You’ve heard the argument from pro-TV parents (guilty): “what they’re seeing on [insert name of program here] is no more violent than what they’d see on the news.”
It’s a debate that’s inspired university studies . . . and now a bit part on an episode of Mad Men. When little Sally Draper got kicked out of the room Sunday night, told to “go watch TV” (code for “leave Mommy alone), she plops herself in front of the tube just in time to catch the newscaster riffing on the violent death of a monk protesting the Vietnam War.
The fact that the girl was freshly in mourning over the death of her grandfather and champion made it slightly more disturbing – something the Mad Men creators very much intended. But it made it no less real – the famous “burning monk” Thich Quang Duc, set himself on fire in a busy intersection in Saigon in June 1963. Photos of the man half in flames are horrifying to an adult – and flashed on the screen for Sally Draper’s eyes for a few seconds before being replaced by the next story of the summer of ’63. And how many REAL kids watched that same broadcast forty-six years ago?
Score one for the “it’s not TV in general that’s causing the problem” parents. The news isn’t newly violent – it always has been. No wonder researchers are advocating parents look specificially at the “realistic” violence of TV news (AKA, real) when opting which programs to tune into with their kids in the room.
Riffing off of the studies that have linked TV watching to increased aggression, a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2004 cited the coverage of Sept. 11 and the Iraq War as specific concerns, noting: “the enormous amount of public concern and research effort that has been directed at the prevalence of media violence and at the harmful effects that it may have on children thus far largely has ignored the regularity of real-life violence depicted in television news.”
And suddenly that argument stands. What kids are watching on the TV isn’t worse today. It’s just different.