It's much too easy to blame the TV and not ourselves

October 21, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

Over in Norway, they had a tragic death, and so, because the killers were only 6, they needed another culprit.

Maybe TV did it, they decided. In response, the Norwegians, who are unused to violence, pulled "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" off the air.

In America, where violence is our national pastime, a lot of people think that's a good idea.

Count me among the skeptics.

You see, I have this gut feeling that TV is just TV. I'm pretty sure it's not real, and that most of us over the age of 6 can figure that out. It's a little box, and even with the big-screen TV, you can't fit real people inside it.

Maybe 6-year-olds don't understand that. Maybe their parents ought to explain it to them then. Or maybe this: Parents shouldn't use TV as a baby sitter without being certain what their kids are watching.

I'm not saying TV violence is good or that most of these shows aren't junk. I raised my kid on "Sesame Street." And psychologists can make a convincing argument that violent TV makes kids more aggressive. Who can doubt that kids who watch Ninja Turtles will ninja-kick until the terrapins come home?

It's logical that TV sells violence in the same way it sells soap and cars and gubernatorial candidates.

But I don't believe TV turns us into killers. That's much too easy.

Here are some figures, though, that should scare you. By the time the average kid finishes elementary school, he's seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on the TV set.

I didn't count up when I was a kid. But I watched "Paladin" and "The Rifleman." I watched tons of war movies and even a sitcom about a German POW camp. And yet, I never killed anybody. I didn't turn into a warmonger, either. In fact, the generation that grew up on John Wayne became the anti-war hippies of the late '60s. Go figure.

I don't have small children anymore, so I don't know much about Power Rangers. I had a friend pitch in.

"It's always the same plot," he said. "One of the kids gets kidnapped and put into some kind of warp zone. If they don't get the kid back, the world will be destroyed. The other kids visit a wizard [religious right alert] who explains the problem. During the rescue, the kids -- who are always the good kids in school, always on the side of truth and justice -- meet some aqua-animal monster. They ninja-fight him. Eventually, the only way they can win is to morph -- they say, 'Let's morph' -- and finally they turn into a giant megazord, which zaps the bad guys and everyone lives happily ever after."

Except for the parents who have to buy all the Power Rangers paraphernalia.

"It's like Batman," the friend said. "It's all cartoon violence."

Cartoons are violent. But is it too violent when Wile E. Coyote gets a tootful of dynamite or an anvil is dropped on his head? Maybe for a 4-year-old.

But does it turn anyone into a serial anvil tosser?

Here's something to consider. In Europe and Japan, they watch as much TV as we do. Much of it, in fact, is American TV, full of violence and other stuff we're famous for. But somehow, they don't kill people like we do. I've got the stats. In 1981, 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 the United States, we had 5,781 -- nine times as many. Why?

Why does the city of Baltimore have 10 times as many murders as Baltimore County? It can't be a difference in TV.

We are a violent country with a violent history that stretches back long before the advent of TV. If we change the culture, TV will probably change, too.

There are many social ills in this country that may be related to our epidemic of violence. And, yet, I don't see many TV shows celebrating drug use or teen-age pregnancy or gang warfare. Something else is at work here.

If you want to attack violence at its roots, do something about poverty, not cartoon shows. Twenty percent of our children live below the poverty line. That's real violence.

Attacking TV, which everyone knows is bad and yet everyone seems to watch, just avoids the hard issues. The truth is, TV-land is mostly a moral universe, in which good wins over evil. That may be a lot better than what we get in real life.

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