Congress attacks violence as a TV fantasy, not reality

January 26, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

While President Clinton has his own ideas about crime in America, Congress has already solved the problem:

Television, it believes, is the reason we have violence in America.

And this is why there are no fewer than 10 bills now pending in Congress to reduce or eliminate violence in broadcasting.

One bill would require all TV manufacturers to include an electronic chip -- a so-called v-chip -- that could block out violent shows.

Another bill would forbid violent shows during certain hours. (What's a violent show? "NYPD Blue"? "Bugs Bunny and Pals"? "Geraldo"? There is no agreement.)

The entertainment industry has been howling about all this, but it looks like this is one battle Congress is going to win without even firing a shot:

NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox have agreed in principle to establish an independent monitoring system to report on how violent their shows are. And cable TV has agreed to a violence ratings system.

All this was in response to direct threats by Congress that if the networks didn't clean up their own acts, Congress would do it for them.

It is by no means certain that Congress has a constitutional right to do any of this. While the Supreme Court has said obscenity may be regulated, it has never said violence may be. (The American Civil Liberties Union opposes legislation to regulate violence on TV and in the movies.)

But Congress does not need legislation as long as the television industry is willing to cave in.

And the industry is. It is frightened. It knows that most people take it as gospel that violence on TV leads to violence in real life.

To hear University of Washington psychiatrist Brandon S. Centerwell tell it, if television had never been invented, society would have been spared "10,000 homicides, 70,000 rapes, and 700,000 assaults."

But if that is true, how come people were so violent before the invention of television?

As I have pointed out before, the murder rate in Los Angeles in 1850 was 19 times greater than today.

And the term "hoodlum" originated in San Francisco in the 1860s to describe sadistic youths who not only robbed and beat their victims, but also branded them with hot irons, cut off their ears and cut out their tongues.

Why were people so violent? I can tell you only one thing with certainty: Television had nothing to do with it.

But are we mystified as to the true causes of violence in America today? Not at all.

Guns and drugs are two large causes of violent crime in America, a nation where the homicide rate is rising six times faster than the population.

But has Congress summoned gun manufacturers at it summoned the TV executives?

It did not.

Guns on TV do not kill anyone. Guns in real life do. So why does Congress concentrate on TV?

Because it's easier. TV producers are cream puffs compared to the gun lobby.

But how about drugs? Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders pointed out last month that 60 percent of all violent crimes in America are drug-related.

"Many times they're robbing, stealing and all of these things to get money to buy drugs," Elders said of violent offenders. "I do feel that we would markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized."

She said the idea was worth some study. But members of Congress did not rush forward to endorse this. They ran away from it instead.

Drugs on TV don't kill anybody. Drugs in real life do.

But our national leaders won't even consider alternatives or modifications to our vastly expensive and vastly ineffective war on drugs.

Why? Because it is politically unpopular. Because haranguing the entertainment industry is a lot easier than doing anything meaningful about either drugs or guns.

So we will get TV violence ratings and violence monitors and maybe even v-chips.

But I wonder what kind of rating the Bobbitt trial or the Menendez trial would have received? And what kind of chip will block out the footage from Bosnia?

And that is the real problem:

While Congress is trying to clean up fantasy, who is going to clean up reality?

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