"It was on the Top 20 Countdown. I didn't know it was going to be there."
Scrolling through the guide, Olivia spots an announcement for Rabbit-Proof Fence. "It's a true story about a girl my age," she says. "She's going on this journey and has to walk" 1200 miles, reads the blurb. It says TV-PG, adult situations. Olivia says she'll have to ask her mom or dad about it.
Next, Olivia finds an ad for the movie Holes. It reads, "A woman forces boys at a detention camp to dig holes. Violence and adult language, rated PG." "But it's not that bad," Olivia says. She's seen it. An example: "Like, one of the guys, he doesn't talk, so he throws the shovel at somebody." Does violence or adult language bother you? "Adult language -- I'm used to it," she says. "Like, my cousins, they use bad words all the time. And their parents don't care whatsoever. And their parents even say that to them."
Back to Jessica. Is she the kind of girl you'd like to be?
"No. Like, I could be like her, but I wouldn't want to be her." What part of her do you like? "Her fame. And she has a really good life. And she's, like, really comfortable with the camera and stuff. Like, she's always happy, but she used to be pressured. She has a lot of money." Is that something you'd like? Olivia hesitates: "I guess I could use a lot of money." Anyone else you'd like to be like? "I like Christina Aguilera because she has a really good voice."
On this Sunday afternoon, right before handing Olivia the remote, Olivia's mother Martha Kinkade said I could watch TV with her daughter. Kinkade and Dave Palmer, Olivia's father, are divorced, and they live in Pacific Beach apartments adjoined by a patio. Olivia lives half the week at Mom's house, half the week at Dad's. Kinkade owns a TV but refuses to buy a cable hookup; she uses her monitor only for videos. Palmer has the cable and a 36-inch TV. Olivia watches G and PG movies with Mom, sports and Survivor with Dad, and the forbidden stuff with her cousins. Both parents express dismay that Olivia has seen shows on MTV and VH1.
Kinkade hates TV and says without it on, she doesn't have to "process all this imagery that comes at me. My head is not all messy; it's cleaner." Olivia thinks it's "boring sometimes" at her mom's place without a TV. Olivia is often on her PlayStation 2, while Kinkade wants her to practice piano and read. She says Olivia mainly watches TV at her dad's house and is aware that at her cousins' home, Olivia has seen scary movies (like The Ring, where a dead ten-year-old girl walks out of a mirror). "That's not good at all," Kinkade says. "It's caused problems for her." She notes the most potent issue that's come up for her and Olivia is the "sexual connotations" in PG-13 movies. These things, she says, "Olivia doesn't need to be exposed to. She is anyway -- at school, as part of our culture." Kinkade recalls hearing on a prime-time show a gaggle of seventh graders getting together to do homework. One girl said, "I'll bring the condoms." Such flippant jokes anger Kinkade. "It's not appropriate for me or for Olivia."
When Olivia was six and younger, and before Kinkade left the marriage, Kinkade felt her daughter was enslaved to consumerism. And TV played its part. Olivia wanted everything, many things directly from commercials. She never seemed happy, her mother says. "She thought something was wrong with her if she didn't get lots of presents at Christmas."
Dave Palmer's TV is tuned mostly to sports, though Olivia will watch some of her Disney programs on the 13-inch in her dad's bedroom. Palmer says when Olivia watches sports, he detects no "positive influence. When I was a kid, if I saw an athlete, I'd go out and emulate them. But she's definitely not like that. She's not very outdoorsy. I thought when she saw [televised sports] she'd want to do that, but she's a scaredy-cat, and these sports, she was telling me, are too much a risk for injury." She used to "idolize" the Lakers and Kobe Bryant -- before the scandal. Right after her dad explained the charges to Olivia -- "he had sex with her" -- Palmer recalls, "She didn't want to have anything to do with him anymore."
Palmer is adamant: "I don't like her watching MTV." He says he'll be in his room or in the kitchen and he'll hear her "flip to it. I tell her that it's not appropriate for her to be watching that. I explained that The Real World is about twentysomething kids, and the problems they're facing is not what ten-year-olds are facing." According to Palmer, Olivia hasn't discussed the rating system or asked to watch anything rated TV-PG. But he does see himself as a "hands-on" dad who can "talk to her about everything. To me, we're in control of the [TV] situation. The situation is not in control of us."
We're in control. That's what many San Diego tube-monitoring parents say when you ask about TV in their family life. The kids, though, beg to differ. Because of their ages, preferences, and peer influences, children don't share Mom and Dad's worries about the media cosmos. Small children can barely talk about TV, they're so hypnotized. Older kids and teenagers are loyal to, but get bored with, their favorite shows, which they watch even in reruns (a huge percentage of cable TV fare). Parents react warily to TV, fearful of the unexpected. Their shock at TV content is reflected in the skyrocketing number of complaints received by the FCC about radio and TV programming -- from 13,922 in 2002 to 240,342 in 2003. And this was before the Super Bowl! Nowadays, parents feel assaulted by television. Outrage over the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake raunchfest signaled that in its wake change would arrive. Sure enough, in early February, MTV removed its explicit music videos to the more "adult" slot, after 10:00 p.m. But by early March, the sexually graphic videos of Britney Spears and others were back in normal rotation. Thus, though parents -- and a nation -- complain, the complaints go nowhere.