Essay, Research Paper
The Fantastic Authority of Sexual and Violent Television Themes Once upon a time, in the good old days Americans listened to the radio and read newspapers as they sat on their porches and sipped iced tea. The sounds of laughter echoed in the air as children chased behind ice cream trucks, played tag, hide-n-seek, and chanted Red Rover, Red Rover . Kids rode bikes and walked to school. Front doors were left unlocked, neighbors gossiped across clothes lines, and Dad s new car was an Edsel. Times sure have changed! Today, neighbors are virtual strangers; kids play video games, do drugs, and hangout on street corners. Ice cream trucks are potential undercover drug mobiles. Kids are having kids. Burglaries, murders, and rapes are everyday occurrences in the news. Whatever happened to the good old days ? It is impossible to blame America s plight into the dark abyss of immorality on any one given factor; however, evidence suggests the growing amounts of sexually explicit and violent themes found on television is in part to blame for the loss of American society s moral compass. The television medium once thought of as a positive tool in aiding education, is now the focus of national debates and thousands of research studies. Americans are demanding a lessening of explicit material made readily available to anyone who so happens to own a remote control. The nation has focused its concerns primarily on the detrimental effects television programming has on children. According to Joe Wheeler, the main fear is that children are in danger of being socialized into aggressive and decadent individuals through the television s powerful message (35). What is violent or sexually explicit material? Before this discussion can go any further, it is critical to clarify these terms as they are used in this argument. One may define violence as; any intentional physical harm to another individual, it is an overt expression of physical force with or without a weapon against one s self or other, and as hostile and intentional acts of one person against another through physical force (Black et al., 49). Sexual conduct, as it pertains to this discussion is defined as, everything from talking about sex, to passionate kissing, to physical groping, to simulated intercourse (Jackson, 1). Mary Anne Banta, vice-president and board member of the National Coalition on TV Violence, documented that American children watch three to four hours of television daily. By high school graduation, they will spend 50% more time in front of the small screen than in their class rooms (1). Within this time, children will have had access to 10 violent acts per hour on network programming, 18 to 19 violent acts per hour if they flip on a cable station, and 32 violent acts per hour if they decide to watch cartoons (Levine, 29). If this isn t enough for a parent to contend with, Hollywood has thrown in some good, wholesome sex to fill in the space between punches. Out of 1,351 cable and broadcast shows monitored between October of 1997 to March of 1998, 56% of all programs depicted sexual conduct (Jackson, 1). Two inherent dangers this explicit material poses on a child are the inevitable desensitization to and distortion of reality they will experience. Basically, children believe what they are seeing on the television is as real as life itself. The violent footage in music videos, TV series, and movies are often presented as acceptable means to solve life s adversities; you don t like what the kid said? Then go ahead and shoot him! (Wheeler, 45). Furthermore, kids are likely to become fearful and overwhelmed by the constant barrage of such violent acts. Kids begin to believe these horrid acts are daily occurrences. Larry Gross and George Gerbner at the Anneberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania explored this hypothesis further in a study of heavy and light television viewers. When the group was asked; What are your chances of encountering violence in a given week? heavy viewers consistently chose the more TV bias answer, 50-50 or 10-1; while overall, the light viewers chose the more accurate real life answer, 100-1 (Winn, 70). The medium is also plagued with situational ethics in which sex is the, be all and end all in life, and sexual fulfillment is solely achieved when the right chemistry is found between two people (Wheeler, 154). Commitment, love, and friendship are foreign concepts when dealing with sexual relationships between television characters. It is rare to find a program, which promotes virginity, marriage, or monogamy. Rock videos are especially blatant in their sexism and often exploit female stereo types to such an extent that women are objectified, loathed, and feared by young adolescent males (Shore, 95). Helmut Newton admits when in doubt for arranging rock videos resort to the clich image of a, cadaverously made-up model who does nothing more than wet her lips (qtd. In Shore, 97). How realistic is that? The sad fact is that the irresponsible manner in which explicit material is portrayed can do nothing but leave a frightening legacy of a misinterpreted reality in its wake. Along with distorting reality, most television programs fail to depict the social and moral consequences of such behaviors. Aggression is rewarded and seemingly desirable as perpetrators go unpunished in 73% of all crime scenes (Levine, 29). Murder, rape, and robberies are glamorized; characters sport the latest fashions, the nicest cars, and live in the most beautiful homes. Unlike Japanese films where pain, suffering, and the tragic consequences of violence are highlighted; American television neglects the victim s family who is essentially silenced and left without a chance to express their grief. According to Levine, with the exception of trial based shows, legal consequences are left to the audiences imagination (29). In 1977, Ronny Zamora, a 15-year-old Costa Rican immigrant was enlightened to the harsh reality that violence does have its consequences. His attorney claimed he could not be held responsible for actions due to insanity stemming from, being under the influence of prolonged, intense, involuntary subliminal intoxication (Murray, 44). Nonetheless, a jury convicted him of murdering his 82-year-old neighbor and sentenced him to prison. On top of lacking the social and moral consequences of violence, the television medium (who takes credit for positive plugs for condoms) mentions the health risks of casual sex in only 9 percent of their shows (Jackson, 1). The Henry J. Kaiser company documented 88 television scenes in which sexual intercourse was implied or depicted and, none included, even a passing reference to sexual risks and responsibilities (qtd. In Jackson, 1). The study s authors wrote: At a time when we are facing a sexual health crisis among young people- with nearly a million teen pregnancies and more than 3 million instances of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers every year we need to pay special attention to those media depiction that could influence how young people develop their attitudes and beliefs about sex (qtd. In Jackson, 2). Surprisingly, there are some television executives who will insist that the violence, hedonism, and selfishness so often featured in their work has no real consequence to society (Wheeler, 198). How ironic that this same business will charge hundreds of thousands of dollars on commercial airtime in the belief that fleeting images can sell anything from canned goods to political candidates! (Wheeler, 198). As ridiculous as it sounds, industry executives are clinging to claims that the programming surrounding these brief advertisements has no influence whatsoever. Their claims are unsubstantiated.It has been proven time and time again that behavior is learned as a result of the behaviors one is exposed to, directly or indirectly, via their environment. Children are sponges; they are constantly absorbing information from and about their surroundings. David Walsh of the National Institute on Media and the Family and a local television station conducted a study at a Minneapolis day care center in which the behaviors of children were monitored and then documented after they watched both violent and non-violent TV programs. They found when a class of two-year-olds watched public television s, big hearted purple dinosaur, Barney, the children sang along, danced, held one another s hands, and laughed together. The next day, the same class watched the aggressive Power Rangers . Within minutes they were karate chopping and high kicking in the air as well as at eachother (Marks, 1). Unfortunately, experimental research studies are unnecessary to experience a situation in which life imitates fiction. The headline news is an accurate source for such tragic scenarios. Serial killer, Nathaniel White, describes how he killed his first female victim after watching a television broadcast of Robocop II, I seen him cut somebody s throat then take a knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and leave the body in a certain way. With the fist person I killed I did exactly what I saw in the movie, (Levine, 31). In New York City, a grammar school child sprayed a Bronx office building with gunfire. He later explained to a sergeant that he learned how to load his Uzi-like gun because, I watch a lot of television, (Levine, 31). A similar turn of events took place in San Francisco three days after a group of girls watched Born Innocent aired on NBC. The four girls involved sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl with a discarded beer bottle claiming they had watched the scene on television (Levine, 31).
The destruction of the family hour on television has been complete and the nation is choking in the grips of television fare. Nevertheless, some of Hollywood is still not convinced of the medium s fantastic authority. Steven Bochco, creator of NYPD Blue states, when I was little, I went to the movies every week and saw violent cartoons and two or three westerns in which the entire Sioux nation was massacred by the Calvary I never had a question that what I was watching was make believe, because I was raised by a family that gave me a moral compass (Silver, 2). The problem with his statement is that not all homes have a moral compass. American families in modern society rarely consist of mom, dad, sibling, and dog. Today, kids are likely to be products of broken homes . This family relationship whether loving or unloving, has a powerful effect on a young child s values (Wheeler, 13). Kevin Wright, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York confirms that children raised in supportive, affectionate, and accepting homes are less likely to become deviant. Children whom feel rejected by parents are among the most likely to become delinquent (Murray, 44). Moreover, in regards to Steven Bochco s comment, no one has claimed that all violence is inspired by television. John Murray concurs and cites that the Social Sciences have compiled only enough evidence to conclude that violence on screen and in some other forms of the media inspires and expedites only some aggression in some children (49). Based on an analysis of 275 studies, George Comstock, S.I. Newhouse professor of Public Communication at Syracuse University, deduces that only an estimated 10% of anti social and illegal acts could be linked to the television but, wouldn t it be great if we could reduce the occurrence of violence in this nation by 10 percent? (qtd. In Silver, 4). Unfortunately, America is a capitalist society in which MONEY is the key motivator. The poignant truth is that sex and violence sell. For as long as people turn on and watch offensive media fare; writers, directors, and producers will deliver it to them. As long as audiences believe violence and debauchery are the heart and soul of drama; it will be delivered to them. As long as the consumers and audiences are unaware of the television s authority, the medium will continue to espouse its own value-laden system. There seems to be no end in sight.Congress has pounded its fists and members of society have publicly voiced their concerns demanding changes to TV programming. The summer of 1993 is marked as an important milestone for the issue of television s violent and sexually explicit fare. For the very first time, a handful of industry leaders acknowledged that the levels of sex and violence was too high and much of what was broadcast was inappropriate for young children (Banta, 1). A task force was organized whose initial mission was to put the broadcast and cable industry on notice; this is a serious problem that requires action on their part (Banta, 1). Also in 1993, The Federal Telecommunications Act was enacted which required the FCC to prescribe, guidelines and recommended procedures for the identification and rating of video programming that contains sexual, violent, or other indecent material (Banta, 2). However, the rating system developed by the industry in no way informed parents as to the presence of violent or sexual content with in a rated program. Basically, the rating system suggested, it may be there, but then again it may not (Banta, 2). Finally, the collaborative works of Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) brought about the V-Chip legislation which was enacted as part of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 (Banta, 2). The V- chip is a technological-content cop, designed to screen out shows containing sex or violence (Jackson, 4). The law requires manufacturers to install a V-chip in all new television sets and requires networks to transmit their ratings so they may be recognized by this new technology (Banta, 2). President Bill Clinton looks on the V-chip as placing the remote control back into the hands of parents; however, Senator Paul Simon, a long time critic of the industry, opposed the concept of the V-chip and the legislation which incorporates it into new television sets. In an article written for Business Wire and also in a speech on the floor of the Senate, he argues that:· In The V-chip is no substitute for the industry disciplining itself· In areas of high crime where children watch 50% more TV, the V-chip would not be used· Teenagers will find a way around the new technology· It will take years to install the V-chip in all TV sets and television needs to be cleaned up NOW!· Will gratuitous, glamorized violence be depicted from other types?· It will be negative for broadcast companies who have made the most progress in lessening explicit fare, while acting as a pro for the cable industry· short the V-chip is a gimmick (qtd in Banta, 4).It sounds like a good idea on the surface, but as the president of the Motion Picture Association of America says, Unless parents, schools and churches reinforce moral values, there ain t no gadgetry, government agency or congressional fiat that s going to do any good! (qtd. In Banta, 4). Now, parents have been forced to take matters in their own hands and reshape their once positive perceptions of the television medium. As TV gets wilder and wilder, more parents are opting to discard their television sets altogether (Silver, 4). Others who are not ready for such drastic measures may be solaced through media literacy, the art of deconstructing TV . Canadian schools have been teaching media literacy for years and Americans are beginning to adopt this method of protection against some of television s messages. The system explains that programs exist to deliver them, the audience, to advertisers and sex and violence are used because this is what sells. The following are six precepts to a crash course of media literacy at home:1. Rethink your image of TV2. Keep a diary of the family s habits of television viewing 3. BE CHOOSY4. Watch with children5. Keep in mind that media literacy is not an immunization against all media programming (Silver, 4).In essence, while American television can not be blamed for this nation s total loss of moral integrity, evidence indicates that the television is at the very least, an accessory in the loss of America s moral compass. Violence on television has increased to such dramatic levels that by the time a child completes elementary school, he will have been witnessed to 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts (Silver, 2). Although there have been efforts made to lessen the levels of violent and sexual content found on television, the National Television Violence Study released in Washington on April 16, 1998 concludes that the levels of violence remains the same (Marks, 1). Monique Ward, a postdoctoral fellow in education at the University of California, Los Angeles adds that on the average 29 percent of all television interactions involve sex of some kind while some programs were individually at 58 percent (Silver, 1). Consequently, there is no indication that television s irresponsible programming will ever be abolished. The truth is that the best means of protection remains in the hands of responsible citizens. Perhaps former Secretary of Education, William Bennett states it best:It we want our children to posses the traits of character we most admire, we need to teach them what those traits are. They must learn to identify the forms and contents of those traits. They must achieve at least a minimal level of literacy that will enable them to make sense of what they see in life, and we may hope, that will help them live it well. (qtd. In Wheeler, 75).
Banta, Mary Anne. The V-Chip Story. National Coalition on Television Violence.5pp. Online. Internet. 11 March. 1999. Black, Jay., et al., Introduction to Media Communications. Fifth Edition. Boston: Mc Graw, 1998. Jackson, Terry. New Study: Steamy Scenes Dominate TV. The Miami Herald. 10 Feb. 1999, Sec. E: 1+. Leone, Bruno., ed. Media Violence Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1996. Levine, Madeline. Media Violence Harms Children. Leone. pp.28-36. Marks, Alexandra. What Children See and Do: Studies of Violence on TV. Christian Science Monitor. (April 17, 1998). 2pp. Online. Internet. 11 March, 1999. Murray, John P. Studies Have Established Media Violence Causes Violence. Leone. pp.43-48. Leone, Bruno., ed. Media Violence Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1996. Shore, Michael. The Rolling Stone Book of Rock Video. NY: Rolling Stone Press, 1984. Silver, Mark. Sex and Violence on TV. (Aug. 11, 1995) pp.5. Online. Internet. 11 March. 1999. Wheeler, Joe L. Remote Controlled. Haggerstown: Reviews and Herald Publishing, 1993.