Visual Violence: Viewers Take It on the Chin : Research: Experts say violence in programs is growing, but disagree over the social effects.


Violence on television is one of those social ailments, like political corruption and bad breath, that will continue to vex the world’s best intentions for a long time.

We even tire of talking, and reading, about it. Yet the proliferation of TV viewing opportunities across the broad reach of cable programming is spreading depictions of death and mayhem as never before.

TV Guide asked the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a Washington monitor of the airwaves, to catalogue all programming during an 18-hour period on the three major networks, PBS, Fox, MTV, USA, HBO, WTBS and Washington’s non-affiliated WDCA.


In that period the center recorded 1,846 instances of violence, including 175 scenes involving fatalities and “673 depictions of punching, pushing, slapping, dragging and other physically hostile acts.”

The TV Guide research also confirmed fears that music videos and so-called reality-based TV are expanding the varieties of violence viewers now may choose to watch. Worse yet, it is cartoons that are the most violent--and arguably the most dangerous, given the age of the viewers and the staging of violent acts that almost never have painful or permanent consequences.

As it turned out, WDCA had the worst violence-per-minute record--one example every three minutes. WTBS and HBO are next on the list. Bear in mind that movie-heavy programming, to say nothing of cartoon-heavy programming, swells violence quotients past those of the entertainment networks, whose fare is leavened with comedies and talk shows. Of the three major networks, CBS showed the most violence (175 scenes, to ABC’s 48 and NBC’s 39).

From numbers we proceed to mushier ground. “The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion now holds that televised violence is indeed responsible for a percentage of the real violence in our society,” declares TV Guide in its Aug. 22-28 issue. “A percentage”?

As the magazine’s panel of experts goes on to demonstrate, what’s overwhelming is the disagreement about the effects of imaginary violence on the nature and frequency of violence itself. To say nothing of the disagreement over what to do about it.

Assuming you could ever quantify the effects of televised violence, how big would that number have to be before it warranted constitutionally noxious violence “standards”?


All this is hashed over in lively but inconclusive fashion.