'CBS Reports' probe is really an electronic peep show
The scene is the homecoming football game at North Penn High School outside of Philadelphia. A group of young cheerleaders perform suggestive routines to the tune of "The Stripper," a typical burlesque accompaniment. "At my homecoming," says Harry Reasoner, "they played 'Pomp and Circumstance."
In essence, that represents both the findings and the conslusions of disturbing, shocking, sometimes distasteful survey of teen-age sexuality in America: "CBS Reports: Boys and Girls Together" (cbs, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., check local listings).
EXecutive producer Howard Stringer has brought together producer-director-writer Andrew Lack with correspondent Harry REAsoner to meander cross country investigating local teen sex mores and evolving attitudes and practices of the 11-to 16-year-olds. What they discovered is what researchers and social scientists have been telling us for years -- that the age level of active sexuality for large numbers of teen-agers has dropped considerably.
According to CBS Reports, it is estimated that 1 out of 5 teen-agers has had intercourse by the time they're 13 or 14 And around 1 million teen-age girls became pregnant last year.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this survey is the casual way in which many of the pregnant girls interviewed accept their approaching motherhood.
Say one expert: "These are not women -- there are little women. i call them children. And children having children are bad news. . . ."
But, aside from the health aspect and the cost aspect ($5 billion a year in welfare payments), there is the overwhelming moral aspect. And this is the area in which Mr. Rea soner and CBS are weakest.
Says the mother of a 16-year-old divorced mother in Arkansas: I don't think they're any more sexual than we were when we were kids. It's just that we had a moral standard to hold up to . . . to live up to."
Says a teacher of a course in sex education: "Some parents are kind of reluctant to do it [talk about sex with their children]. Some parents do a very poor job of it, and as a result it's being thrown back into the school. . . . The place it should be taught is in the home; it shouldn't be here in the school but out of necessity it is here." When he asks where else it might be taught, one student suggest the community church because "you can get standards what is right and wrong for your life, the way that you live." And then the subject is dropped.
Where are the church representatives to state their cases, help to find direction? Why did CBS choose to ignore such an obvious area of investigation?
Instead, once again California's Marin County is involved in a calculated invasion of privacy.
Says the father: "there are really no rules any more as far as adult behavior. Probably 50 percent of the people within a square mile of our homes are divorced and remarried a second or third time. The community pressure that used to keep families together is . . . gone. So there are really no rules as far as how adults behave any longer. So, I think that our teen-agers are looking at adults that they always looked up to and see that there are no rules for the adults. So, therefore, there are no rules for teen-agers any more. And so each teen-ager has to struggle in a world where there are no rules and determine, 'What is my moral commitment, what are my commitments to my family, what are my commitments to the community that I live in?" And when you have no rules, each kid can go off in a different direction . . . and be right."m
Perhaps those last three words are the real clue.Perhaps so easily acceding to the judgment of the adolescent is where the basic trouble lies. "Boys and Girls Together" doesn't hesitate to take viewers, with self-serving glee, on a electronic peep show of teen-age bikini contests and other practices that promote a distorted vision of American sexuality.
Says one of the Arkansas doctors pointedly: "Some of it is the media's fault. I think these children sit back and see TV and they say, 'Well, that's great for the adult; let's have a little bit of the action ourselves.' They can't listen to rock and roll and not hear suggestive passages. The whole climate these days is sexually oriented."
One wonders if perhaps a television documentary such as this one serves merely to become self-fulfilling, indulging in exactly the same kind of mass exposure which it implies is partially the cause of the nation's pre-adolescent attitude toward sexuality.
When Harry Reasoner reaches a conclusion, it is probably one of the most depressing conclusions to a documentary I have viewed in a long time:
"We've looked at teen-age pregnancy, at sex education, at our adult attitudes toward sexuality. We are now at the point in a broadcast where the idea is to have some kind of upbeat ending. We couldn't think of any."
Considering the fact that no new information is forthcoming, no new solutions even suggested, might not the answer have been to do more research with theologians, sociologists, and other experts rather than go on air with a well-meaning, entertaining, but in the long run titillating show?