Efforts to protect children from Internet pornography received a setback with Tuesday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the court kept in place a federal district court decision blocking the enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act, . . . The law imposes heavy financial penalties on Internet sites that allow anyone under age 17 to obtain access to pornography. . . .
In a comment issued the same day, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins criticized the decision saying: "This law does not impede the decisions of adults who seek to view pornographic material. It merely recognizes what's common sense: We should concentrate on making it difficult for children to access porn rather than making it easier." . . .
The dispute over Internet and pornography is part of a wider concern over the negative effects of a mass media that exposes children and adolescents to large doses of ever-more explicit content. The toxicity of popular culture was examined in the book "Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children," edited by Diane Ravitch and Joseph Viteritti, professors of education and public policy, respectively, at New York University. . . . In his chapter on the problems of teaching in a world dominated by popular culture, Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, observes that the media play an important role in influencing young people's emotive states and aspirations. . . .
Gitlin comments that on the question of violence it is difficult to prove a direct causal relationship between media content and violent actions in real life. The violence seen in the media, however, does form part of the cognitive and emotional experiences of adolescents. "It may or may not teach the lesson that force pays or that human life is expendable, but even if it doesn't, it teaches that violence is a routine recourse." . . .
Violence is also routinely "sanatized and trivialized," with over half of the violent interactions on television showing no physical pain for the individual. . . .
Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, professor of history at Syracuse University, deals with the increasing vulgarity of the media. . . . Lasch-Quinn draws attention to how women and girls are often portrayed in unrealistic ways in the media. The images and behavior exalted have played a part in promoting trends such as extreme thinness leading to eating disorders, body piercing and tattooing, and plastic surgery. . . .
Bringing up children, note Ravitch and Viteritti in the book's introduction, "involves a conscious commitment to elevation of the mind, body, and spirit, not their degradation." Parents should cultivate an appreciation for good literature, music, film and art, they recommend. Regardless of the law, it's time parents took this responsibility more seriously.