The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised once again to ask Congress for an expansion of powers to place restrictions on the amount of violence currently seen on TV. If one summarizes all the relevant surveys that have been done since the 1950s, you will come up with one immutable statistic: American children watch an average of three to four hours of television every day.

This in itself could be a negative. Wouldn’t children be better off spending some of that time reading, exercising, or interacting with family and friends? But the kicker is that much of what kids see on television today is downright violent. This ferocity extends from Chuck Norris in “Walker, Texas Ranger,” kicking and throwing punches for most of the show, to kids’ cartoons, which average 20 to 25 acts of violence every hour. Daphne White, an executive with an organization that monitors kids TV, did the arithmetic and came up with 100,000 acts of TV violence seen by the time children leave elementary school.

The FCC is not limiting its concern to television watched only by youngsters. Despite penalties levied against broadcasters in recent years, the amount and nature of sexually suggestive and indecent material in adult TV fare continue to increase. The Commission has some muscle when it comes to VHF channels – 2 through 13, etc. – but when it comes to cable, pay-for-view, and other programs that viewers pay for, the FCC faces stiff constitutional challenges. This is why many of radio and TV’s “bad boys” have switched to satellite broadcasting, where just about anything goes.

Social workers say that children and adults are subjected to all sorts of unhealthy and negative effects when TV violence enters their homes. The consequences can range from troubled feelings to outright aggression. Many TV shows are hiding behind the shield of “reality programming.” For example, if the program is a crime show that features a “scientific” approach to murder and rape, the writer can include scenes of a gruesome autopsy, or finely detailed dialogue about how a young victim was brutally assaulted by the rapist. Since the producers are trying to “educate” the viewers about these matters, they are given a pass to “realistically” portray types of violence and savagery that would never have seen the light of day in the earlier days of television.

The FCC and other critics of TV mayhem fear that children, and adults too, can become immune to repeated acts of violence. Some frightening results have been court assault cases resulting from violence on TV, seen as a way to solve problems. Defendants said they were merely imitating what they saw on TV. In some cases the criminals standing trial said they closely identified with characters in the show.

We have now arrived at part two of the TV survey findings: children not only watch three to four hours of television every day – but as a result of this viewing, say researchers at Columbia University, they are much more likely to engage in aggressive behavior. In instances where TV becomes a babysitter because both parents are working, children watch unsupervised television. Often the pain and suffering of others is the essential theme.

Violence in movies in beyond the purview of this writing, since the FCC has no jurisdiction over motion pictures. But violence in TV commercial promos to sell movies is a concern. The film’s producers and its advertising agency are prone to isolate ten to thirty seconds from the most toxic segment of a movie. This, because they have only a moment to entice the viewer to spend significant money on a movie ticket or DVD. Therefore they select a scene that contains the most violence and sex, if that is the genre of the film.

How many people watch violence on TV and then go out and commit a crime as a direct result? No one knows for certain, but four studies conducted by universities estimated that ten percent of all the violent behavior in the U.S. is spawned by TV watching. Violent behavior does not necessarily mean intentional and unlawful use of force upon another person. Violence is defined in the studies as a threat by word or act to commit violence on another person; an act that creates fear that violence is imminent; touching or striking another person against their will; and, of course, the ultimate act of using physical force to wound or injure another party.

At this point the FCC has not announced any specific targets nor has it made known what penalties or restrictions it might impose, should congress grant the powers the FCC seeks. While TV violence is once again “pushing the envelope,” government regulators have long had a track record of using the “ready, fire, aim” method of solving a problem. Then there is always the chance of the watchdog becoming the lapdog. After all, television is a mighty and imperious force. Undue government regulations could be seen as not good for business.

The radio comedian Fred Allen once described television as “chewing gum for the eyes.” That was a long time ago, in the era of “I Love Lucy” and “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.” Today’s daily TV listings contain far more virulent fare than was viewed in those halcyon days. In the long run, parents are the answer to preventing children from viewing wall-to-wall violence on television. Of course, this presumes the parents themselves are not watching while sitting on the couch with their kids

– Chase.Hamil

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