After the Columbine High School massacre a few years back, there was a spirited debate about the role the entertainment media had played in encouraging the two monsters savagely to murder their classmates. The head of the WB network pulled the final episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" because he deemed it too violent. CBS entertainment chief Les Moonves likewise yanked a planned Mafia mob war series from his schedule and went a step further in a statement about the cause-and-effect of violent programming. "Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with it," he said, "is an idiot."
That was then, and this is now, and just as critics proposed would happen, Hollywood waited until the storm clouds passed to return to their old ways. But in one sense we were wrong. What Moonves and Co. are now putting on the air makes the most violent programming in 1999 look like "Gilligan's Island" by comparison.
According to TV writer Tom Shales of the Washington Post, the trend: The new season "is dominated by a new brood of a relatively new breed: shows that are horrific on purpose, with gore as graphic and grisly as in many a monstrous movie." The examples of CBS's grisly "CSI" franchise and ABC's creepy "Lost" have been copied, and then copied again.
Fox's "Bones" has its forensic-anthropologist star poring over grotesquely aged corpses. A mad scientist trains poisonous spiders to crawl around on the faces of vulnerable young beauties in the ghoulish premiere of Fox's "Killer Instinct." Hunky young brothers chase ghosts that tear victims limb from limb on the WB's "Supernatural." And that's just for starters.
How awful is the latest CBS crime spinoff, "Criminal Minds"? Read the words of TV writer Robert Bianco at USA Today, who writes that with each new TV crime series, "the level of revolting, sadistic violence inflicted on women goes up, as each show seeks to capture our attention with the darkest, most disgusting crime yet. If it's a contest, let's declare 'Criminal Minds' the sick winner and call the game off." Its plot with a caged woman with duct tape over her eyes screaming for her life, Bianco writes, "plays like a how-to guide for sexual predators." Bianco is unconditional: "But really, once you plummet below a certain level, trash is trash, and gradations become virtually meaningless. The only fix is a quick cancellation followed by an apology from all concerned."
These are the TV critics, folks. These are the people who usually ridicule those who complain about the need for more decency on the tube.