Parents Television Council's Dan Isett on MTV, Miley Cyrus, and Why They Object to Condom Commercials
The fallout from Miley Cyrus' performance at Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards has run the gamut from discomfort to laughter to accusations of racism and sexism. But only the Parents Television Council demands legislation result from her tasteless performance.
According to its news release issued Monday, this Los Angeles-based advocacy group believes MTV marketed adults-only material to children with its Video Music Awards and, according to the group's words, want "Congress to pass the Television Consumer Freedom Act which will give parents and consumers a real solution for future MTV VMA programs -- the ability to choose and pay for cable networks that they want vs. having to pay for networks they don't want."
New Times caught up with the Parents Television Council's director of public policy, Dan Isett, as he drove home from his Washington, D.C., office. We tried our hardest to get him to open up about when twerking might be appropriate, but not even Ali G would be able to get a humorous answer from this man.
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New Times: Tell us about the Parents Television Council.
Dan Isett: Sure. The PTC is a grass-roots organization with 1.3 million members. Our mission is pretty simple; it's to protect kids from sex, violence, and profanity in entertainment.
What specifically about the Miley Cyrus' performance offended you?
The issue is not necessarily her performance. The issue is what MTV did in terms of producing and distributing that content and moreover how it fits with its rating. The entire program was rated appropriate for a child over the age of 14. I think it's pretty clear that an awful lot of the content, not just Miley Cyrus' performance, but other things as well were really not appropriate for that age group. The problem is the rating of the material as well as the funding of MTV along with other stuff on cable TV is you don't have the free market opportunity to deselect that programming if you choose to.
Aren't you worried that more kids will have watched this online than on a cable broadcast?
That's certainly a cause for concern. Absolutely.
Are you guys doing anything as far as the internet?
I'm not sure what you mean. There's not an awful lot we can do. In a certain respect with content like that, we'd certainly recommend for commercial mainstream places that re-air it, like MTV's website in particular, that they'd put the same parental controls that the network does. Some broadcast members are starting to do that kind of thing, but to the best of my knowledge, MTV does not.
Are you worried by doing this interview and with your press release that you're giving MTV exactly what it wants with more publicity?
No. (Awkward silence.)
You don't think it's giving MTV more publicity by you expressing outrage?
I don't think you solve a problem by not saying something. If they want to think they benefited from this, that's fine. I don't operate under the auspice that all "publicity" is good publicity. I think there are a lot of examples where that hasn't been the case, and I would hazard a guess that after the last couple of days, MTV doesn't feel that way either.
Today I watched MTV for the first time in a long time to get ready for this interview, and at 4:55 in the afternoon, they were showing the Video Music Awards in its entirety, so they don't seem to be running from it.
They typically replay it about 20 times before they cut it.
What do you think is the worst-case scenario of kids coming home from school and watching this?
I'm not sure I understand the question.
My question is what is the Parents Television Council's concern of what will happen if kids see this program?
It speaks for itself. This is highly offensive for a great number of people. I don't think there's any question of that. That's why this has garnished so much attention. I think that's the bottom line of this whole discussion.
Obviously, you think kids shouldn't be seeing this, correct?
I think we've been pretty clear about that too.
What do you think will happen if kids do see this?
Again, I'm not sure I understand your question. This is sexually explicit content clearly not appropriate for the age group MTV has marketed it to and distributed to. I don't think it's that hard to figure out.
OK. I also saw in your press release you were unhappy about a condom commercial. What do you find offensive about condoms?
If you're going to rate a program as appropriate for a child, then I want to make sure you put the context of that statement under consideration before you address it. We also highlighted that there were rated-R movies advertised, something that was rated as inappropriate for a 14-year-old child. Theoretically a child can't go to a rated-R movie by themselves. So they were marketing products not intended for children on a show they rated as appropriate for children. That is the issue.
So the Parent Television Council's goal is to have the option not to have MTV on your cable plan. Are there other networks you'd like to not have?
That goes for any other network, not just MTV. The problem that you have with expanding basic cable is in order to get access to networks you do want to watch, you're forced to purchase an awful lot of content you don't want with content that's not appropriate for the family. So what we're saying is let the free market decide and let us pick and choose to pay for exactly what you want.
You watched the Video Music Awards?
Were there any parts you felt OK about? Were there any parts you enjoyed of the broadcast?
I think that's irrelevant to the discussion what I think about something.
I'm just asking for this to be an interesting interview for people to read.
Like I said, I think it's completely irrelevant what I thought was entertaining. That's not the purpose of why I was watching.
Why were you watching it?
(Awkward silence.) To see what MTV would actually broadcast on the show. This has been a pretty problematic program over the years, so it's my job to keep an eye on it.
So not for the twerking?
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