By Bob Greene, Reprinted by permission, Tribune Media Services
September 1993 – We’ve all begun to pay the price for the violence that is passed off as entertainment in this country. The people who run the movie studios and TV networks are always saying that they’re not responsible for the growth in the violence in our society.
“But they’re wrong, and I think they know they’re wrong.”
Entertainment Execs Lying
Those are not the words of a conser- ative activist, or of a member of the clergy. The speaker is Barbara McDermott, a 45-year-old Midwestern mother of two who also works as a tutor for boys and girls who are unable to go to school. She is reflecting a growing sentiment among many Americans: that after all the years of entertainment executives protesting that they are only reflecting the violence in society, not promoting it, the time has come to understand that the entertainment executives are liars.
“If you show people something over and over, they’re going to absorb it,” McDermott said. “If a child has a working brain, and he or she sees terrible violence day after day, hour after hour, that child is going to pick up on it. Violence becomes accepted once you’ve seen it enough from the safe distance of a movie screen or a TV set. Violence becomes an option.”
No wonder the entertainment executives are nervous these days. The American people have finally caught on that the purveyors of television and movie violence are not operating from some moral high ground of freedom of expression. They are actively harming the quality of life in our country by sending the worst kind of inhuman behavior into millions of homes, and they’re doing it because it’s an easy way to make money.
“They’re just selling it,” Barbara McDermott said. “That’s all they’re interested in.”
The old argument that ours is a violent society, and that the movie and television producers are simply mirroring what goes on around us anyway, does not work. The American Psychological Association has estimated that the average child in the United States sees on TV 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school.
Regardless of how rough a neighborhood a child lives in, the horrific violence that is being peddled via television and the movies is more, in quantity, than any child will ever see in real life. And there are consequences to this.
“All of these news stories about children killing other children—how do you think that happened?” Barbara McDermott said. “There are generations of children who have grown up seeing ever increasing violence delivered into their homes on television programs. Shootings and beatings and murders are right in their homes, and they see it day after day, night after night, and after a while it seems exciting and even logical. If you get angry enough, you grab your gun and shoot. Before all of this, you never saw children bringing guns to school. You do now.”
Is it unfair to blame the entertainment executives for this? No. Television is still such a new phenomenon that we have yet to learn everything about how it has changed our world. It has changed it in good ways and bad, but maybe the worst is that it has enabled people you would never allow into your house to come in all the time, showing and doing things you would never permit if you had a choice.
Now you have no choice—not unless you make the drastic decision to have no television set at all. It does no good to watch only programs you know to be violence-free; the networks and local stations are constantly promoting their more lurid fare during commercial breaks all day and all evening, and families with children are especially appalled when a promo for something vicious and base comes on and off their screen before they can do anything about it.
Not A Rightist Agenda
People who complained about this used to be accused of having a far-right political agenda. That is changing rapidly. “Even if it were to stop completely right now, it might be too late,” Barbara McDermott said. “We have seen these constant violent images for so long, maybe it can’t be fixed. Most families have rules about what is acceptable behavior, but what comes into the house on TV violates those rules all the time.”
The people who peddle this violent and harmful programming categorize themselves with such names as creators and directors and executive producers. But the country has at last discerned what they really are. They are home invaders.
Bob Greene is a nationally syndicated columnist. Readers may write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 64 E. Concord St., Orlando, FL 32801.