Column: TV and violence: America’s infatuation

By Brian Mellen

As if it’s standard procedure to put a few bullets through someone’s chest, Eugene Pontecorvo walks into a restaurant and casually shoots a man eating some food. A few scenes later, that same character from “Sopranos” hangs himself in his own basement in one of the most disturbing scenes in television history. Pontecorvo writhes in agonizing pain as he slowly dies from asphyxiation. And to top it off, the elderly and mentally disturbed Uncle Junior unexpectedly shoots Tony in a case of mistaken identity by the episode’s end. And that was just one episode; the opener for the sixth season of “Sopranos.”

It’s pretty much the same wholesome, family entertainment we’ve come to expect from “Sopranos” right? Sure. I’m a huge fan but would be absolutely horrified if I found out any parent let their children watch this show. However, if there are children that watch or have watched “Sopranos,” they’re likely a small minority. Children can’t just pick a remote and switch on the mature programming HBO normally shows without parents paying extra for the channel. If people do have both children and specialty channels like HBO, they often at times block these channels with parental control options that require a password for access. But what about all the networks and basic cable channels that come as a package and don’t cost extra?

CNN, as well as the Los Angeles Times, have done recent stories on the amount of TV violence children see. According to one study by the Parents Television Council, children between the ages of 5 and 10 view an average of almost twice as many violent acts than do adults watching TV during prime time. Amy Aidman, the University’s associate dean of the College of Communications, and a specialist in media literacy, said the figures presented by the Parents Television Council are cause for concern. “Children are developmentally different from adults,” Aidman said. “They don’t make distinctions between fantasy and reality the way we do.” The Los Angeles Times article said witnessing violent acts on television cannot only cause children to act out more aggressively, but they also seriously disturb and scar youth.

As a solution to the problem of violence on television, some groups like the Parents Television Council advocate further government regulation – as if the government solves all our problems. But what happened to personal responsibility and, more specifically, the duty of taking care of your own children?

It’s about time people stopped blaming media for all the problems in society. Though the Parents Television Council’s cause is honorable and the media does have an effect on people – especially children – putting the responsibility of regulation on the government for what children can and can’t see is lazy. Regulation of media should be up to each individual parent. Some day I’ll have children and I will make sure to talk with them about what they see on TV, as well as make sure I know what they’re watching. There will be rules and if I deem what’s generally seen on TV as inappropriate then I’ll either strongly limit the amount of TV my children can watch or not allow them access to it in the first place until I feel they’ve reached a mature enough age.

What’s really at stake here is that meddling groups like the Parents Television Council want to impose what they see as inappropriate or indecent on everyone. This is a very natural response. You hear someone say something or present an idea you don’t like and your natural response is to shut him or her up. The framers of the Constitution granted American citizens the freedom of speech. At times this amendment is arguably the hardest one for people to swallow. Yes, those in the TV industry could afford to be a little more thoughtful on what they put on the air when children are most likely to be watching, but more government regulation is not the solution. They say art and entertainment are reflections of society. That then means we as Americans are just as violent and prone to aggression as the entertainment we watch. Let’s solve our infatuation with violence first. More government regulation for cable TV? Fugettaboutit.

Brian Mellen is junior in Communications. After finishing this column, all he could think about was how much he wanted Italian food. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] .com.