Much of what people learn now reaches them through the communications media. But two developments — movies and television — have proven uniquely efficient in disseminating ideas and, it seems, in inculcating aggressiveness. But television has a far more pervasive effect. Because it comes right into the home, it has the intimacy of a family member. As such, it serves as a model, rewarder, and conditioner all in one. Unlike the printed word, which requires reading skills, television’s vivid images and spoken words demand only a child’s attention. The major reason children (and adults) are so influenced by television is that they are so exposed to it.
Hour after hour, day after day, its messages are hammered into the mind. Some American youngsters spend more time watching television than they do in school. And in most cases its messages preach violence, displaying it and glorifying it. It has been estimated that by the age of 18 or so, the average American youngster will have viewed more than 18,000 murders on television. Many of the programs show unbelievable gruesome effects. I have a friend who taught English to high school students for 32 years. He once remarked “How do you read “Riki-Tiki-Tavi” to a group of students who have just watched “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on television the night before?
The models and rewards presented by the media seem to be universal and present in all cultures in different forms and different aims. The American disposition to violence has been blamed on a number of factors. The heritage of the American frontier, where violence was often necessary for survival creates conditions honoring violence. (Watch the cowboy movies.)
Even the vaunted ideal of equality of opportunity may, in the opinion of some experts, set the stage for violence. American laws and tradition maintain that any poor child can grow up to be president, or rich and successful, or at least comfortably middle class, and the possibility has been subtly altered into a requirement; every child should. Many do, but many others see the goal eluding them and, in their frustration, turn to action that their society has taught them can solve a problem: violence.
Rev. Edward J. Neroda, Youngstown
The writer is pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish