Friday, December 03, 2004

Trying to understand something here . . .

This story on NPR is about something that lots of blogs have been commenting on recently: a TV ad submitted to the several networks by the United Church of Christ that was rejected by NBC and CBS as being too controversial. The UCC's controversial stance, apparently, is its inclusivity at a time when the public perception of mainstream religion (as I note in this earlier post) is decidedly not one of inclusivity.
If you listen to the story and/or watch the ad, you'll see that two bouncers at the door of a church deny entrance to a gay couple--this moment, in the eyes of the networks, is the cause of the controversy. NBC and CBS both rejected the ad for the same basic reason: they reject what they call "advocacy ads." But CBS also, in its rejection, added the additional reason that the "Executive Branch" had recently offered its support to a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. As the NPR story has the president of the UCC note, CBS's wording suggests that the network has its finger in the political winds and has decided that an ad that implicitly challenges the current administration's positions would be a risky act: self-censorship, in other words (which is not to say that there should NOT be decency standards of some sort on the broadcast networks). It could also be, given the fiasco of the forged National Guard documents that Dan Rather claimed were authentic and showed that President Bush had received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard, that CBS wanted to avoid yet another impression that it has a "liberal" agenda and/or is out to attack Bush. Maybe--that last is my speculation.
NBC's rejection, though, is harder to understand, and I can sum up my confusion in two words and an ampersand: Will and Grace. True, Will's family and their unease with his homosexuality is sometimes used as a plot device, but the show clearly approves of his sexual orientation. The show, in fact, seems to me to be as much an implicit advocation of openness and tolerance as the UCC ad is explicit in stating same. I suppose that somewhere there exists in the network's policies a distinction made between advocacy and entertainment, but clearly art advocates, implicitly or ex-, ways of thinking about the world--which, of course, is a kind of politics as well.
But the real crux here, it seems to me, is this: that the rejection of the UCC ad is not a healthy sign for religion and its right to offer dissenting views in public forums. I'm not quite to the point of saying that conservative Christians are thinking of themselves as a state church but, judging by this story, it seems clear that a chill is in the air as regards some denominations' feeling comfortable in expressing their stances on the issues of the day, and that is not a good thing. It also seems, in the case of NBC, that its rejection of the ad on the one hand and its continuing renewal of Will & Grace on the other is a contradiction that I, simpleton that I am, find difficult to reconcile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the term 'advocacy' (and since I have very little idea of what passes for normal on American TV, and don't watch Will & Grace if I can help it, perhaps I'm not very well equipped to be opining on this subject, so if I can curb my verbosity, this will just be a short comment), but to me an 'advocacy ad' would be an advertisement that tried to persuade you to do or think something specific. Which, again, if I'm not mistaken, is the point of all advertising. Perhaps NBC are uncomfortable with the idea of religion being a marketable product? I mean, I am, but that sort of thing is pretty much unheard of over here.
But somehow I don't think that's it. Presumbably, as you say, the 'advocacy' is not on the part of the advert, so much as on the part of the tv station that chooses to broadcast it.

It's all about what you seem to be saying, regardless of whether or not you actually are (as an aside: I heard recently of an academic who was told to remove the word 'niggardly' from his book because it might be misconstrued. If that's not dumbind down, I don't know what is!). The UCC advert may be about tolerance and openness, but if it seems to be about gay marriage to too many people then that's what it's about and consequently that's what NBC are about. Until Will gets married, W&G is just a harmless sit-com in the minds of most people.

This is actually quite a scary concept to me. I mean, as I said, I am uncomfortable with adverts like these, but in the same way as I'm uncomfortable with party-political broadcasts. Now if NBC had suddenly decided to refuse to air the Republican Party election campaign adverts, that would have been something. "Sorry, we don't want it to look like we're Republicans, now do we?" But of course that would have been ridiculous. As long as they give fair airplay to both sides, they're untouchable. By refusing to broadcast the UCC advert, however, they seem to be taking an overt stance against gay marriage, because if they hadn't kicked up such a fuss about it, no-one would have noticed (unless they manifestly only showed that one).

So much for the short comment, eh?