In the 1930s the Payne Foundation funded studies attributing juvenile crime to movie violence, complete with testimonials of youthful offenders that they had gotten larcenous ideas from the silver screen. Legions of censors from the Hays Office monitored Hollywood output to make sure that, at the least, crime didn't pay. In the 1950s, Dr. Frederic Wertham made a name for himself by attributing all manner of delinquencies to the mayhem depicted in comic books. If today's censorious forces smell smoke, it is not in the absence of fire.
In recent years, market forces have driven screen violence to an amazing pitch. As the movies lost much of their audience—especially adults—to television, the studios learned that the way to make their killing, so to speak, was to offer on big screens what the networks would not permit on the small. Thus, decades ago the "action movie "—a euphemism for, among other things, grisly violence—aimed to attract the teenagers who were the demographic category most eager to flee the family room. At the same time, the technologies of special effects steadily advanced to permit more graphic representations. We have witnessed the burgeoning of a genre that budding auteurs throughout the world aspire to imitate.
Aiming to recoup losses and better compete with cable, television programmers struck back; the networks lowered their censorship standards and pruned their "standards and practices " staffs; the deregulatory Federal Communications Commission clammed up; and the local news fell all over itself cramming snippets of gore between commercials.
I have denounced movie violence for more than two decades, all the way back to The Wild Bunch and The Godfather. I consider Hollywood's slashes, spatters, chainsaws and car crashes a disgrace, a degradation of culture, and a wound to the souls of producers and consumers alike. I also think liberals are making a serious mistake by pursuing their vigorous campaign against violence in the media. However morally and aesthetically reprehensible today's screen violence, the crusades of former Illinois senator Paul Simon and Attorney General Janet Reno against television violence, as well as Catharine MacKinnon's war against pornography are cheap shots.
There are indeed reasons to attribute violence to the media, but the links are weaker than recent headlines would have one believe. The attempt to demonize the media distracts attention from the real causes of—and the serious remedies for—the epidemic of violence.
The sheer volume of alarm can't be explained by the actual violence generated by the media's awful images. Rather, Simon, Reno, and MacKinnon—not to mention former vice president Dan Quayle and the Reverend Donald Wildmon—have signed up for the traditional American pastime. The campaign against the devil's images threads through the history of middle—class reform movements. For a nation that styles itself practical, at least in technical pursuits, we have always been a playground of moral prohibitions and symbolic crusades.
The question the liberal crusaders fail to address is not whether these images are wholesome but just how much real—world violence can be blamed on the media. Assume, for the sake of argument, that every copycat crime reported in the media can plausibly be traced to television and movies. Let us make an exceedingly high estimate that the resulting carnage results in 100 deaths per year that would otherwise not have taken place. These would amount to 0.28 percent of the total of 36,000 murders accidents, and suicides committed by gunshot in the United States in 1992.
That media violence contributes to a climate in which violence is legitimate—and there can be no doubt of this—does not make it an urgent social problem. Violence on the screens, however loathsome, does not make a significant contribution to violence on the streets. Images don't spill blood. Rage, equipped with guns, does. Desperation does. Revenge does. As liberals say, the drug trade does; poverty does; unemployment does. It seems likely that a given percent increase in decently paying jobs will save thousands of times more lives than the same percent decrease in media bang—bang. And once in a while—meaning far too often—some grotesque images inspire emulation.
Both big and small screens have taught impressionable people—or at least reinforced their propensity to practice—thrilling new ways to lacerate flesh. In 1982, after the cable television broadcast of The Deer Hunter, several people killed themselves playing Russian roulette, which was featured in the movie. American youths recently were killed and maimed when they lay down on the center strip of a highway, imitating a scene from Disney's movie The Program. A few months ago, a 17—year—old French youth blew himself up after learning from an episode of MacGyver how to build a bomb in a bicycle handle, at least according to his mother, who is suing the head of the channel for manslaughter.
The passage suggests that having more stringent controls on media violence would NOT have a great effect on the death rate because:[A] the numbers of deaths resulting from so—called "copycat " acts of violence composes only a small portion of violent deaths each year.
[B] the number of deaths resulting from so—called "copycat " acts of violence would remain unchanged nonetheless.
[C] networks and film studios lack the personnel to enforce any new regulation.
[D] there exists no definite link between media violence and actual violence.
The passage suggests most strongly that the volume of concern regarding media violence is unwarranted because:[A] America has always been "a playground of moral prohibitions " and ideological quests.
[B] the relationship between the number of annual deaths and deaths attributed to media violence does not merit it.
[C] demonizing the media does little to remedy its ills.
[D] the causes and effects of violence are less certain that critics of media violence believe.
Of all of the following, which does the author NOT believe can be linked to violence?[A] Rage
If delivered in a paper that sought to undermine the points of this passage, which of the following statements, if true, would most seriously weaken the passage's central argument?[A] The number of violent acts depicted in the media has remained more or less constant for the past decade.
[B] A Canadian study reported a sixteen—percent increase in violent crimes after exposure to television and film episodes in which violent acts were depicted.
[C] Politicians and celebrities are assisting effectively in diminishing violence.
[D] Films belonging to the "action " genre have found little acceptance at the box office.
In the context of the passage, the use of the phrase "traditional American pastime " (lines 51—52) by the author is understood to mean:[A] making an unpopular stand on a moral issue.
[B] championing a cause with moral overtones.
[C] using popular issues to corrupt political campaigns.
[D] effecting change through sharp criticism.
Paying attention to all of the arguments made by the author, which of the following claims does the passage neither directly support nor contradict?[A] The conclusions of the Payne Foundation studies of the 1930s were scientifically sound.
[B] The marked increase in media violence can be attributed to the continued financial success of those movies and programs that contain scenes of violence.
[C] The movie studios exploited the desire for teenagers to go outside their homes for entertainment by offering films that contained violent scenes.
[D] Television networks responded to the imagery in films by raising their own standards for content.
The broadcast networks have recently proposed a system of rating program content, similar to those ratings in the film industry. Which of the following best characterizes the relevance of this statement?[A] The statement acknowledges that the networks have taken little responsibility in patrolling the content of their programming.
[B] The statement implies that those who speak out against media violence have had significant success in convincing the networks to enforce stricter content standards.
[C] The statement suggests that some convincing evidence supporting a stronger link between media violence and violent acts has been found.
[D] The statement suggests that networks will decrease the amount of shows that contain violent content.