Block that TV sex and violence

The V-chip arrived yesterday. Does anybody care?

With great fanfare in 1996 Congress mandated that this TV program-blocking technology must begin to be put into sets manufactured after July 1, 1999. Combined with a ratings system for TV shows, the chip would allow parents to shelter children from programs with inappropriate sexual or violent content.

The Washington Post did give the topic page 1 attention this week. But only to report that Americans' response to the V-chip seemed to range somewhere between "Huh?" and a wide yawn.

And this when the aftermath of the Littleton, Colo., school shootings still bubbles furiously in Washington and Hollywood.

Even curiouser, it comes at the same time that a new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reports that 84 percent of parents say they "strongly" or "somewhat" favor the V-chip technology. And more than half say they would use the V-chip "often" if they had it.

Maybe it's just summer and we're mentally already at the beach: too hot to think too hard. Or, more hopefully, maybe we realize that a device to block our kids' access to certain programs is only a part of the answer. The next time we buy a TV, it will have the V-chip. We'll give it a try. But we know it's no panacea.

Older TVs still won't have the V-chip feature, unless parents make the effort - and spend the money - to buy set-top adapters. So kids can just migrate to an unblocked set. And might the widespread availability of the V-chip entice TV programmers to put even more shocking material in their programs, arguing that the V-chip will protect children? We'll see.

For information about the V-chip and how parents can use it effectively, send for a free booklet from the Kaiser Foundation. Copies are available by calling 1-877-2-VCHIP-TV or on the Internet:

Paintings by Degas and Czanne have set records at auctions recently, fetching millions more than expected. But another sale may show even more vividly how much money is chasing art these days: A painting created by pouring paint on a revolving canvas - an art technique popular with children - sold for $120,500 Tuesday at Christie's in London. It was a record price for the British artist Damien Hirst, the AP reports. The 1997 work is entitled "Beautiful, four cheese, spicy, quatro, staggioni, florentine, Michelangelo, venetian glass, pamplona painting."

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