Targeting TV violence as root of all evil takes easy way out

MIKE LITTWIN

October 22, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Our brave leaders in Congress are at it again. They took time out the other day from praising motherhood to take a shot at condemning violence on TV.

You should have seen it (you could: the hearing was broadcast on C-Span).

Senators wrestled with each other to be first in line as protectors of the American birthright that they insisted TV is stealing from our children.

It was a regular bash-fest.

Senator after senator proclaimed that much of TV is garbage. Everyone agreed. They said it's rife with gratuitous sex and violence. You betcha. They even said the TV execs are greedy sleazoids. Like that's going to cause an argument. They said our children are being ruined by "Beavis and Butt-head." Hmmm. Somehow, I don't think that's the first time the term "butt-head" has been used on Capitol Hill.

Then they warned: If TV executives don't clean up their act, Congress will do it for them.

Try not to laugh. These are our elected leaders and representatives, after all. They said they were serious. Really.

We know better, of course.

Attacking TV violence is a ruse. It's a dodge. I don't dispute the notion that TV violence is bad for children, and that violence begets violence. But let me ask the senators this:

Do you think the L.A. riots were a product of TV violence?

Are there many TV shows glorifying looting?

Are gangs a TV staple? Is there a "Crips and Bloods 90210"?

Do many of your weekly shows promote cocaine use? Teen pregnancy? Dropping out of high school?

As it happens, the goriest TV pictures come courtesy of the 11 o'clock news. Try it one night. If it's not a house burning with a baby trapped inside, it's another bullet-riddled body with a toe tag.

What are the violent pictures you recall? The images that stick in my mind are the conflagration in Waco, the bodies of soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the Rodney King beating, the Reginald Denny beating. There's your real TV violence.

In Europe, they watch a lot of TV, too. A lot of what they watch, it turns out, is American TV. They watch it in Japan much as we do, on Japanese-made sets. They see plenty of sex and violence, and can you guess the effect on their youth?

In 1991, Great Britain, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands had a combined 668 murders of people aged 15 to 24.

In that same year, 5,781 Americans of the same age were murdered. Why the difference?

Maybe it wasn't the TV. Maybe America was a violent society before "Beavis and Butt-head" arrived last May.

Maybe something else is at work.

If Congress wants to do something about the violence in our society and the violence we do our children, why don't they do something about controlling the 200 million guns we have in our country?

When Hillary Rodham Clinton testified the other week about the possibility of significantly raising taxes on the sale of handguns and semiautomatic weapons, you should have seen the boys in the White House. Almost immediately, they announced they were just kidding about the gun tax, knowing how quickly Congress would, uh, shoot it down.

You want to know about violence done to children? In America, fully 20 percent of children live below the national poverty line. That's double the rate of any industrialized nation.

Let Congress attack poverty in a serious way. Let Congress pass a serious crime bill, so children don't have to live on unpoliced streets that resemble war zones. Let Congress find money for the cities which can afford only half as much per pupil as some of the suburbs spend.

Attacking TV is easy. It's still that great cultural wasteland. Everyone wants better TV, except the people who actually watch it. If you've got basic cable, you can get three PBS stations, two CNN stations, two C-Span stations, the Discovery network and the Arts and Entertainment network. There's plenty of good and informative TV, but you don't see PBS challenging CBS in the ratings.

I'd love to see less violence on TV. It's probably good that they moved "Beavis and Butthead" from 7 p.m. to 10:30. There's nothing wrong with discussing the issues. But don't tell me that TV violence is the issue. The real issue is the violence outside your doors.

And everyone knows it.

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