My usual perusal of the morning paper – the Globe and Mail – consists of a hurried glance at the headlines and the reading of articles, which appear to be of special interest to me. But on Monday, April 24, I had more time to spare over my morning coffee, so I spent longer than usual and noted the articles which portrayed youthful violence. Here are some of the headings:
This happened in New York. A 28-year-old lady jogger was attacked in Central Park at 10 p.m. She was beaten and raped and left for dead. The attackers were eight teenage boys, 14 to 17. They were arrested and taken to jail. During the night they sang and joked about the incident and said what “fun” it was. The lady has a fractured skull and was still in a coma when the report was written.
“Property at school smashed”
Two 13-year-old boys – in Metro Toronto – caused more than $60,000 damage in a school. They used two stolen hatchets to smash electronic typewriters, computers, the intercom system, walls and light fixtures.
Two 10-yeaar-old boys met an eight-year-old boy on his way to a store. They knocked him down and punched and kicked him. They took the $10 his mother had given him for shopping. They cannot be charged as “they are too young.”
An elderly woman received two black eyes, numerous other bruises and cuts when she was thrown to the ground. Her handbag was stolen. Police believe it was a “gang related” attack. One youth has been arrested.
Metro police issued a warning to women to be careful when they are alone. A 29-year-old woman managed to escape from a man who was hiding in her car in a downtown parking garage.
All these incidents were reported in one morning’s paper and seem to have occurred over the previous week.
Escalation in violence
That physical violence is not peculiar to this generation can be proved by reading a few chapters of the Old Testament. But I don’t think anyone can deny that violence – particularly perpetuated by the young – has escalated at an alarming rate during the past twenty or so years. Can we relate the cause to any one phenomenon which has and is having an overwhelming influence on the thought processes of our age? I believe there are a number of reasons for the breakdown of morality in recent years. But, if I were challenged to pinpoint one very tangible source of infection, I would, without hesitation, lay the blame on television. Or perhaps, I should say, on those who are responsible for producing the programs, which flood our homes, our minds and our imaginations morning, noon and night.
I have no doubt that this statement will appear a vast exaggeration to many TV watchers. But, massive research over the past decade or so leaves little doubt that television is seriously damaging the minds, morals and manners of our young people today. Here are some examples culled from a penetrating article in the Reader’s Digest of January 1983. The writer was Eugene Mathvin. I shall pick out a few of the more lurid and shocking incidents.
A high school honour student had watched the fictionalization of the axe murder in the 1880s. He then chopped his own parents and his sister to death and left his brother a quadriplegic.
The “Deer Hunter” is telecast and a 17-year-old kills himself with a revolver, acting out the movie’s climatic game of Russian roulette. He is the twenty-fifth viewer to kill himself in that way after watching the drama on TV.
A 12-year-old girl overdoses herself, with sleeping pills because her mother would not allow her to date a 16-year-old boy. Her life was saved. When asked by a psychiatrist what gave her the idea of suicide, she replied, “A little girl tried it on TV and when she was revived, she was welcomed back by her parents with open arms.”
Ten years before this article was written, the U.S. Surgeon General, after intensive research, declared, “The casual relationship between televised violence and antisocial behaviour is sufficient to warrant immediate remedial action.” Called before Congress, the three networks agreed. Yet the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Communications, which for 14 years has charted mayhem in network programs, reports that violent acts continue at about six per prime time hour and in four out of every five programs. They say that the weekend children’s programs are even worse!
25 Violent acts
The National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S., having done research on more than 100,000 subjects in different nations, reported that the evidence is overwhelming that “violence on television does lead to aggressive behaviour.” In a year-long study of preschoolers, two Yale University professors found that playground depredations, like fighting and kicking, were far greater among steady action-cartoon viewers. Indeed, Saturday morning “kid vid” ghetto is the most violent time on TV. It portrays 25 violent acts per hour, much of it a poisonous brew of violent programs and aggressive commercials designed to sell such products as breakfast cereals and action toys.
Dr. Gerbner is Dean of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. He is an authority on contemporary television. Speaking of violence on TV, Dr. Gerbner divides viewers into “moderates” and “heavies” depending on the average daily length of their TV viewing. He says that violence is seen six times an hour at peak time, of which two incidents per evening are fatalities. He calculates that in ten years a “heavy” viewer will have seen about 7000 screen deaths. Are adults affected by TV?
The answer is “Yes.” In one study, two U.C.L.A. researchers found that husbands who watch violent programs recorded a significantly higher level of aggressive moods. Wives of such husbands noted about 35 per cent more daily incidents of hurtful behaviour than the wives of husbands who watched “pro-social” programming.
Can you do anything about TV?
Some Christian values and human principles of decency and honesty lose out when the determining factor is “what’s going to sell?” From experience, producers know that gratuitous sex, greed and violence sell a lot. The only thing that stops sponsors, producers and network executives from permitting and endorsing such programs is public reaction. One letter has very little value. But fifty or a hundred complaints from parents pack a lot of power. That is where a little organization among groups of parents and/or teachers can banish harmful programs and demand good ones. Why don’t you set up a “vigilante” committee in your town or city to insist on really good TV programs for your children? Light one candle instead of cursing the darkness!