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Culture

Issue: "The Man Behind the Duck," July 26, 1997

Tonga's cyber-admonitions

The proliferation of the World Wide Web has meant that many of the good names for websites have already been taken. In the United States, the ".com" suffix, for commercial users, is vastly over-populated. But the different nations of the world have their own internet domains, so that France is ".fr" and Estonia is ".ee." The web, being worldwide, has no national boundaries, so a site registered under a foreign domain is just as accessible as any other. The tiny Pacific island of Tonga is raising revenue by allowing foreigners to register sites using their ".to" domain. For $100 and a visit to the Tongan Network Information Center at http://www.tonic.to, web architects can stake out just about whatever names they choose (including supposedly clever combinations, such as "fly.to" and "burri.to"). Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Gullichsen, who helped set up the scheme run out of Tonga's San Francisco consulate, points out that "There are well over 900,000 domains registered in .com. But in .to, all the good names are still available." But there is one catch. Like many third-world countries-and unlike modern-day America-Tonga is a strongly Christian country. When people try to register a name that is obscene or improper, a pointed message goes straight to their screens: "You filthy minded pervert! The Kingdom of Tonga admonishes you. Now go back and think of a name that you wouldn't be embarrassed to say to your mother."

Boycotting the mouse

The Disney corporation recalled 100,000 CDs by the rock group Insane Clown Posse. The obscenity-filled recording, produced by Disney subsidiary Hollywood Records, was pulled because, in the words of a company statement, it contained lyrics that were "inappropriate for a product released under any label of our company." Since the lyrics had earlier been approved and the decision to pull the release from the shelves came only one day after the Southern Baptists announced their boycott of the company, many observers believe Disney was responding to the pressure and trying to bolster its tarnished "family values" image. At any rate, Baptists have been the target of much scorn for just saying "no" to Disney. Since the megacorporation owns much of America's entertainment industry-from ABC and ESPN to major league sports franchises and a plethora of movie and recording studios-many are saying the boycott is impossible. Those who refuse to go to Disneyland, the charge goes, but watch a baseball game on cable would be hypocrites (as if boycotts must be absolute before they are meaningful). The Baptist boycott has already had the impact of calling Disney's wholesome image into question. The movie Hercules is taking some hits at the box office as well. Most important, more conservative Christians are now calling America's pop culture into question, instead of uncritically embracing it. Many evangelicals-in music, worship, publishing, and theology-have sold out to the pop culture, with its anti-biblical values and entertainment mentality. In challenging Disney, the Baptists are also challenging American Christians and their too-easy accommodation to the world.

Truth in labeling

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The television networks-with the possibility of one notable exception-have responded to pressure from parents and Congress to revise their rating system, so that it will be descriptive of the actual content of the programs. The new system will retain the age-based categories of TV-Y7 (for children under 7), -G (for anyone), -PG (requiring parental guidance), -14 (for children over 14), and -MA (for mature audiences only). But in addition, the new ratings will add the letters V (for violence), FV (for fantasy violence, as in the slapstick of cartoons), L (for bad language), and D (for sexually suggestive dialogue). For example, a sitcom might be rated TV-PG, D, telling the parent that the program requires parental guidance because of its sexual innuendos. An action show might be rated TV-PG, VL, meaning that it contains violence and bad language. Parents concerned about their children's being exposed to sex on TV will thus be able to forbid their children from watching anything with an S or a D in its rating. The rating system will also be strengthened by the addition of an independent board of five people, a majority of whom are parents, who will review programs to see that they have been rated properly. The changes were the result of intense negotiations between the television industry and members of Congress. In return for the new content-based system, Congressional officials agreed not to regulate TV programs by mandating a rating system or requiring a certain number of family-friendly programs. ABC, CBS, and Fox have reportedly agreed to the plan. Significantly, however, NBC-home of some of the more controversial sitcoms-still objects and may continue with the old system, which is scheduled to be replaced in October.

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