OpEd Columns

Prime-time violence beats the local news (Indianapolis Star 1/16/04)

The Parents Television Council recently released their newest report on network TV violence. Predictably, they pounded out statistics confirming that TV violence during prime time has increased exponentially in the past few years.
More graphic. More frequent. Just simply more.
The question they didn't answer is, " How dull are our lives that millions of us gain some level of pleasure by watching the sadly sordid actions of society's worst citizens?"
Maybe we are so desensitized by daily local TV newscasts of dysfunctional behavior (murders, rapes, etc.) that the networks must concoct an armada of disturbing crime dramas to make our hometown deviants look bland by comparison.
How else to explain the bastion of horror that is network primetime.
Click. We see a dead female corpse on CSI, followed by an extreme close up interrogation of the creepy whispering suspect. Cut to the morgue for more examination of the cold body. Flash to her assailant choking her.
Back to the interrogation. We find out he's a photographer turned perverted sexual predator. She was a pseudo-prostitute Vegas showgirl wannabe. Let's examine her bloody pantyhose.
High drama.
Sure beats the sentencing of a convicted rapist story that the NewsTeam anchor promises me will be coming up after the show. That seems so passe.
Click. Look! A 12-year old boy playing basketball just got stabbed three times in the abdomen on NBC's Third Watch.
Isn't it odd? There's a feeling of safety when the wireless phone commercial briefly interrupts this barrage of violent images.
Click. Kiefer Sutherland, star of Fox's 24, pops on the screen for 15 seconds immediately after his show ends. He reminds us to use guns responsibly.
Thanks Kiefer, star of one of the most intensely violent shows on TV. Why not roll out Colonel Sanders to tell us the benefits of eating a low fat diet?
Click. The five-second local news promo squeezes in at 9:35 pm. "How to talk to your kids about the Michael Jackson case…at eleven." Advice I really need.
Click. A middle age pedophile is planting a kiss on a six-year old. Oh, her mother stops him just in time. It’s CBS' new hit series Cold Case.
Did I ask for this? "Yes, you did," say the networks, "Check the Nielsens."
Well, if that's true, I'd like to personally thank the handful of households in this vast country of ours that apparently determine the content of TV for all of us. You're doing a bang-up job choosing between what's more entertaining to watch: sweaty-but-sneaky psycho killers, good-looking, gun-wielding drug dealers, or well-lit corpses poked and prodded.
Back to Cold Case. The mother, scared for her daughter's life, panics, grabs the girl, and jumps out the glass window of their apartment, killing the girl.
Another cold case solved.
The lead stories of our six o'clock newscasts are now re-enacted three hours later with two tons of visual ferocity and two ounces of dramatic suspense. Murder mysteries have devolved from the traditional who-dunnit genre to the salacious how-they-dunnit category.
Click. I just found out what death by erotic asphyxia means. Hmmm, nice to know.
Forget the obvious effect such an onslaught has on Johnny Adolescent. Ignore the bad residue that sticks to a culture immersed nightly in a bath of slimy sex offenders and crimson Karo syrup. Discard the heavy handed preaching of the Parents Television Council. And ask yourself this question.
Do we really need this to entertain ourselves?
And to the networks…Is it possible to produce an effective drama without dwelling on the sickest behavior of the most deranged individuals in our society? All of this under the auspices of "criminal investigation" or "legal wrangling".
It’s hard to watch a TV drama these days (not to mention Fear Factor) without a barf bag by my side. If it's not a made-up drama, it's a made-for-TV movie. Of course, based on a true story.
On one night in November we could watch Jessica Lynch and her comrades riddled with Iraqi bullets, or turn the station and watch psychotic Emmanuel drag Elizabeth Smart through the woods in her pajamas.
I thought Christmas week might bring a respite from our national fascination with the macabre. Indeed, NBC broadcast the award-winning epic Titanic the Sunday before Christmas.
Yes! Finally, relief.
Titanic, a sweeping romantic saga that ends with…oh no…. hundreds of people jumping off a sinking ship to their deaths, an armed officer blowing his brains out on camera, and the corpse of Leo DiCaprio frozen to Kate Wunslet's makeshift float.
I forgot…it's based on a true story. Just like my local TV news.
Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2004 Ted Mandell

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