LIFESTYLES

Power to the people

Television’s teen Rangers kick up a storm

PATRICIA CHISHOLM November 21 1994
LIFESTYLES

Power to the people

Television’s teen Rangers kick up a storm

PATRICIA CHISHOLM November 21 1994

Power to the people

LIFESTYLES

Television’s teen Rangers kick up a storm

Welcome to the continuing adventures of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Last week, parents, teachers and broadcasters debated the surprise Nov. 1 censure of the wildly popular TV show by the Canadian

Broadcast Standards Council, an industry monitoring group. Like the nerdy teenagers in Power Rangers, mild-mannered council members had “morphed” into crusading superheroes when faced with a perceived enemy—violence in children’s TV programming—and, with little protest, many broadcasters immediately dropped the show.

They subsequently reported an outpouring of support from parents who want the helmeted, Lycra-covered Rangers to remain on the air.

And in the United States, Detroitbased television critic Susan Stewart, in an article for Parenting magazine, ranked Power Rangers among the top 10 children’s shows. “I think Canadians should lighten up,” Stewart told Maclean’s. “This is a charming show that demystifies violence. If you are worried, turn off the TV.” There is also an-

other option. At week’s end, Canwest Global network, loath to lose its top-rated children’s program, reported that it had toned down the show’s karate-kicking antics and would begin airing the new version on Nov. 21.

In a typical Canadian compromise, a Global spokesman said the changes will shorten the show and the remaining time will be filled with public service vignettes emphasizing positive behavior. Meanwhile, Canadian kids will be able to follow the uncut adventures of the six Rangers on the U.S.-based Fox network, widely available on cable. Together, the two networks should help ensure that the Rangers remain ubiquitous in Canada. Produced in Burbank, Calif., using action segments made in Japan, the show is broadcast in 30 countries and has spun off an avalanche of products, from Power Rangers costumes—widely seen on Canadian streets this Halloween—to figures, board games and weapons that are sure to dent parents’ wallets this holiday season.

The unlikely action figure behind the controversy is Kathryn Flannery, a Waterloo, Ont., mother whose May complaint led to the broadcasting council’s ruling—the first since it brought in a tough new anti-

violence code last January. Power Rangers hit Canadian airwaves last January and, although Flannery forbade her children, aged 2 and 4, to watch it, she was worried about its effect on others. By March, she had complained to Global. Receiving no

response, she then sought the advice of Patricia Herdman, a Guelph, Ont.-area resident who had recently helped to found the Coalition for Responsible Television. A longtime activist,

Herdman recommended that Flannery complain to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the federal broadcast regulator.

Flannery submitted a petition with 55 names of teachers, parents and neighbors asking that the show be withdrawn. Then, while wondering what to do next, she found that her shot had already found its mark. The CRTC referred the complaint to the broadcast council and, in early November, the council concluded that the show was excessively violent. “I was amazed—speechless—that they would listen to the little guy,” recalls the 36-year-old Flannery. “It was very gratifying.” Now, flushed with success from

☺her first foray into a public forum, Flannery has joined the Coalition for Responsible Television and says she will keep complaining about shows she finds offensive.

Part of the reason for the council’s swift response lies in the growing climate of public and governmental discontent with the level of TV violence. In 1992, CRTC chairman Keith Spicer voiced those concerns and warned that failure to deal with excessive violence could affect broadcasters’ licences. In response, the industry’s council adopted the anti-violence code, which it calls “the toughest in North America.” Although the code binds only private broadcasters and not specialty stations or public broadcasters, it has wide industry influence. Terry Coles, president of specialty channel YTV, said his sta-

tion’s decision to pull Power Rangers could be permanent or temporary. “We want to protect our channel as one for kids,” Coles says, “but we also believe that parents have a role to play in helping children make selections.” The majority of callers to the station have supported Power Rangers, Coles adds. “Some people are very angry,” he says, “that others are making these decisions for them.”

But many educators, child therapists and citizens’ groups say that change is long overdue, “The evidence is overwhelming that repeated viewing of television violence has a negative effect on children,” says Arlette Lefebvre, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and a member of another

lobby group, the Alliance for Children and Television. “I am constantly amazed by

parents who are more worried about vitamins in their kids’ snack than what they see on TV. They are just unaware of the impact.” Professionals

who work with children on a daily basis support that view. Marly Penner, who teaches kindergarten at For-

est Glen School in New Hamburg, near Kitchener, Ont., noticed last spring that some of her pupils were using Power Ranger-style high kicks in the schoolyard. After she sent a letter home to parents, and talked to the children, the Power Rangers role-playing stopped. “Programs like this get kids high and distract them from their work,” Penner says. “It’s almost like an addiction, especially for the boys.” With kids’ programming rife with compelling combat, the debate over TV violence seems likely to keep on kicking.

PATRICIA CHISHOLM