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TV Trashes the Social Environment

September 06, 1993|IAN I. MITROFF | Mitroff is the Harold Quinton distinguished professor of business policy and director of the USC Center for Crisis Management. and

In reaction to Sen. Paul Simon's recent visit to Los Angeles to get the entertainment industry to curb violence, the industry has responded in typical fashion ("Parents, Not Government, Should Tune Out TV Gore," by Danny Goldberg, Opinion, Aug. 15). To cut through the obfuscation, let me state some of the arguments that the industry uses to justify its position:

* All violence is equal . For instance, the violence in a "Terminator" is equal to the violence in Shakespeare. Violence is the great leveler. It blunts all distinctions with regard to plot, character, literary qualities, the inherent moral message of a piece of art, etc.

So many bad syllogisms are at work that it is impossible to treat them all. Consider this: Shakespeare contains violence, but it is good. The "Terminator" contains violence, therefore it must be good, too. . . . This, of course, is absurd.

* If you prohibit or restrict violence, then one is logically driven to the conclusion that TV news should be eliminated because it contains some of the most violent scenes found anywhere. This argument refuses to recognize that restricting or limiting violence is not tantamount to its total prohibition; that the primary function of the news is to inform and serve as the watchdog of society, not entertain, which unfortunately news has done far too much of in recent years; that because violence is appropriate in some contexts and forms does not mean that it is in all.

* Societies that do not have explicit free expression idea guarantees are not concerned with protecting freedom of expression. This principle is often confounded with: All forms of social control that limit freedom of speech are inherently and irredeemably bad. Only two choices are thus available: complete expression, which is good, and control, which is bad. In otherwords, there are only two settings on the engine of social expression. A consequence is that we have absolutely nothing to learn from other societies that have experimented with ways to restrict the violence that is shown to children while ensuring artistic expression.

The difficulty, of course, is that all of the arguments, pro and con, contain some element of "truth." Be this as it may, I believe it is time to view the entertainment industry in ecological terms.

The industry would have us believe that it is on the forefront of the environmental movement. This may indeed be true when it comes to protecting the physical environment. It is not, however, true when it comes to protecting the social environment.

What if every production and work of art were viewed in terms of its contribution to the social ecology of violence, which by any measure is out of control in this society? (As an important aside, it is one of the legitimate functions of government to assist in the limitation of pollution.)

Would this proposal have a potentially chilling effect? Yes, I must admit that it would. But it might also force an industry that I believe is as irresponsible as the tobacco industry to consider the wider effects of its products. If the industry is afraid of how government would perform this function--as I am too--then let it turn its incredible creativity back on itself to design mechanisms with which it can live.

In sum, act responsibly or face the increasing ire of liberals--not reactionaries--like myself who are fed up.

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