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Behind the Violence

August 14, 1993

I am very troubled by the current wave of hysteria over television violence ("TV Violence Summit: A War of Words," Aug. 4). I have been a TV writer for the last 13 years. I have served as a staff writer on "MASH" and "Hill Street Blues." These two shows are touted as among the best (and most humane) in TV history. Neither could have survived violence labeling, even though both clearly depicted violence as an evil. This is the problem: If we can't show it at all, we can't show that it is wrong.

Researching a project, I have spent more than 100 hours on Death Row in the last two years. I have listened to story after story, and they are all chillingly similar. No one is there because of watching too many episodes of "Kojak." They are there because their alcoholic or otherwise severely dysfunctional parents beat them, called them names, locked them in dark basements, chained them to furniture and told them in countless other ways that they were worthless and bad, until they believed it and acted accordingly.

People commit violent acts because they are in unbearable pain or because they are high on something to keep from feeling that pain. The only way to curb violence is to acknowledge and address that pain. The networks can run 40 hours of "Mr. Rogers," but if we don't deal with the people's pain, the level of violence in this country is not going to change.



It would be hypocritical for an industry to deny that TV can strongly persuade and influence its audience while, at the same time, that industry courts advertisers for income. We should not spend our time debating whether TV violence exacerbates crime. The real question is how can one of mankind's greatest inventions be used more beneficially?

For many, TV is the main source of education and information. With that in mind, would it make sense for our schools and colleges to dedicate more than half their courses to committing violence? Of course not.

There is no easy answer when the engine of commercial TV is the dollar. It drives producers to create for profit at the expense of the healthy growth of humanity. Using the First Amendment as a rationale to fill TV producers' pockets is not what our forefathers had in mind. Maybe we can wake up and raise this wonderful means of communication to a finer and more rewarding purpose.


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