, Research Paper
Clearly, something is wrong. Broadcasters are licensed to serve “the
public interest, convenience and necessity.” They are paid to deliver
receptive audiences to their business sponsors. Few industries are as
public relations-conscious as television. What compels them to endure
public humiliation, risk the threat of repressive legislation and invite
charges of undermining health, security and the social order?
The usual rationalization that violence delivers the goods — it “gives
the audience what it wants” — is disingenuous. As the trade knows well
and as we shall see, violence as such is not highly rated. That means
that it coasts on viewer inertia, not selection.
Unlike other media use, viewing is a ritual; people watch by the clock
and not by the program. To the limited extent that some programs have a
larger share of certain time-slots and can, therefore, extract a higher
price for commercials, violent programs in those time slots may yield
the broadcaster some marginal profits. For a robust industry, sensitive
to public and legislative criticism, those incremental profits are
hardly worth the social, institutional and political damage violent
Something is wrong with the way the problem has been posed and
addressed. A virtual obsession with asking the wrong question obscures
the factors that in fact drive violence and trap the industry in a
difficult dilemma. The usual question — “Does television violence
incite real-life violence?” — is itself a symptom rather than
diagnostic tool of the problem. Despite its alarming implications, and
intent, or perhaps because of them, it distracts from focusing on the
major conditions producing violence in society and limits discussion of
television violence to its most simplistic dimension.
Violence is a complex scenario and social relationship. Whatever else it
does, violence in drama and news demonstrates power. It portrays
victims, as well as victimizers. It intimidates, as well as incites. It
shows one’s place in the “pecking order” that runs society. And, it
“travels well” on the world market.