Watch what you watch

Our culture is under constant attack due to the proliferation of violent images in the media. The steady conditioning of our society yields the displeasing result of ambivalence. Violence is so prevalent that it rarely draws attention to itself. Its impact on our culture is a source of constant debate in colleges, coffee shops, churches and congressional committees. It is an essential element of our media “grammar.”

Author George Gerbner suggests that “humankind may have had more bloodthirsty eras, but none filled with images of violence as the present.”

Gerbner contends that the traditional way of addressing the problem of violence in our media and its effects on society are misguided at best and trivial and disingenuous at worst. He defines television violence as “a complex scenario and an indicator of social relationships.” He suggests that the traditional question of media inciting violence is somewhat misguided.

The question itself is a symptom rather than a diagnostic tool of the problem. The issue is not the effect of television violence but the presence of it.

I would add that while parents, churches, schools and others in the community have not always taught children the right things, they are at least speaking from within the community. Within a community there is (or should be) a shared vision, shared goals and shared burdens. The lessons that children learn are necessarily more authentic and are contexualized in that which is real and present to them. Those telling the stories have a vested interest in the health of the community and the strength of the relationships because they are involved in it. With television as the great myth maker of our communities, we get manufactured, prepackaged and globalized rhetoric.

I think more needs to be said about the responsibilities of the general public. We need to ask why we choose to consume such horrible images with such an insatiable appetite. The benign passivity in which the general public wallows with regard to its incessant media influx would drive Gandhi to extremes. Some would say that people watch violence on television simply because nothing else is on.

Their point is that people will watch television during certain hours of the day no matter what is on. They will choose what they like from the available choices. If you control all of the choices to begin with, then you can give the appearance of freedom while leading your “rats” through a maze of advertisements that range from Budweiser frogs to Taco Bell Chihuahuas just so they can find out if Sid from New Jersey needs to use his last lifeline to answer the $500,000 question, “What is you first name, Sid?”

Americans do watch more television between the hours of 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. every evening than they do during the rest of the day, but they can choose what they watch during these hours. The truth is that there are more options available on the average American television set than anywhere else.

I have over 500 channels of digital cable. True, most of it is cable access, home shopping networks and religious broadcasting, but there are choices available. Think America, before it’s too late. Just like the angry street preacher, if you stop watching, they will go away. Unless, of course, you secretly don’t want them to.