Correspondent: Alan Austin.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this “Frontline” special is that it doesn’t come close to answering the question posed in its title. Mixing a rehash of social science with anecdotal evidence, PBS has shed a smattering of light, but no heat, on the television violence debate.
The most intriguing part of the special simply involves the way people use television as a modern campfire, providing light and background noise as they go about their affairs.
This is the picture presented by cameras in people’s living rooms that watch them watching TV.
Those subjects, situated in Hudson, N.Y., often use TV as a babysitter, with some parents deeming countless hours in front of the tube a perfectly acceptable alternative to sending their kids outside into a dangerous neighborhood.
Correspondent Alan Austin trots out the usual suspects — among them researchers Leonard Eron and George Gerbner, pioneers in studying the linkage between TV violence and aggression.
On the flip side, they show people who don’t seem overly affected by TV, including a jovial family man who boasts about how many Westerns he watched as a kid.
Austin seems properly skeptical about the research — noting, for example, that a town seemingly corrupted by the belated introduction of TV also became more accessible to outsiders thanks to a new freeway, which could have accounted for the changes.
Still, there’s little new in all the gab and, other than the image of a young boy squirming in front of his TV for eight consecutive hours, little that’s truly unsettling.
That may be about as far as the research goes in the TV violence debate, but for “Frontline,” it nevertheless feels wishy-washy.