Symbolic Politics: Congressional Interest in Television Violence from 1950 to 1996

By Hoerrner, Keisha L. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Symbolic Politics: Congressional Interest in Television Violence from 1950 to 1996


Hoerrner, Keisha L., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Drawing from sociological research, this study tested the relationship between social, economic, and political factors and congressional actions regarding television violence over forty-six years, and advanced a political science theory, symbolic politics, as an explanation for the relationship. Empirical analysis revealed Congress' actions are more symbolic than substantive. Taken together, the actions correlate with political and social factors. Significantly, congressional interest in television violence has no relationship to the amount of violence on television, suggesting legislators' moral outrage is questionable.

During the 1950s, television became the most popular source of family entertainment. However, even during this first decade of television, remembered as the "Golden Age," concern over violent content became a topic of debate in the halls of Congress. Now, after forty years, this concern has established itself as a recurrent theme.

Congress' seemingly ceaseless interest manifested itself in varying degrees of action. These have included placing a newspaper article in the Congressional Record along with a brief comment, scheduling hearings on the issue, and grilling a few industry representatives. Legislation has also been introduced to limit the amount of violence on television. Congressional concern over television violence is a serious issue. It involves the interplay between government, a most influential industry, and First Amendment protections.

From 1990 to 1996, legislators introduced more than fifteen bills directly relating to television violence. This is a far cry from the trend against actual legislation evident in the preceding three decades.1 Section 551 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which passed with little resistance in either house and was enthusiastically signed by the president,2 mandated a v-chip in every television thirteen inches or larger and encouraged a voluntary ratings system to allow consumers to block certain programming. And Congress is not satisfied that it has done everything within its power to curb television violence. New legislation was introduced the day after the Telecommunications Act became law, and more sat in committees during the 1997 legislative session. In May 1999, Congress held hearings on "media violence," including television, following the Littleton, Colorado, school shooting.3 Further actions are illustrative of ongoing congressional concern.

This study explored all congressional actions concerning television violence from 1950, the first year a member introduced the issue, to 1996, the year the latest law was passed. Specifically, it quantitatively investigated the impact of social, economic, and political factors on congressional interest in television violence and advanced symbolic politics theory as an explanation for this interest. This is the first study to go beyond the anecdotal assumption that Congress acts "as a response to specific violent acts that attracted the attention of the media and of the American public"4 such as the Beavis and Butthead fire episode in 1993 and, instead, empirically tests multiple independent variables to determine their relationship with congressional action over a period of more than four decades.

Background

Although media effects scholars have focused intense efforts on television violence5 and legal scholars have researched the constitutional aspects of governmental interference in the television industry,6 less emphasis has been placed on the complex relationship between public policy makers and the private industry of broadcasting regarding the issue. Very little existing research attempts to unravel why the government periodically places a spotlight on television violence, as it did with its first hearing on the subject in 1952.(7) Still, research investigating the relationship between Congress and its independent administrative agencies8 such as the Federal Communications Commission, as well as works that broadly discuss the relationship of Congress and the broadcasting industry, begin to explain congressional interest in violent television content.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Symbolic Politics: Congressional Interest in Television Violence from 1950 to 1996
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.