Editorial: TV violence not easing up, study shows, so it's up to us to take charge of the remote

May. 06, 2013 @ 11:19 PM

No matter what studies some television executive may point to, sensible people know that a steady diet of violence as portrayed on TV has an effect, especially on young people. When you note the number of hours a day children watch television, and the types of shows broadcast on networks and cable channels, it’s hard not to see a link between TV and societal misbehavior.

A study of 392 prime-time scripted programs on broadcast networks shown during the month following Vice President Joe Biden’s January meeting with entertainment industry executives on the topic revealed that 193 had some incident of violence, according to the Parents Television Council. Some are cartoonish, but there is plenty of gunplay, stabbings and beat-downs, the Associated Press reported.

Here’s a sample of the incidents captured by the PTC between Jan. 11 and Feb. 11:

— A character on ABC’s “Body of Proof” says he dreams of ripping a woman’s brain out while she’s still alive, but he’s shot as he’s about to stick a hook up her nose. Then he’s pushed off a balcony and killed.

— A woman on Fox’s “The Following” jams an ice pick into her eye.

— A prison riot episode of CBS’ “Hawaii Five-O” includes one man trying to kill someone in a laundry room press, a man snapping someone’s neck with his legs and a man injected with something that causes a violent convulsion.

— A man threatens hospital workers on NBC’s “Chicago Fire” with a gun before he’s disabled with a Taser.

— A gun fight on ABC’s “Last Resort” is ignited by one man stabbing another in the abdomen with a screwdriver.

— A man on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” is shot dead by the FBI as he tries to cut the eyelids off a gallery owner’s face.

—Two characters on Fox’s “Bones” wake to find a corpse hanging from the canopy above their bed, dripping blood onto them.

— An already bloody man is dragged into a warehouse on CBS’ “The Mentalist,” choked to death and thrown in a furnace — all witnessed by a little boy hiding in the building.

— A man writhes in pain on Fox’s “Fringe” before a parasite violently bursts out of his body. He’s surrounded by the bodies of others who had met the same fate.

— A scene in ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” features a woman’s nightmare about sawing her leg, as blood spurts and she screams in pain.

— On CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” a man aims a gun at a group of children in the park before he is shot dead.

— Even President Grant on ABC’s “Scandal” gets into the act, removing an oxygen mask from a woman’s face so she suffocates.

Censorship is not the answer. Many of the shows mentioned are popular with viewers. The issue is whether children should be exposed to such a cumulative number of violent acts, even if portrayed not in real life but on the TV screen. And adults who get a steady stream of this stuff may, if other factors are weighed in, succumb to their demons and act accordingly.

“I think it is only going to get worse,” said Dr. Victor Strasburger, pediatrics professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, who has written frequently on the topic of violence in the media. He said media executives are “not willing to own up to their public health responsibilities.”

TV executives are reluctant to talk about violent content, and when pressed question any link between what they air on television and aggressive behavior in real life, AP’s account says. Schedules get shifted around when tragic events are in the news, but there’s no indication they have changed the types of programs being made. Policy debates have largely overlooked the issue, focusing instead on background checks for gun owners or bans on assault weapons.

So parents have to be the ultimate censors here. They must keep such programming away from children. Network executives can tone down the violent acts without sacrificing dramatic effect. The choice shouldn’t be between the Disney Channel and NBC. It should be households taking control of the control and making sure there is a balance in what is shown on the living room TV.