Violence on Television “There was murderers going around killing lots of people and stealing jewelry.” This quote comes from the mouth of an eight year old girl after watching the evening news on television. The eight year old girl claims that she is afraid “when there is a murder near because you never know if he could be in town” (Cullingford, 61). A recent report from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) pools evidence from over 2,500 studies within the last decade on over 100,000 subjects from several nations to show that the compiled evidence of television’s influence on behavior is so “overwhelming” that there is a consensus in the research community that “violence on television does lead to aggressive behavior” (Methvin, 49). Given that the majority of scientific community agrees that “the research findings of the NIMH publication support conclusion of a causal relationship between television violence and aggressive behavior” (Wurtzel, 21), why is it that “the Saturday morning “kid vid ghetto” is the most violent time on T.V.” (Methvin, 49), and that “despite slight variations over the past decade, the amount of violence on television has remained at consistently high levels” (Wurtzel, 23)? Why is it that, like the tobacco companies twenty years ago, the present day television broadcasting companies refuse to consent that violent films and programming can and do have harmful effects on their viewers (Rowland, 280) What can be done to combat the stubborn minded broadcasting companies and to reduce the amount of violent scenes that infest the current air waves? The television giants of today, such as ABC, CBS, and NBC continue to air violent shows, because they make money off of these programs. In general, society finds scenes of violence “simply exciting” (Feshbach, 12). Broadcasting companies argue that “based on the high ratings, they are giving the public what it wants, and therefore are serving the public interest” (Time, 77).
Michael Howe states: “We have to remember that children and adults do enjoy and do choose to watch those programs that contain violence” (48). At the same time, however, we must also remember the undeniable truth that “there is clear evidence between television violence and later aggressive behavior” (Palmer, 120). Because violent television has been proven time and time again to play an active role toward inciting hostile behavior in children, the level of combative programming must be reduced. The media argument that high ratings correspond with the public’s best interest is simply not valid. Even the American Medical Association agrees that the “link between televised violence and later aggressive behavior warrants a major organized cry of protest from the medical profession” (Palmer, 122).
The issue of the public’s infatuation with television can be paralleled with that of a young child and his desire for candy and “junk foods.” The child enjoys eating such foods, though they produce the harmful effects of rotting away at his teeth. With a parent to limit his intake of such harmful sweets, however, the child is protected from their damage. Similarly, the American public desires to view violent programs at the risk of adapting induced aggressive behaviors. Because the networks refuse to act as a “mother,” and to limit the amount of violence shown on television, there are no restrictions to prevent television’s violent candy from rotting away at the teeth of society. Harry Skornia claims that “it is naive and romantic to expect a corporation to have either a heart of a soul in the struggle for profits and survival” (34). But who, then, is to take responsibility for the media’s actions if not the industry itself? Because there has not been any sufficient answers to this question so far, “television violence has not diminished greatly; nor have Saturday morning programs for children, marked by excessively violent cartoons, changed much for the better” (Palmer, 125).
One may ask: “Why can’t the government or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intervene to control the amount of violent programming that currently circulates during most broadcasting hours?” Edward Palmer states: “The FCC’s reluctance to regulate – especially directly about violent content – is consistent with that of many other groups. Because the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, no direct censorship os programming has ever been advocated by responsible groups concerned with the problem of television violence” (124). The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) holds fast to its claim that there are no scientific findings that show a link between television violence and unusually violent behavior in children (Rowland, 279). The network executives at ABC express the ideals that “they are self-confident about the lack of both a serious case against them and of any sincere willingness by Congress to pursue beyond the heat of rhetoric the matters of broadcasting profitability and commercial purpose” (Rowland, 280). One can derive from this statement that the networks are clearly not worried about any form of government intervention or even the slightest bit concerned about the barrage of scientific data that correlates violent television and hostility among children.
Because of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the government and the FCC are rendered virtually ineffective in the pursuit of limiting the current amount of violence on television. Public action is the only other option if society wishes to create a stronger programming schedule for today’s children. Several organizations such as the National Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have urged their members to lobby public force against advertisers on high-violence programs (Methvin, 53). The public must dictate its feelings by not lending support to those companies that advertise during violent television shows. “The viewer has a right to declare that he is not going to help pay for those programs by buying the advertised products (Methvin, 52) To aid public, The National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) publishes quarterly lists of the companies and products that sponsor the most mayhem, and also companies that allot the largest portion of their television budgets to violent programming (Methvin, 53). Public boycott of companies who advertise on violent programs seems to be the only way to inform the networks and syndicators that “a public health problem exists with which they must deal” (Broadcasting, 92).
Michael Howe claims that “over many years, little more than lip service has been paid by the television networks to the expressed need to protect children from the injurious influences (46). History shows too, that “cries of protest, even when accompanied by rigorous data, have had little influence on the television industry in the past (Palmer, 177). A public boycott of violent television, apparently, is the only way to make the “production staff accept television violence first and foremost as potentially damaging, rather than regarding it principally as potential entertainment” (Belson, 527). Only when the public is able to change the current attitudes of the media on the topic of aggression and television, can a plan to engender more beneficial and useful forms of television content be implemented (Brown,259). Despite the continuously mounting evidence that violent television has harmful effects on its young viewers, the three major broadcasting companies, ABC, CBS, and NBC, refuse to acknowledge these findings.
One may find it ironic that out of over 2,500 reports on television violence, only seven do not indicate a link between the violence on the screen and aggressive behavior in young children (Chaffee, 33). Even more ironic is the fact that one such report was heavily funded by The National Broadcasting Network (NBC). The NBC funded report claims that their study “did not find any evidence that, over the time periods studied, television was causally implicated in the development of aggressive behavior patterns among children and adolescents” (Milavsky, 489). In a CBS study, the network “succeeded in reducing the amount of violence reported by excluding a significant (and unreported) amount of violent representation” (Chaffee, 33). Studies by the large networks can easily be “rigged” to present values to support the broadcasters’ hypothesis that television aggression does not influence violent behavior by changing the definition of what constitutes a violent act.
The network studies only count “the use of force against persons or animals ,or the articulated, explicit threat of physical force to compel particular behavior on the part of a person” (Wurtzel, 27). Unlike the NIMH study, the network program did not include violence from comedy and slapstick, accidents and acts of nature such as floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes (Wurtzel, 27). By excluding certain types of violence, the broadcasters are able to manipulate their data to support the conclusion that television violence does not incite hostile behavior in children. The networks cannot be trusted to present accurate surveys of televised violence, because evidence shows that their findings are the result of “loaded” statistics and data. The current networks stand, stubborn and deaf, to the cries of the American Medical Association, suggestions by the Federal Communications Commission, and the concerns of other public organizations.
The networks do not wish to alter their present displays of violence, because they fear financial losses and economic decline. To force the media to acknowledge public opinion against aggressive television programming, society must create financial distress for the television networks and force them to recognize the harmful effects of televised hostility on children. Only when the broadcasters and producers of violent programming admit and realize the damaging results of violence on children will significant improvements be made to generate productive and imaginative children’s television. Work Sited Belson, William A. Television and the Adolescent Boy. Great Britain: Saxon House, 1978. Broadcasting.
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