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Television: Window to Violence

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #93 (Fall 1992)

I recently spent two weeks in Los Angeles on a visit with my family. There were no visible signs of damage from the recent riots in the few areas we visited. Although the weather was unusually hot and muggy, life in L.A. appeared normal. Desiring to “reconnect” with my native culture, I found myself watching several hours of television a day at my parent’s home, something I would never do in Japan. I began reflecting on some of the typical patterns of “normal life” in the U.S.A. and the role occupied by television and its influence. Millions of Americans live some variation of the following daily routine. People rise in the morning and the TV set is immediately turned on. They spend most of their day at work while the children study at school, and all come home tired in the evening, and on goes the TV. Evenings involve preparation of dinner which is eaten with the eyes of family members glued to the television set. The “tube” keeps many Americans company until they are ready to retire at night. Indeed, in some households the TV set is left on continuously to provide a reassuring background noise.

Certainly America’s most adored entertainment medium has been one of the single most important factors in shaping its citizens’ minds for the last 40 years. I was a member of the first TV generation back in the early 1950s and became captive to its lures at an early age. Children are quiet and well-behaved while hypnotized before the screen and our parents quickly discovered it was the cheapest babysitter of all. Television influenced our ways of thinking, acting, even eating. It still does.

In addition to the traditional networks we grew up watching, today’s generation has an incredible selection of programming to view, with the addition of cable television and videotape decks. Among the huge menu of viewing selections possible, so-called “action movies” are the clear preference of many, especially young males. Given their subject matter, these films contain scenes depicting varying degrees of violence. In fact, a majority of today’s successful films contain a level of graphic violence unthinkable to earlier generations of Americans. Victims die by the score and the depiction of blood and gore has reached the point that it is difficult to conceive of movie makers coming up with anything more extreme than what they have achieved thus far.

Another cause for concern is the fact that any child can view the most grisly scenes imaginable simply by pressing a button or two on the TV or playing a videotape. Most conscientious parents recoil at such a thought, but are lax in controlling their children’s access to these kinds of programs.

The characters of productions of the 1980s and 90s are a different breed from those earlier of generations, while many of them are aggressive individuals who unhesitatingly resort to force to achieve their objectives. They often end up killing so many enemies during the course of a film that this ultimate act of destruction of life becomes meaningless to the viewer. Even their acts of bravery are often so exaggerated and fantastic as to reduce them to little more than comic book characters.

The superheroes share the spotlight with other protagonists who can be lumped together under the title of “anti-heroes.” These include the mobsters, monsters, mass murderers, and other assorted social aberrants whose acts and displays of emotion fill the screen for consumption by audiences. It is difficult to find anything worthy of emulation or of redeemable value in films featuring such unattractive types, but many of them achieve financial success.

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