Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Bureaucratic burial," June 29, 2002

Quantity over quality?

Father may not know best anymore, but at least he's around. That may be the only good news we can glean from a Parents Television Council study released this month on the role of paternal characters on television shows. The study reviewed original prime-time programming during the 2001-2002 season, 119 shows in all. The PTC report starts with the "good" news: Father figures are present in most family settings. To be exact, "83 percent of all TV children have some sort of father figure involved in their lives." But the study employs a pretty ambiguous measurement. To have a "father figure" present in a sitcom or TV drama is one thing; to find anything approaching an admirable, or even constructive, portrayal of a "father figure" is another. To his credit, PTC chairman Brent Bozell seems to recognize this. While praising Hollywood for including fathers, he adds, "It would be better still to see a greater emphasis on the positive impact made by the millions of fathers who live with their children, and their wives, in a nuclear family." The problem with such studies is that numbers alone have a limited use in understanding and critiquing popular culture. For example, a study several years ago by another media watchdog organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, identified Walker, Texas Ranger as the most violent series program on television, with an average of 82 acts of violence per episode. There's no denying that Walker (now airing in reruns on USA, but a popular CBS program in its heyday) is violent. But very little of Walker's violence approaches the grisliness of many other mainstream TV shows, and outspoken conservative star and producer Chuck Norris brought a very different mindset than most to his show. There are very clear distinctions between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" on Walker-it is simplistic law-and-order, old West formula programming. The artistic merit of the show aside (there is little), to identify this kind of program with the larger problem of violence in the media comes very close to completely missing the point. So the fact that the "numbers" for fathers are strong doesn't necessarily say much. Judging from the current TV lineup, Hollywood may include so many fathers on TV because they are so easy to mock. There is probably no bigger sitcom stereotype than the idiot dad who "just doesn't get it." | Andrew Coffin

Between jobs

The 8.4-million-member United Methodist Church officially bans practicing homosexuals from serving as pastors. But it has no specific rule on so-called transgendered clergy. That could change, depending on the outcome of a Maryland case involving Rev. Rebecca Ann Steen. That's because the 47-year-old Ms. Steen was Rev. Richard Zamostny, pastor of a Rockville, Md., church (and a father and grandfather) until sex-change surgery in 1999. "She" took extended voluntary leave at that time. Now she wants to be reappointed to a church. Bishop Felton May of Washington, D.C., discussed the unusual case in a closed session with regional clergy and other church leaders this month. They placed Ms. Steen on involuntary leave while they decide what to do. -Edward E. Plowman

Not a knock-knock joke

The U.S. Supreme Court last week placed communities across the country on notice: If you adopt an anti-solicitation ordinance, take care not to violate free-speech rights. The high court ruled 8-1 that the tiny Ohio village of Stratton had worded its ordinance-intended mainly to protect its citizens from pushy salesmen and flim-flam artists-so broadly that it trashed the First Amendment. It required anyone doing door-to-door promotion of a product or "cause" (including church-sponsored visitation campaigns) to obtain a permit from the mayor's office first. Only Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented-on the grounds that such ordinances afford residents "a degree of accountability and safety." The case was almost as uncontroversial among interest groups as it was among the justices: Pro-religious-freedom groups welcomed the decision, as did groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State that seek to restrict religious expression. The decision overturned rulings by lower courts in a lawsuit filed by Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses, who engage extensively in door-to-door proselytism, had refused to apply for a permit in Stratton. | Edward E. Plowman

Schism over same-sex

The Diocese of New Westminster in southwest British Columbia this month became the first in the 760,000-member Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), the country's largest Protestant denomination, to sanction same-sex unions. Delegates to the diocesan synod (governing body) in Vancouver, representing 80 parishes, voted 215-129 to create a ritual to bless such unions. Following the vote, delegates from nine large parishes walked out in protest. The parishes account for nearly one-fourth of all ACC members in the diocese. Leaders of the dissidents (including renowned evangelical theologian J.I. Packer) said they would appeal to conservative primates in the worldwide Anglican Communion to provide "alternative" spiritual oversight. They also indicated they would explore launching a new entity alongside the diocese to be faithful to biblical values and historic Anglicanism. Diocesan bishop Michael Ingham, who backed the same-sex measure, threatened to lift the licenses of "mutinous" clergy. Other officials warned that departing congregations will have to leave their property and other assets behind. | Edward E. Plowman


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