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If It Bleeds, It Leads

by Neena Louise

There's been so much buzz about violence on television these days: How it's warping our youth, leading to spree shootings such as the Columbine tragedy, desensitizing people (especially youths) to violence, etc. I say: what rot!

Has everyone forgotten that television is, for the most part, MAKE-BELIEVE? Any child with half a brain knows this. I recall an experiment a bunch of know-it-alls did with young children. The kids watched an episode of the Power Rangers, then the so-called experts observed the children's behavior after. As predicted, the kids kicked, jabbed and generally acted out what they saw. A five-year-old was interviewed and his "violent" behavior was pointed out to him. He gave the expert one of those what-a-stupid-thing-to-say looks that only a five-year-old can give and said "Well, we were kicking the AIR...not EACH OTHER." How very telling: Even at five, children can make the distinction between real and make-believe, and never even considered being violent with another human being (until, perhaps, an adult suggested it).

The most absurd censorship of violence on television is the cartoons. South Park seems to have become the most controversial cartoon on television. Sure, it's obnoxious and violent, but - HELLO - it's a cartoon! Can anybody with half a brain be truly warped by cartoon characters? How could anybody equate what happens in South Park to real life? It still rankles that they cut "violence" from old Warner Brothers cartoons. Classic cartoons are now shredded to such an extent that they have become nonsensical - all in the name of lessening TV violence. I grew up on Warner Brothers cartoons, and I don't recall ever feeling compelled to drop a safe or anvil on someone, bash someone over the head with a hammer nor poke my fingers in someone's eye because the idea was planted in me by watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The thought never even crossed my mind.

Then there's the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season-ender that was delayed due to the shootings at Columbine.The show was about killing a demon, for heaven's sake, not advocating shooting up a school. A demon that, in its true form, had no resemblance to a human being. Sure, it was violent, but not nearly as violent as I expected it to be (or could've been), given the controversy, and I'm bewildered by the decision not to air it on its original date. The network claimed they delayed airing the episode out of "respect for the families" of the Columbine victims. Huh? The show has no parallels in real life: anyone ever seen a vampire? A demon? Or know a vampire slayer?? I don't see how delaying a season-ender because it has some violent aspects is respectful to grieving families. Like they're going to huddle around the TV to watch (and become offended by) Buffy when they're mourning the loss of a child. Like they were no longer grieving when the episode finally aired. What nonsense! Great publicity stunt, though.

As a child weaned on television, I was neither desensitized nor made more violent by what I saw on TV with one exception: The news. Early on, I could recognize that the news is real. It regularly depicts violence that really happens to real people and I frequently find it disturbing. It is the news that desensitizes people, with its constant, exploitive, violent and frequently bloody depictions of real life. With the glut of cable news channels, prime time news shows and frequent news updates, it's hard to get away from the violence.

Consider a troubled youth: an outcast with his/her peers; ignored, snubbed and powerless; feeling suicidal, nearly exploding with pent-up rage and frustration. What better way, then, to be memorialized and remembered forever than go out in a "blaze of glory" and have the news media give them more attention than they ever would have received in life? What power! After the Columbine shootings, every news station, prime-time news show, tabloid show and many networks showed the same tape again and again and again - bloody and exploitive - for days on end. I was appalled that I was sick and tired of (and totally disinterested in) this horrific shooting by the second day. This shouldn't be. With all the media hype about violence on television, they ought to take a good hard look at themselves, considering their credo is "if it bleeds, it leads".

With the exception of the news and some curse words, television is not so different than, say, 10 years ago. If anything, it's more sanitized with all its political correctness. Why, then, is teen violence on the rise? I have a theory: If one is never taught how to deal with feelings of rage and frustration, the easiest thing to do is lash out. It's a quick tension release and eases feelings of powerlessness (how many of us have kicked or thrown something when frustrated or angry?). I marvel that the parents of the Columbine killers had "no idea" their children were that troubled. Oh? And why not? There had to be some indication - no one just decides out of the clear blue sky to go on a shooting rampage, after all. Weren't you paying attention?

The suggestion that depictions of violence on television (whether on the news or in a show) automatically lead to "copycat" crimes is absurd. Anyone who commits a "copycat" crime would have committed violence anyway and wasn't spurred on to violence just because of something shown on television. Youths in families where conflict is resolved in a calm, non-violent way aren't likely to view something violent on TV and suddenly decide to emulate it. Youths who are ignored and angry, with no direction or conflict-resolution skills might very well be greatly influenced by TV, since they've been taught nothing else. But that's not TV's fault. It's our responsibility to recognize and treat a troubled individual, not blame the media when we fail in that capacity.

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