BOSTON — Most parents would be outraged if a stranger spouted off cuss words and sexual innuendos in the presence of their children.
But it happens every day- mostly unchecked and unnoticed - right in their own homes.
Television programs like "NYPD Blue," "Party of Five," and "Dawson's Creek" often spew foul language. Yet, many kids watch with their parent's consent.
One man thinks he's come up with a contraption that will make most TV watching family-friendly. Arkansas inventor Rick Brey has developed the TVGuardian: The Foul Language Filter.
TVG is a small black box that connects between your VCR and TV. It scans the closed captions embedded inside TV signals and searches for offensive words. When it finds one, it drops the volume quickly, then raises it back up.
An optional feature lets viewers see a captioned euphemism of the censored words. It substitutes in words like "jerk," "crud," and "go away," for instance. "Casual sex" turns into "casual hugs."
Mr. Brey invented the TVG because he grew tired of watching TV with his children and hearing bad language, "that would have otherwise been good family entertainment.
"Words that were once reserved for R-rated movies are now common in PG and PG-13 movies and on TV," he says.
TVG has two settings, tolerant and strict. The strict setting is designed to filter out words some consider mildly offensive, such as "butt" and "sucks." It also filters some phrases such as "Oh my, God!"
TVG tries to determine usage, but it is not always possible: "Oh, my God!" could be used in prayer or as an exclamatory phrase, which is offensive to many people. Therefore, the tolerant mode allows the mildly offensive words and also allows the references to God, Jesus, and Christ, except when blatantly used in vain. Both settings also filter racial slurs, certain body parts, and references to sex and sexual orientations. Again, the word "hugs" is substituted for "sex."
Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson believes TVG is beneficial because it gives people control over the content of what they watch.
"The TVGuardian is a good idea because it allows parents - and not the government - to monitor and censor what kids watch on TV," he says. "Ordinary people should have more control over their media intake."
Most of the time the TVG does what it was intended to do. But a few glitches occur when the captioned euphemism feature is activated. These glitches often prove comical: TVG changes "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to "The Jerk Van Gay Show." And TVG also stumbles over certain words with multiple meanings. "Screw is a difficult word," Bray says.
TVG's biggest problem, however, is that it doesn't work on channels that aren't closed-captioned. MTV can't be filtered, so adult-content shows such as "Love Line" and "The Real World" are in the clear. But almost all commercial tapes are captioned and TVG's main target is PG and PG-13 movies like "Home Alone" and "Men In Black." "It's hard to find a video that isn't closed-captioned," he says.
Brey has sold some 2,500 TVGs, which retail for around $150 per unit. He says that about 60 percent of the TVGs have been sold to members of the Church of Latter-day Saints in Utah.
"If you don't want your kids to cuss," Bray says, "don't set a bad example by letting them watch movies and TV shows filled with foul language."
For more information call 888-799-4TVG or check out tvguardian.com. John Christian Hoyle's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org