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Parents TV Council Does More Violence to Science

The Parents Television Council newsletter is always good for a few laughs, but I’d hate to think that anybody takes it too seriously, especially with a blaring headline like, “Why PTC’s Work Matters: Violence on TV = Violence in Society.”

The front page opens with a tragic story about a four-year-old boy being killed by automatic weapons fire, just to soften readers up for the inevitable fund-raising pitch. Then PTC — pardon the expression — moves in for the kill: “Scientific research and common sense suggest one very big and very obvious reason why our society today is so violent: Because our entertainment promotes it.”

Of course, there are a few convenient omissions in the PTC’s argument, beginning with the fact that the organization’s most frequent preoccupation appears to be sex and language, not violence. Moreover, the group’s right-leaning allies are among the first to object to any restrictions on guns or firearms, leading to the old bit of hypocrisy that goes, “Guns don’t kill people; TV kills people.”

What really troubles me, though, is the persistent effort to equate social science with chemical and biological sciences, acting as if there’s a proven, direct causation between media violence and societal violence. Even studies that suggest a correlation in this area can’t experiment in the real world or control for all the variables that might explain why crime goes up or down, why one kid kills and another doesn’t, why I could watch more violent crap growing up than anybody without becoming a psychopath. And as someone who has read plenty of research on the topic, I feel confident saying that any respectable social scientist who isn’t currently lobbying for grant money would acknowledge as much, provided that you were willing to endure speaking to a social scientist.

“The Debate is Over: TV Violence Harms Children!” the PTC nevertheless proclaims, insisting, “Case closed! American families are at risk from television programming that falls outside of our society’s agreed-upon standards.”

Frankly, I’m not sure our society’s standards are any more agreed upon than the case is closed, but when it comes to the anti-smut-violence debate, the PTC is a bit like John Belushi’s character in “Animal House.” Once they’re on a roll, there’s really no point in quibbling about the details.

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