Violence-on-TV Study Is Grossly Unfair
Byline: Ted Cox
TV executives visit the White House Thursday, and President Clinton awaits them armed with a new study on TV violence.
Not to intrude, but - having read that study - permit me to say that it is a typically pedantic tract in which meaningless numbers and percentages are shuffled around aimlessly. It is biased, its methods are corrupt and it was clearly put together by a flock of academic dodos out to feather their own nests with grant money.
More to the point, as someone raised on TV violence, I'd like to take those bow-tie-and-elbow-patch dolts, kick them in the pants and push them down a gully.
While shooting at them with a large handgun.
And, of course, they explode into smithereens when they reach the bottom.
Now that would be cool.
That's also my idea of a joke. But, according to the National Television Violence Study, mixing violence with humor is taboo.
The study identifies two "risk factors" in children's television: "the use of humor with violence and unrealistic depictions of the harm of violence."
If you're thinking cartoons on both counts, you're absolutely right. TV executives typically pooh-pooh studies of media violence because they lump animated superhero adventures and slapstick humor in with feature-film shoot-'em-ups on premium cable, making little, if any, distinction between the two. And the NTVS does exactly that.
In "the largest and most representative sample of television ever examined using scientific content and analysis procedures," the study monitored "2,693 programs in a representative sample of programming on 23 channels." The Cartoon Network was one of only 12 basic-cable stations included.
The study found that 57 percent of all TV programs feature violence, and that more than one-third of those "portray unrealistic harm" - that is, somebody gets hit or falls down without being injured - while 39 percent take place "in a humorous context." In kids' TV alone, humor figures in two-thirds of all violence.
What we're talking about here is Wile E. Coyote making his long drop to the bottom of the canyon, where he turns into an accordion.
Is this fair? The study admits that "because television-effects research has yet to pinpoint the differential impact of all these varying styles and approaches, humor was measured in the study only at the most basic level, assessing its presence or absence within each violent scene." Yet, that said, it then makes the leap in logic to insist that "humor tends to trivialize or undermine the seriousness with which violence is regarded, so its prevalence poses cause for concern."
Citing public-opinion surveys and the opinions of various mental-health agencies that have a vested interest in the issue, the NTVS begins with the premise that violence on television is bad, and it proceeds from there. …