Tv And Violence

Violence on Television
We hear a great deal about violence on television these
days. Nearly everywhere you turn there is something being
written about it, or a program dealing with the issue of it, or a
news story about a child somewhere who was influenced by it to do
something harmful. The subject permeates our collective
consciousness. Maybe this is due to the ever-increasing number
of gangs in our urban centers. Maybe it’s due to the
ever-increasing crime rate that we hear about almost nightly on
the news. Whatever the reasons behind its being such a concern,
the fact remains that violence on television is a very real
problem that is quite definitely a contributing factor to
increasing violence among children and, yes, even among adults.

Cartoon violence has been around as long as cartoons have –
and that’s a long time. The first animated Disney cartoons
featured a rabbit named Oswald back in 1928 and the cartoon
industry grew from there. So for seventy years now we’ve been
treated to the antics of various characters, either through the
opening Looney Tunes at the movies or the five hours of Saturday
morning cartoons that were a ritual with us all growing up.

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There was Tweety Bird always getting the best of Sylvester the
Cat, Bugs Bunny always outsmarting Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck,
Foghorn Leghorn constantly getting bruised by the awkward antics
of his little chicks, Yosemite Sam getting his head blown off at
least once a week and of course, the memorable Wyle E. Coyote
who never, in all his forty-odd years of pursuing the Roadrunner
ever bought anything from the Acme Co. that ever worked right
(Siano, 20).

They were truly funny and, in some respects, cathartic for
us and it is this writer’s opinion that cartoon violence is quite
probably the least of our worries as far as what is corrupting
the minds of our children today. We grew up on it and there is
not one single documented case of a violent criminal who ever
claimed that he ended up the way he did because he ingested a
steady diet of Roadrunner episodes. Let’s get serious. Most of
these violent criminal types weren’t home with the family
watching Saturday morning cartoons when they grew up. They were
out tying cats’ tails together and throwing them over somebody’s
clothesline so they could watch them kill each other. Or they
were torturing the neighbor’s new puppy while Mom was at work,
Dad was non-existent, and all 3 or 4 or 5 kids were left to raise
themselves. Or they were busy learning violence first-hand from
their alcoholic father whose chief mission in life seemed to be
using them and their siblings and their mother for a punching
bag.

The difference, I would submit, is that even the smallest
children understand that these are cartoon characters, that they
are not real, and that the violence depicted in cartoons is so
unrealistic that even small children realize that it’s purely
make-believe.

Is television really toxic to children? (Chidley, 36). As
David Link says, “The problem isn’t that people pay too much
attention to the violence that appears on television; the problem
is they pay too little,” (22). Mr. Link proposes that
fictional violence is not at the root of the problem, but the
real violence that is depicted daily on television that should be
our biggest source of concern. In this, he has a very valid
point. Does a rabid, demon-possessed little doll named Chuckie
really influence anyone as he stabs people ten times his size
with a little knife barely long enough to break through all of
the layers of a person’s skin? Is that ghoul riding in the
backseat of the car, with his face falling off all over the place
as he strangles the teenage driver really believable?
In fiction, there is a thing called “willing suspension of
disbelief.” This must be achieved in order for the person
reading, or viewing, a fictional story to be able to participate
in the story. It’s what holds the reader’s attention. It’s what
causes us to cry when the heroine dies; or when we find out the
boy’s dog really wasn’t dead after all and he comes running home
at the end; or when the ghost of the woman’s husband finally
makes contact with her and gives her one last kiss followed by,
“I will always love you.” Willing suspension of disbelief is
what keeps all those Harlequin Romances selling; it’s what made
Danielle Steel rich and Ernest Hemmingway famous. And it’s what
made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star.

But is it what makes murderers out of 12-year old boys? Or
arsonists out of 10-year olds? There are certainly those who
would have us believe that it does. According to a 1996 survey
of television violence the following statistics were cited.


Programming Violence on Television, by Network Type
Public Broadcasting Systems (PBS) 18%
Broadcast networks 44%
Independent broadcast 55%
Basic cable 59%
Subscription television, premium cable 85%
Source: Mediascope, Inc., February, 1996 (Women, 11).

The argument, as women’s groups have set forth goes
something like this: it is children’s programming that is of the
most concern. Why? Because of two reasons. The first is that
very often violence (in 67% of programs surveyed) is portrayed in
a humorous context. The second is that in 5% of programs,
violence is not portrayed with any associated consequences to it.

Those opposed to television violence claim that it is
responsible for the rise in violence in schools and classrooms
(Feigenbaum, 2). In particular, educators claim that if violence
on television were curbed, children would be less violent in
school, that children are mimicking what they see acted out on
the television screen. In 1995, the V chip bill was introduced
into Congress. It’s purpose was to impose a rating system upon
television programs so that parents could monitor the types of
programs their children were watching a bit more closely. That’s
not a bad idea, since there are times when one turns on a
specific program thinking it will be all right for viewing by
one’s 3rd grader, only to find, part way through it, that there’s
going to be a bedroom scene that doesn’t leave a lot to anyone’s
imagination. However, no matter what bills and legislation are
introduced and actually made into law, that does not preclude the
fact that parents must have the will and inclination to instill
in their children the values necessary to respect themselves and
others and if parents are doing their jobs with regard to this,
nothing that comes across in television will affect that.

Yet even with this, one has to ask some very important
questions: If people are watching television with their children,
how can those children not know or understand that this violence
is not real? How can they not understand the difference between
reality and make-believe? And if they don’t, is it because their
parents are letting the television raise the children for them?
In actuality, the biggest problem that occurs as a result of
repeated exposure to violence on television is desensitization to
scenes of violence (Hough, 411). This is very real and occurs
frequently. For example, consider the woman who did not feel
that her son was watching enough television (or television
violence) to affect him, and yet when driving past an automobile
accident one day was appalled when her young son excitedly asked
her to turn around and go back so he could see the person lying
on the side of the road again.

As David Link further states, it’s not the fictional
violence on television that we need to worry about, but the
factual violence that is causing problems. When the kids sit
down with Mom and Dad while they watch the news at night and get
to see real-life scenes of death and dismemberment, violence for
them takes on an entirely different meaning.When Dad and
Johnny spend Sunday afternoon watching the football game and four
players from the two teams end up duking it out on the playing
field because of a bad call by one of the referees, there’s a
message that gets sent to the kids that should be of much more
concern to us than the fact that Daffy Duck just got his beak
blown off for the four thousandth time.

When Dennis Rodman falls out of bounds during a Bulls game,
kicks a cameraman in the crotch for no reason, gets up laughing
about it, and we all get to watch it on the news, something is
terribly wrong. What does this teach our children? This is NOT
make-believe. This is the real world and kids know it.

When the Undertaker gets insulted by another wrestler and he
picks the guy up and throws him out of the ring – and they aren’t
even having a match yet – there’s a message that comes across to
the kids that it’s okay to use violence when you get mad at
someone.Wrestling, particularly WWF wrestling, is probably one
of the worst things for kids to watch due to the fact that,
although almost all of it is stuntwork, kids don’t realize that.

And when Mom or Dad tries to explain that to the kids, they don’t
believe it. There is no way for the kids to understand that it’s
all show. And heaven help it if someone actually starts to bleed
while in the ring because that only adds to the realism that much
more and completely convinces the kids that this is, indeed,
real.

Legislation is not the answer to this however. The answer
to this lies in those who are icons to children taking
responsibility for their behavior in front of the camera so that
they are not giving the wrong message to these children. Rodman
is a case in point. Young boys, in particular, look up to pro
basketball players and when they see someone intentionally hurt
someone else for no reason other than they are angry at
themselves, or angry at their circumstances, the message that it
is all right to take your anger out on whomever has the
misfortune to be in your way at the time comes through loud and
clear.

David Link is absolutely right. Fictional violence is not
the problem and, if more parents paid attention to the true,
real-life, up-to-the-minute violence their kids were experiencing
every day, they would realize just how harmless all those
Roadrunner cartoons really are – and just how serious a problem
we are creating through media sensationalism.


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