Dear Mary Whitehouse: A few back-handed compliments from a concerned mother

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Indy Lifestyle Online
You were the joke bogey of my formative years. The ludicrous, finger-wagging mother who told us to stop having fun. Now you are retiring as president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, and allowing the flow of public immorality to overwhelm us. We will miss your passing, as we might an Aunt Sally who has been there for as long as we can remember, larger than life, standing patiently while we pelted her with coconuts - and never giving in.

But there are some things I have to thank you for. Would I, without your vigilance, have the freedom to let my eight-year-old daughter turn on the television, while I cook supper, without having first to check what she is watching? We take the nine o'clock filth threshold for granted, but without the redoubtable efforts of your association, the concerns of parents about their children's viewing might well have been overcome by the insistence of television's Young Turks that artistic licence and viewing figures are the top priorities.

Or perhaps things might have gone the other way. The presence of your army of the upright may well have turned out to be the most effective buffer we could possibly have devised against the adoption of more rigid censorship laws. And censorship is a blunt instrument that is too easily, and too often, used by those in control to prevent the flow of information to those who most need it.

Yet, even as I peel my potatoes without fear of the effects of television on young minds, I can't help thinking you got it all wrong. Your Christian insistence confused sexual pleasure with sexual exploitation; then you mixed it with a liberal sprinkling of foul language and blasphemy and dumped it into the same pot as violence.

By bracketing sex and violence you ensured the total opposition of everyone of liberal disposition. Everyone knows it's important to discuss social responsibility in mass entertainment, but it became impossible to talk about our growing unease at the spread of violent images without being accused of being pro-censorship and anti-sex and being subjected to ridicule by association. Now you have gone, perhaps it will be safe to come out of the closet and say, without fear of being thought to be against sex, that there can be no social, or artistic, justification for the ever-escalating level of violence in videos and films, in the lyrics of pop songs and in music promotion.

I never thought I would admit to agreeing with a word you have said, but I find that on one thing we stand together. The environment in which our children grow up is everyone's responsibility. It should not be up to individual parents to act as gatekeepers against the tide of violent images that are so readily available. Those who own and control the media do have a responsibility to uphold standards - sadly we would no doubt disagree on just whose standards they should uphold.

(Photograph omitted)

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