How ancient is the concern over violence on television and its effects on society? Crack open a cobwebbed copy of Lyndon Johnson's National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence from 1969, where it reads, "Public concern for violence in entertainment television programming has been with us since at least 1954." In other words, go back to the days when people were still using their first TV sets.
You'd also discover reading this report that even back then, the TV industry execs were trying to duck and weave out of any public concerns. They claimed there was no research into TV violence, claimed they would do some and then dragged their feet for 10 years. They claimed it was not a researchable problem, then under pressure, pledged to spend money on research. They also solemnly pledged to Congress they would reduce TV violence.
The report said network representatives promised a reduction in televised violence to the Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency in 1954, in 1961 and in 1963. But the Senate staff found the quantity of violent programs increased as much as 300 percent between 1954 and 1961.
Sound familiar? For anyone interested in this issue, it should. We've gone around the merry-go-round on this countless times, so many times that today, the amount of research on the negative effects of TV violence could block an interstate highway. And yet the barons of shock-and-awe TV continue to pile ever more trauma and gore.
The latest landmark (or landfill) in the TV world is the arrival of HBO's pay-cable mob drama "The Sopranos" on the basic-cable channel A&E, where now virtually anyone with cable can watch. How carefully is this show with mature-themed sex, violence and profanity vetted for general audiences? TV critics wailed that any snip is messing with the "artistic integrity," but the Hollywood Reporter reassured fans that "a few judicious snips to a series can be made without snuffing its profane soul."
The early word is that the makers of "The Sopranos" prepared their Mafia-milking cash cow for general audiences by double-shooting scenes with clothed strippers and lots of uses of the word "freaking." Still, the eye-opening violence is pretty much left untouched. "Have no fear, mayhem fans," cooed the TV critic of the San Diego Union-Tribune, since A&E is "letting them act like gangsters and talk like dorks."
The "quality" controllers at A&E have told critics that extraordinarily grisly sequences, such as someone's brains being splattered all over a wall, have been shortened by a second or two. Who says these networks don't have standards?