Inquiries into Media Violence
Once more millions of Americans have witnessed on home television the gunning down of a public figure. The attempted assassination of Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace on May 15 flooded the viewer's mind with other tragic scenes of the recent past: Jack Ruby's murder of President Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, on screen and “live”; the bedlam in a hotel ballroom upon Robert F. Kennedy's slaying; and on-camera rioting in American cities after Martin Luther King's murder. To a public inured to violence in the media of entertainment, the shock of these televised tragedies is that they are not “crime shows.” They are for real. In what way does this frequent exposure to real-life violence increase the likelihood of more violence? And to what extent does the incessant presentation of fictional violence, purveyed by television and other media, encourage the incidence or tolerance of violence in real life?
A government-sponsored study has indicated that television viewing from childhood onward may be harmful to certain persons. But the study was vague on specifics. TV industry leaders, asked at a recent Senate hearing to comment on the study, said they had been reducing the violence content of children's shows and would reduce it more. The fall lineup of network programs for all viewers, however, indicates little change can be expected. Some TV critics complained, but more because of the banality of crime shows than for the perniciousness of violence itself.
The level of violence in current movies suggests that the first generation reared on daily doses of violence on television may need a bit more gore and brutality to react to the meaning of violence. The vividness of the film medium gives them a much higher per-dosage impact. A number of film critics have complained at what strikes them as celebration of violence in some recent highly successful movies.