—making sure that their seat belt is buckled. You do so many things to make sure your children are healthy and safe. It must extend into the media consumption of your children. There’re decades of science that show this stuff can be harmful. Hollywood, when at it’s best, when it’s good, no one’s better. When they produce something positive and uplifting and inspiring, nobody’s better. But there’s an awful lot of stuff that’s really dangerous. The second part of that equation though is that you can’t fight city hall by yourself. You can’t fight Hollywood by yourself. That’s why the Parents Television Council is here. We have almost a million and a half members, people who have joined us at some point over our history because parents were concerned that children today are being thrown under the bus by Hollywood, that they’re collateral damage with explicit content that’s supposed to go to adults. The children are finding it easier and easier to be able to get ahold of that explicit content. The Parents Television Council is here to help you fight this fight, to help you navigate the choppy media waters of Hollywood. Come to our website, parentstv.org. You can learn. You can be more informed about media consumption for your family. We give you recommendations. We also help you raise your voice and be an activist. We must not sit back silently and allow for this explicit content to become even more explicit and even more marketed to our children. We have to step up, speak up, speak out and make sure that our kids are protected. It’s the innocence of a child. What can be more important when they’re developing in their cognitive abilities. Let children be children. Hollywood, you know, seemingly uncaring about that. But the Parents Television Council is here. Please come to our website, learn, become involved, become a member. It’s free. You can join your voice with ours and join our choir, and let’s sing out together because children are watching.
TRACI GRIGGS: Tim, what an inspiring and insightful conversation, and thank you very much for talking to us today.
TIM WINTER: Always a pleasure to be on the horn with you guys.
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