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“Americans are so enamoured of equality they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”     Alexis de Tocqueville

January 28, 2007

Solving The Television Violence “Problem”

by Doug Mataconis

According to L. Brent Bozell III, long time advocate of government censorship of television, the so-called problem of television violence is worse than ever and the person at fault is Tony Soprano:

The latest landmark (or landfill) in the TV world is the arrival of HBO’s pay-cable mob drama “The Sopranos” on the basic-cable channel A&E, where now virtually anyone with cable can watch. How carefully is this show with mature-themed sex, violence and profanity vetted for general audiences? TV critics wailed that any snip is messing with the “artistic integrity,” but the Hollywood Reporter reassured fans that “a few judicious snips to a series can be made without snuffing its profane soul.”

The early word is that the makers of “The Sopranos” prepared their Mafia-milking cash cow for general audiences by double-shooting scenes with clothed strippers and lots of uses of the word “freaking.” Still, the eye-opening violence is pretty much left untouched. “Have no fear, mayhem fans,” cooed the TV critic of the San Diego Union-Tribune, since A&E is “letting them act like gangsters and talk like dorks.”

The “quality” controllers at A&E have told critics that extraordinarily grisly sequences, such as someone’s brains being splattered all over a wall, have been shortened by a second or two. Who says these networks don’t have standards?

The arrival of “The Sopranos” marks the ongoing trend, wherein ultra-violent, ultra-sexual programming made for pay-cable channels oozes into basic-cable syndication. It began with “Sex and the City” reruns on TBS and now includes “Six Feet Under” on Bravo. And with basic cable now sliding into the muck, it is dragging over-the-air broadcast TV with it. Reruns of the vile bad-cop drama “The Shield” have gravitated to the new CW network. All of television is sliding into the violence swamp.

Brent, there are those of us who watch shows like The Sopranos because it happens to be good drama. There are others of us who don’t watch it all. We call ourselves adults, and we’re generally capable of making informed decisions for ourselves. You obviously don’t care for Tony and the boys, so don’t watch them, but don’t deprive me, or anyone else, of the opportunity to watch something other than Mother Angelica on our basic cable channels.

Bozell, though, doesn’t just reserve his disappoval for A&E and Bravo: Broadcast TV has grown more violent in recent years, thanks in part to the gore in “CSI” and its different versions and imitations. A new study by the Parents Television Council finds that the 2005-2006 TV season was the most violent in recent history. In fact, there has been a 75 percent increase in primetime TV violence since the 1998 season. Even TV critics have noticed, calling the new trend “horrific on purpose” and finding the body count “rivals that of a war zone.”

Violence has increased in every hour of primetime, and it’s especially graphic in the last hour. Imagine children watching the episode of NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” where the detectives raid the house of a serial pedophile and find a series of dead children lying in pools of blood. Or try the episode of NBC’s “Crossing Jordan” where one of the doctors is held at gunpoint to accomplish the mission of removing a 12-year-old’s testicles.

Some scenes just seem designed for maximum creepiness. One episode of the forensic drama “Bones” on Fox had the heroine finding a mummified corpse. To get the fingerprints, she cut a hand off, soaked it in water, and peeled the skin off like a glove and put it on her hand.

This isn’t what they worried about in 1954. I suspect there wasn’t a leader in this field who predicted that television would ever feature something as noxious as what is to be found on television sets today.

Interestingly enough, television sets today come with a feature called an off button. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, you can turn the thing off and go read a book. In the meantime, let the rest of us watch 24 in peace.


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