Channeling Violence: The Economic Market for Violent Television Programming

Article excerpt

Channeling Violence: The Economic Market for Violent Television Programming. James T. Hamilton. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. 390 pp. $35 hbk.

No more important public policy exists than the dealing with the presumed negative effects of violence on television. Researchparticularly concerning negative effects on the young-usually takes the form of psychological and/or sociological analysis. Channeling Violence examines television violence as a commercial product.

This well-written and finely argued economic analysis begins by noting what we all too often take for granted: TV programming is in general profit driven, and, in particular, is strategically chosen to attract particular viewing audiences. This is as true for news as it is for the more avowedly greed-driven entertainment programs.

James T. Hamilton, an associate professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, argues that TV violence represents an economic problem at its core, a classic example of a failure of the free-market to produce "optimal" results in terms of societal and cultural performance. Hamilton, effectively and adroitly, makes the analogy to air pollution in that in both cases, producers do not consider the full social and cultural costs of their activities. Broadcasters and cablecasters alike seek to attract viewers for their advertising clients as well as their need, in cable's case, to ensure we all write that check each month.

The problem is that in too many cases, TV's programmers and networks do not fully bear the costs to society of their violent programming, if those costs include such factors as increased aggression and crime. …