Bringing Satan to heel: tired of sex and violence on the air, the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon h
Bringing Satan to heel: tired of sex and violence on the air, the Rev.
Donald E. Wildmon has discovered that the quickest, most effective
route to the networks' conscience is through their pocketbooks.
Time v133 p54(2) June 19, 1989
Q. What is it about television that you find objectionable?
A. Primarily the value system that undergirds so much of television.
Specifically, the excessive, gratuitous sex, violence, profanity, the
negative stereotyping of Christians.
Q. What is the evidence of anti-Christian attitudes by the networks?
A. I could probably count on one hand, or certainly two hands, the
number of programs in which a Christian depicted in a modern-day setting is
shown in a positive manner. They're usually depicted as con men, rip-off
artists, adulterers, murderers, rapists, thieves, liars.
A person who is wearing a cross, carrying a Bible or standing behind a
pulpit is usually mentally deranged, at best incompetent.
Q. Can you give some examples?
A. On ABC, March 19-20, The Women of Brewster Place: a preacher
propositions a woman after his sermon. The next scene features them in a
sex act. On an NBC program titled UNSUB, April 7: Bishop Grace murders two
teenage girls in his congregation. On NBC's Quantum Leap, April 7: a scene
in which the series' hero is preparing for sex with his live-in lover has
Amazing Grace playing in the background. On NBC, In the Heat of the Night,
Jan. 31: Rev. Haskell, who dies, had been having an adulterous affair with
one of his parishioners.
Q. Why do you think the portrayal of gratuitous sex and violence is
A. I have a theory, obviously: the networks are in a game of
exploitation. And when you exploit, you always have to go one degree
further and one degree further. The people who are responsible call
themselves the creative community. From time to time they do have something
that's creative. But it's less work and a lot easier to exploit than to
Q. Are you just protesting, or do you have goals you're trying to
A. Obviously I think we have goals. In our minds, television has the
potential to be the most constructive medium man has ever devised. The goal
we would like to see is that television reach that potential instead of
being used in a destructive manner as it currently is.
Q. Why not approach the networks?
A. Oh, we have. Early on, when I started by myself, I did it several
times. Back in '86, a group of seven or eight executive members of
Christian Leaders for Responsible Television spent a day and a half
visiting with all three networks and expressing our concerns. In essence,
their response was "Thank you for coming; we're doing a good job. We'll
talk to you anytime you want to talk with us."
I talked about decency and the concern for society and the children
and these other things. And they used the same words that I used. But we
certainly didn't mean the same thing by them.
Q. So your response has been?
A. We don't do business with the networks. We do business with
advertisers. Advertisers don't give you a cold shoulder. They want to be
Q. Is that approach fair to the advertisers?
A. My response would be "Why not?" I think it's helpful to the
advertisers. They're putting their money into a program to get you to buy
their products. If putting money into that program is going to cost them
money instead of make them money, it seems only fair to let the advertiser
Q. You asked your supporters to boycott PepsiCo because of their
A. For one year, unless they pulled the Madonna commercial.
Q. But it wasn't the commercial itself that you found offensive. It
was the video, correct? Like a Prayer.
A. It was not only the video, but we did indeed find the video
Q. So isn't it unfair to link Pepsi and Madonna?
A. I didn't link Pepsi and Madonna. Pepsi linked Pepsi and Madonna.
Q. But why not boycott Madonna concerts? Why not boycott the video
instead of the sponsor?
A. Why? Because Pepsi said to our young people in this country, "Here
is the role model we think worthy of $10 million in support." Here is a pop
singer who makes a video that's sacrilegious to the core. Here's a pop star
that made a low-budget porn film. Here's a pop star who goes around in her
concerts with sex oozing out, wearing a cross. Now Pepsi is saying to all
the young people of the new generation, "Here is the person we want you to
emulate and imitate." They can do that. They've got every right to give
Madonna $10 million, put it on television every night if they want to. All
I'm saying is "Don't ask me to buy Pepsi if you do it. You've got the right
to spend your money where you want to; I've got the right to spend my money
where I want to . . . " and obviously, evidently, I was somewhat right in
that because Pepsi agreed. They canceled their commercial and their world
Q. Well, did they agree or were they frightened away from it?
A. Having talked with them, I know they agreed with my interpretation.
Q. What you're doing has been referred to as economic terrorism. How
do you respond?
A. I respond very simply: the networks can show what they want to
show. The advertiser can sponsor what he wants to sponsor. And the consumer
can spend his money where he wants to. What the implication is there is
that I must spend my money with these companies to help support these
programs that I find offensive. I don't believe that.
Q. What led you down this path?
A. I sat down one night to watch television with my family. All I
wanted to do was be entertained. Very shortly into the program, somebody
was jumping into bed with somebody else's wife, a scene of adultery. Of
course it was normal, approved -- you know, there was no kind of
condemnation or showing it as being wrong. I asked the children to change
the channel. I got into another program, which we watched for five minutes
or so, and the first thing I know, somebody has called somebody else an
s.o.b., but they didn't use the initials. And I asked my children to change
the channel again. This was in 1976, and we had three networks plus PBS. I
got involved in a pretty good mystery, and all of a sudden the scene
changed and one man has another man tied down and is working him over with
a hammer. I asked the children to get up and turn the set off. That's all
I'd ever been told to do: If you don't like what's on television, turn it
off. Then I realized that I'm a part of a whole, larger social group, and
what goes on in society, especially in the television industry, is going to
affect me and my family and my children -- they were small at that point.
And I then realized that I should try to do something about this.
Q. Isn't it hard to draw the line as to what percentage of sex and
violence is acceptable? Are you comfortable drawing that line?
A. The networks draw that line.
Q. Well, they're drawing a line that says to you that this is too
A. They're saying that to me. Now they are obviously saying the same
thing to a lot of other people.
Q. Do you realize there's a chance you're infringing on others'
A. I'm not infringing on anybody's rights. I have as much right as any
other individual in this society to try to shape society. I have as much
right to try to influence people. I have as much right to create what I
consider to be a decent, good, clean, wholesome, moral society. I'm very
cognizant of other people's rights. All I'm asking is for them to be
cognizant of mine.
Q. Are you concerned about being self-righteous?
A. You know, that's the least concern. The last thing I want to be
considered is a super-Christian. I'm not even a good Christian. The last
thing I want to do is manipulate somebody. When you talk about my being
self-righteous, I'm a sinner. I know what I am. I'm a sinner saved by
Q. As your support grows, isn't there also the chance that you'll go
too far and have a chilling effect on creativity?
A. I don't think so. If I go too far, number one, the networks will
let me have it, and you better bet your bottom dollar they can. Number two
-- more critical -- my supporters will back off.
They'll no longer support me. And they shouldn't, and I hope they
won't. But I don't think they're ever going to have to make that decision.
COPYRIGHT Time Inc. 1989
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