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
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.
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
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
Did I ask for this? "Yes, you did," say the networks, "Check
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
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
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
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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