Television, the Desensitizer
Submitted By skarelus
Television, the Desensitizer We do not have to watch television for very long to realize that violence is a common theme on a variety of shows. It can be found almost everywhere, including daytime talk shows and so-called sports entertainment programs. These programs may be defined as entertainment but they do more harm than good when we consider the effects that watching violent programming has on viewers. When we observe how these programs can influence behavior, especially among younger viewers, we should seriously consider setting standards for violence on television.
One type of programming that is especially offensive is daytime talk shows, such as Jerry Springer. The individuals on these shows are characterized by shameless displays of emotional and physical abuse almost daily. These shows hype their guests into a frenzy and the guests know what type of behavior is expected from them. Husbands and wives yell and scream at each other and angry or jilted lovers push and shove each other on stage. While most of us are able to discern between the real world and that of fiction, fantasy, or Jerry Springer, some of us are not. The result of watching this type of program repeatedly is desensitization. In other words, the more people watch these types of programs, they more they will think that the behavior depicted on these shows is acceptable. Studies conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles Television Monitoring Project Part indicate that many shows on television send the message that “fighting, if not fun, is at least the norm” (Media Awareness). With the talk show host and audience encouraging such detestable behavior, it is easy to understand how people can be influenced by television.
In an article published in the Journal of American Medical Association, Brandon Centerwall observes that the negative effects of television can be seen ever since television was introduced. He states that after the invention of television, “the annual white homicide rate increased by 93%, from 8.0 homicides per 100,000 white population in 1945 to 5.8 per 100,000 in 1974” (Centerwall). Also, an investigation was conducted on the small Canadian town, Notel, which did not have television in comparison to communities that did own televisions. The double-blind study revealed that two years after the introduction of television, rates of physical aggression among children in Notel had increased by 160 percent” (Centerwall). These startling numbers indicate that individuals react when they are exposed to violence on television.
The National Television Violence Study reports that “perpetrators of violence go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes” (Marks). This presents us with the fact that violent activity will not be punished, or worse, be considered successful. In addition, 47 percent of all violent encounters do not show any harm to the victim, 58 percent show no pain, and in 84 percent of programs that show violence do not include the long-term negative consequences of those actions (Marks).
Another type of programming that presents us with blatant forms of violence is wrestling. The new world of wrestling is much different to the old world of wrestling, according to Vince McMahon, who had made millions off of the World Wrestling Federation. (McMahon qtd. in Rosellini) America’s new art form includes a “bizarre melange of rock music, pyrotechnics, soap opera, and athleticism staged before frenzied crowds” (Rosellini). Indeed, these shows are not what they used to be. Dialogues and story lines are incorporated into these shows, which often appear to be not much more than soap operas in the ring. The message that viewers take away from these types of scenarios is that disputes, arguments, and disagreements can be solved problems with acts of violence.
We do not have to look far to see if what people watch has any effect on them. Take for instance the case of Owen Hart. Hart was killed when a wrestling stunt turned bad. What is amazing about this story is the fact that after Hart’s 78-foot fall, the show went on because the crowd thought that it was part of the act. Owen’s widow claims that wrestling, “zealous for ratings, has become a showy display of graphic violence, sexual themes and dangerous stunts’” (Levin). Besides the fact that Owen lost his life, the most compelling aspect of this story is the fact that society has become so accustomed to violence, it cannot tell when a real tragedy occurs.
Additionally, in Dallas, a seven-year-old boy lunged at his brother, who was three years old, and shoved one of his arms at his neck and killed him. The older brother said he was imitating a “clothesline” move he saw his favorites wrestlers do on television (Levin). Teachers in Winnipeg, Canada complain that students imitate the obnoxious behavior by “grabbing their crotches and yelling ‘Suck it’--in some cases at teachers” (Levin). Again, we have to realize that people are influenced by what they see on television to a certain extent.
In defense of such behavior, McMahon claims that he and other wrestlers are reflecting the world that they live in. However, many others, who do not make a profit off of such activity believe wrestlers are doing much more than that. The message they present to the world is a dangerous one. Rosellini asserts that if people allow themselves to become influenced by this behavior, they will ultimately come to the conclusion that “Racial stereotypes are OK. Ogling women and making crude remarks are the marks of a man. It’s cool to tell people to ‘Kiss my a--’ or ‘Suck it.’ And if you disagree with someone, ‘bash them” (Rosellini). When children mock this type of behavior, we know it is time to make some changes.
In conclusion, the problem with violence on television is not a mild one. We see examples around us everyday of how rude, obnoxious, and vile behavior is acceptable and never punished in the make-believe worlds of daytime talk shows and wrestling. As adults, we must set standards and then behave like responsible parents when it comes to what we allow our children to watch. Younger viewers are the most vulnerable and deserve a chance at a decent life before they are exposed to the lower forms of life that permeate the television channels.
Levin, Bob. “A Groin-Grab for Ratings.” Maclean’s. 26 July 1999. Vol. 112. Issue 30. EBSCO Database. Site Accessed May 18, 2004.
Rosellini, Lynn. “Lords of the Ring.” U. S. News & World Report. 17 May 1999. EBSCO Database. Site Accessed May 18, 2004.
UCLA Television Monitoring Project Part I. Site Accessed May 18, 2004. Media Awareness Resource.
The UCLA Television Violence Report. UCLA Resource. Site Accessed May 18, 2004. Centerwall, Brandon. “Television and Violence: The Scale of the Problem and Where to Go from Here.” JAMA. 10 Jun, 1992. Vol. 267. ProQuest Database.
Marks, Alexandra. “Study 'Pulls No Punches About Television Violence: The comprehensive report bolsters calls for immediate reform.” The Christian Science Monitor. 8 February 1996. ProQuest Database.