Scholar Exhibits

Television on Television Violence: Perspectives from the 70s and 90s

On January 10, 1995, PBS’s Frontline aired an episode provocatively titled Does TV Kill? The show investigated television viewing habits of average families in upstate New York, and promised to “reveal unexpected conclusions about the impact TV has on Americans’ world view.” But if one looks at the history of television discussions about television effects, Frontline only reiterated issues that have troubled academics and filled popular opinion since the introduction of television. Frontline’s investigation is part of a much longer history of television effects research, and decades-long concern that violent television was to blame for a broad range of social violence. This article takes a historical approach to the topic of how media discusses media violence by considering how television programs have addressed the problem of television violence and discussed available evidence. These programs are often prompted by real-world incidents, resulting in what media scholar Kirsten Drotner calls a “media panic.”1 How commentators viewed television in the 1990s has origins in the concern over the amount of social violence occurring in the nation during the 1960s. The debate over the effects of media violence has of course been going on for millennia. But television was seen in the fifties and sixties as something completely different from any other previous media. Like radio, but unlike cinema, it was ubiquitous within the home, often called a “member of the family.” But like cinema, and unlike radio, it was captivatingly visual. It was thus family entertainment capable of corrupting innocent children all over the United States from within the home. When unprecedented social violence erupted during the 1960s, primarily among high-school and college students, many adults assumed television – seemingly the only thing to have changed in their immediate environment – was the culprit. In addition, brand new experimental research protocols on the effects of television were devised in the early 1960s that correlated violent television with real-world aggressive behavior, and in 1972, the United States Surgeon General had deemed television violence as a public health problem.2 Thereafter, there were periodic televised discussions with industry executives and research experts about the effects of media violence. In this collection, I explore four of these types of public television programs, two from the 1970s and two from the 1990s, and consider what, if anything, has changed in the questions asked and what progress the media commentators have made in discussing the issue. I conclude that, while certain questions about practical matters of television viewing have changed- such as how real the graphics look, or what type of programming is available at which times, the questions about the effects of television violence stay essentially the same.

1Drotner, Kirsten. 1999. “Dangerous Media? Panic Discourses and Dilemmas of Modernity∗.” Paedagogica Historica 35 (3) (January): 593–619.

2United States Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior. 1972. Television and Growing Up: the Impact of Television Violence. United States Public Health Service Office of the Surgeon General.

On January 10, 1995, PBS aired an episode of WGBH Educational Foundation’s Frontline, provocatively titled Does TV Kill? The show investigated television viewing habits of average families in upstate New York, and promised to “reveal unexpected conclusions about the impact TV has on Americans’ world view.” 1 But if one looks at the history of television discussions about television effects, Frontline only reiterated issues that have troubled academics and filled popular opinion since the introduction of television. Frontline’s investigation is part of a much longer history of television effects research, and decades-long concern that violent television was to blame for a broad range of social violence. This article takes a historical approach to the topic of how media discusses media violence by considering how certain public television programs have addressed the problem of television violence and discussed available evidence. These programs are often prompted by real-world incidents, resulting in what media scholar Kirsten Drotner calls a “media panic.” 2 Media panics occur each time a medium is implicated in a real-world tragedy and have basic characteristics:

[T]he media is both instigator and purveyor of the discussion; the discussion is highly emotionally charged and morally polarised [sic] (the medium is either "good" or "bad") with the negative pole being the most visible in most cases; the discussion is an adult discussion that primarily focuses on children and young people; the proponents often have professional stakes in the subject under discussion as teachers, librarians, cultural critics or academic scholars; the discussion, like a classic narrative, has three phases: a beginning often catapulted by a single case, a peak involving some kind of public or professional intervention, and an end (or fading-out phase) denoting a seeming resolution to the perceived problems in question. 3

How commentators viewed television in the 1990s has origins in the concern over the amount of social violence occurring in the nation during the 1960s. The debate over the effects of media violence has of course been going on for millennia. But television was seen in the fifties and sixties as something completely different from any other previous media. Like radio, but unlike cinema, it was ubiquitous within the home, often called a “member of the family.” But like cinema, and unlike radio, it was captivatingly visual. It was family entertainment, capable of corrupting innocent children all over the United States from within the home. 4 When unprecedented social violence erupted during the 1960s, primarily among high school and college age students, many adults assumed television – seemingly the only thing to have changed in their immediate environment – was the culprit, having turned respectful children to violence. In addition, brand new experimental research protocols on the effects of television were devised in the early 1960s that correlated violent television with real-world aggressive behavior, and in 1972, the United States Surgeon General had deemed television violence as a public health problem. 5

Thereafter, there were periodic televised discussions with industry executives and research experts about the effects of media violence. In this collection, I explore four of these types of public television programs, two from the 1970s and two from the 1990s. 6 The significance of the role of public television in broadcasting these discussions, informing the public of the transgressions of entertainment violence, cannot be overstated. Producing television violence was seen as something “The Networks” did to the public. There was a constant assertion by members of the public, by the scholarly community, and by public officials that commercial networks were exploiting public viewers and scheming to make profits at the expense of American values, decency, and culture. Public broadcasting, historically and ideologically separate from commercial television in the United States, was in a unique position of detachment to raise questions about the effects of violence on commercial television, and question network executives about how they saw their responsibility in public life. Public television programming also assumes a certain degree of objectivity as a non-commercial public education resource. That these conversations, involving experts and network executives alike, were on public broadcasting was meant to inform the public from seemingly neutral ground.

In this essay I consider what has changed in the questions asked about the effects of television violence between the 1970s and 1990s, when presumably more information was known about how television affected behavior. I also consider what progress media commentators made in presenting and discussing the issue. Interestingly, despite decades of research and debate, commentators in the 1990s still relied on research conducted in the 1960s. I conclude that, while certain questions about practical matters of television viewing have changed – such as how real the graphics look, or what type of programming is available at which times – the questions about the effects of television violence stay essentially the same.

Television in the 1960s

In the early twentieth century, cinema garnered much anxiety about the effects on children and society. The first attempt at gathering empirical evidence for effects of cinema on youths and young adults occurred in the late 1920s and early 1930s in a series of questionnaire studies known as the Payne Fund studies. A monograph discussing the findings was published in 1933 by Herbert Blumer, titled Movies and Conduct, and explained that the potential for negative influence was very real and very effective.7 The book became a best seller, and a media panic ensued. Cinema was blamed for juvenile delinquency and much else.8 Cinema continued to battle arguments for censorship throughout the century, but television seemed to be different from cinema. Television was much more insidious. It was in the home. In the 1960s, when film was rather familiar, television was still relatively new and inspired deep and extensive fear. To understand the context of the public broadcasting programs I have selected from GBH Open Vault, it is important to understand the impact of television as a dangerous cultural phenomenon in this era.

Television reached 94% of American homes in the 1960s, with estimates of daily usage averaging between three to eight hours per day. By the end of the decade, more people owned television and more watched television than any other form of mass communication. 9 Television also became the principal medium by which Americans received news. 10 Coverage of the war in Vietnam was an astonishingly new experience. Americans saw violence they had only read about unfold before their eyes. 11 Televised images of university campus and street riots across the nation shocked parents. Civil tensions exploded amidst antiwar and civil rights movements, and the incidence of violent crime (defined as murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravate assault) doubled over the decade.12 Racial beatings and murder continued to be rampant in the South, and the political assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (1963), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), and Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1968) scarred the nation. By the late 1960s, there was widespread concern that an “age of violence” had come. .13

To television critics, the threat of violent television was substantial. For example, letters to President Lyndon B. Johnson and to editors of the New York Times indicated that television should share the blame for Bobby Kennedy’s death, since the medium’s message was that guns solve problems.14 Television critic Jack Gould was quick to caution against a causal relationship between television and real-world violence, but called on the television industry to “exhibit more self-restraint in their liberal use of violence in entertainment programming” just in case.15 With westerns and crime shows, how could children not pick up violent behaviors? That problems were solved by violent means was a common complaint, often legitimized by research scholars. For example, then professor of educational psychology at Boston University, Ralph J. Gary, expressed that violence is used as an effective means to a profitable end in television, adding that “money and power are goals to strive for.”16

Television as Teacher of Violence

Captain Kangaroo was often praised, but it was a rare star in what was available.17 Parents and activist organizations rallied to confront the television industry and demand better quality programming. Mothers and fathers were called to rally together to restore “good taste, decorum and believability” to television.18 Exemplary of this effort is the advocacy group National Association for Better Radio and Television (NAFBRAT) of Los Angeles, which began publishing quarterly newsletters in 1959 about the state of television as a threat to children and the nation. Their chief concern was that television was doing little to raise the cultural level of youth. Each year NAFBRAT published a survey that rated television shows as “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” “Poor,” “Objectionable,” or “Most Objectionable.” Excellent shows included content that had educational value or showed benign family life: Capt. Kangaroo (“Like a jovial uncle with a pocket full of tricks and goodies”), Leave it to Beaver (“An excellent, humorous story of the mishaps and adventures of a small boy”), and Watch Mr. Wizard (“a stimulating and wonder-filled half hour of science experiments”). Objectionable shows taught that violence was the preferred method of solving problems and included Lone Ranger (“The masked man and his Indian companion always appear in the right spot to help the victimized fight the evil oppressors as plots involve much gunfire and fisticuffs”), and Robin Hood (“Arrows are sent soaring and swords are unsheathed at the slightest provocation in defense of some poor person in danger… does not justify the morality of the outlaw’s actions, such as stealing, fighting with murderous weapons, kidnapping, etc.”).19

Most Objectionable to NAFBRAT, and indicative of their concerns discussed throughout their publications, was Superman:

The essence of Superman is that he is violent – to those whom he thinks deserve it. He is permitted to commit violence under the pretence [sic] of imposing punishment. He is immortal and has powers beyond any physical, natural, or religious law. Clark Kent as Superman shows up at just the right time and the right place to fight for “truth, justice, and the American Way”. There is no division between reality and fantasy. Crimes are solved because –and only because- a reporter can turn into a super-human investigator. Murder, kidnapping and other crimes make this an outstanding example of exploitation of children, serving them poison mental food, to make sales and money.20

Television was thus characterized as an electronic medium and purveyor of a “myth of a violent America,” by which children and teenagers learned violence and learned to appreciate violence for its efficiency in resolving social conflict.21 Senator Thomas J. Dodd, after conducting hearings on television violence in 1961, said the violence was being shown “at the expense of our children’s social health and emotional stability.”22 In response to what he described as an increase in delinquency among children of middle-class and white-collar families, thereby characterizing the issue as a class issue, Dodd said he felt “the mass media has a lot to do with twisting values of these previously law-abiding children.”23 In this frame of reference the television as “video campus” told youngsters that cities were filled with violence, and that violence was heroic.24 To emphasize the effect American Westerns were having on cultural values of democracy and peace, the TV Editor of the Chicago Tribune highlighted that even Japan was banning American cowboy shows from Japanese television.25

The defense of television

A few commentators were emphatic about what seemed to be a ridiculous accusation. That “television portrayals of crime, conflict, violence, and gunplay bid fair to destroy the moral fiber of the nation is so much poppycock,” Francis Coughlin, radio writer and television columnist, said.26 The real problem was real crime, stemming from the broken home. Coughlin went on:

I do not believe that the American teenage population stands on the verge of moral ruin. It is, very likely, the cleanest and most forward looking group of young people in our history. Nor am I aware of notable trends toward sadism and savagery afflicting men and women in their twenties. Or their thirties. Or their forties. For that matter, I have yet to hear a single critic -by his own account more intuitive, more sensitive, and more suggestible that most viewers- allege that he has been brought to the brink of moral infamy thru [sic] the exercise of his calling.

In fact, executives argued, the television industry was already instituting more self-regulation and pushes for federal censorship were unnecessary and un-American. There were indeed voluntary changes to how violence was treated in programming. For example, in 1961, the manager of NBC’s Western division decided that wholesale killing was forbidden and toned down the violence. For example, rather than a dynamite explosion destroying an entire “band of thugs,” the hero would fire a bullet into the dynamite, which would only knock them down. At that point the hero would issue a warning to behave. Any violence would have to be well motivated, and brawls would involve “less breakage of furniture.”27 And by 1964, television Westerns were to “fade into sunset” altogether.28

Television violence and the scholarly community

Regardless of these taming practices, the overwhelming social apprehension about television was met with a surge of negative attention throughout academic disciplines. According to some scholars, by the late 1960s American society itself was being destroyed, or at least in part, by television, and the nation’s future was at stake. Political scientist, historian, and former advisor to President John F. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. remarked in 1968 that riots and political assassinations were testament to the “evident incapacity of the presidential candidates of either major party to address themselves to the problem” of violence.29 Schlesinger dedicated an entire chapter in a book on violence in America to what he called “televiolence,” where he expressed the climate of violence in the United States is not just a result of American historical culture. Violence culture stemmed from the way mass media dwell on violence, especially television and film. Media do not create the violence, but “reinforce aggressive and destructive impulses, and they may well teach the morality, as well as the methods, of violence.”30 He continued, “children of the electronic age sit hypnotized by the parade of killings, beatings, gunfights, knifings, maimings, brawls which flash incessantly across the tiny screen.” One has to look no further than television to understand the appeals to violence.31 The violence prompted President Johnson to establish the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (NCCPV), to assess the phenomenon in 1968. In his prepared statement to the NCCPV’s Media Task Force hearings on December 19, 1968, FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson wrote:

How many more crises must we undergo before we begin to understand the impact of television upon all the attitudes and events in our society? How many more such crises can America withstand and survive as a nation united? Are we going to have to wait for dramatic upturns in the number and rates of high school dropouts, broken families, disintegrating universities, illegitimate children, mental illness, crime, alienated blacks and young people, alcoholism, suicide rates and drug consumption? Must we blindly go on establishing national commissions to study each new crisis of social behavior as if it were a unique symptom unrelated to the cause of the last? I hope not.

Of course, no one would suggest that television is the only influence in our society. But I hope that this Commission will posses both the perception and the courage to say what is by now so obvious to many of the best students of American society in the 1960’s. There is a common ingredient in a great many of the social ills that are troubling Americans so deeply today –the impact of television upon our attitudes and behavior as a people… One cannot understand violence in America without understanding the impact of television programming upon that violence.32

While the reports of the NCCPV were ultimately ignored by the incoming Nixon Administration, the United States Surgeon General carried out a new investigation of television violence research in 1972.33 Acknowledging conflicting interpretations of results in the behavior psychology community, the conclusions of the report to the Surgeon Genearl were: (1) preliminary findings indicate a casual relation between viewing violence on television and aggressive behavior, (2) this relation operates on only some children “who are predisposed to be aggressive,” and (3) this relation only operates in some contexts.34 It was suggested that television violence was a public health problem that needed immediate attention. Indeed, Leo Bogart, sociologist and media expert, published an anxious article summarizing the report in The Public Opinion Quarterly titled, “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That TV Violence is Moderately Dangerous to Your Child's Mental Health.”35

The report to the Surgeon General also considered national crime statistics in relation to televised violence. The statistics showed that crime had actually decreased between the 1930s and early 1960s. However the 1960s saw an increase in violence, and by1968 the murder level reached that of the 1930s. But while crime statistics were not found to be related to violence in television programming, social psychologists continued to argue for a causal relationship.36 It is in this backdrop of terrifying concern over the impact of television that this small collection of television programming is embedded.

A 1970s Public Television Approach to Television Violence

October 2, 1973 in a Boston neighborhood, a 24 year-old white woman, Evelyn Wagler, was walking back to her stalled car with a 2-gallon jug of gasoline. Six African American teenagers coerced Wagler into an alley, forced her to drench herself in gasoline, and then set her on fire. She died in a hospital two days later; the incident was immediately labeled a race crime. The Boston Police Commissioner also attributed the murder to the film Fuzz (Richard A. Colla, 1972), which aired on Boston’s local ABC station just two nights previous. In the film, which is set in Boston, a man is set on fire. The incident inspired panic over the effects of television violence (films broadcasted on television were considered television violence) and inspired a GBH public broadcasting program, A Reporter’s Special on TV Violence, to discuss the issue. The program, aired October 10, 1973 and hosted by Ed Baumeister, featured a unique roundtable discussion from the perspective of local television station executives. The panel included James Thistle, Executive Producer for Programming at WBZ TV; James Coppersmith Vice President of RKO Television and General Manager of WNAC TV; and Richard Burdock, Vice President and General Manager for Creative Services at WCVB TV. Two non-industry participants were Bill Greeley, television reporter for Variety magazine, and Dr. Ithiel de Sola Poole, MIT psychologist and advisor to the Surgeon General’s television violence committee. Baumeister questioned the panel about the responsibility television networks have in social violence, and what networks are doing to curb violence portrayed on television.

Baumeister first asked panelists to respond to the Surgeon General’s conclusions that under certain conditions, television violence can instigate aggressive acts. In a rare moment of self-awareness, these local station executives agreed that the industry did have some responsibility in what they air, and claimed to stand by the National Association of Broadcaster’s Code, established in 1915. Part of the Code’s policy on violence as cited in the program was:

Violence physical or psychological may only be projected in responsibly handled contexts, not used exploitively [sic]. Programs involving violence should present the consequences of it to its victims and perpetrators. Presentation of the details of violence should avoid excessive gratuitous and instructional violence. The use of violence for its own sake and the details dwelling upon brutality or physical agony by sight or by sound are not permissible.

The executives adamantly agreed. The conversation continued based on two common questions television critics ask television executives: Why must there be so much violence on television?

Bill Greeley argued that violence shows conflict; “it’s action, it’s visual, it grabs the audience.” That violence “grabs the audience” has been both the biggest criticism and the biggest defense of television violence, as Richard Burdock argued during the program. Burdock explained, as many television creators had, that violence was part of dramatic literature since ancient Greek theatre. In Burdock’s view, the people want it, and ratings reflect that. James Coppersmith agreed and argued that television had become part of literature in the United States. What they should be doing, he said, is consider what role literature has in reflecting society. If we are in a violent society, Coppersmith asked, is television not a commercial literature capitalizing on what might “unfortunately be the nature of people?” This was (and is) a hotly contended assertion as Schlesinger’s comments attest, but television executives believed in this firmly. “Television is not a beacon,” Burdock said, “it’s a mirror of what is reflected in society.” If there is a “dilution of decency,” he asked, that is being showed in films, in newspapers, and in books, should we not be concerned with what to do about society? For Burdock, the question of violence on television was absolutely misplaced and frankly irrelevant: “What about crime in the streets?”

Dr. Ithiel de Sola Poole interjected that these kinds of conversations are just a “red herring.” Unlike many television effects researchers, de Sola Poole agreed that television was a mirror of society. But, he said, it is “a twisted mirror.” There are a few children at home, he argued, that do not receive proper guidance, and those children are likely to imitate brutal acts on television. This argument, of course, was the conclusion of the Surgeon General’s report, for which he was a consultant, and a major point for many behavioral psychologists. For de Sola Poole, you cannot sidestep the problem by saying that the rest of children are unaffected. The question everyone should be asking, he said, is “are [we] going to pay the price for the small minority that are predisposed to taking out the wrong things from the picture?” James Thistle argued vehemently that it is near ridiculous to “ask whether or not to try to program around some vague lunatic fringe that might pick things out of something.” Violence, he asserted, was not a time-worthy issue. More important to the public, Thistle pointed out, were issues of race and gender. The mail he received from viewers was not about violence. Instead, he said, his letters showed that viewers were more concerned with how comedy and “light” entertainment reinforce bigotry in society and contain ethnic slurs. Coppersmith underscored this by pointing out that the highest rated evening on CBS was Saturday night, which featured All in the Family (1971-1979) and MASH* (1972-1983), programs “not without social question marks,” he said.

de Sola Poole’s concern over programming was that it “begins to be part of the education of the children who are watching adult programs.” The formulas on television taught children that violence is appropriate and useful in resolving conflict, and consequences are never shown. This is precisely what the next program in this collection, a June 24, 1977 episode of Say Brother, addressed: what do children learn from television, and what can we do about it? In this episode, titled “Television Violence and its Effects on Children,” host and psychologist Dr. Melvin Moore held a conversation with two research professors who were collaborating on a project to study how children evaluate television program content. Aimee D. Leifer, associate professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Sheryl B. Graves, professor of psychology at New York University, answered questions regarding the evidence that television violence promotes real-world violent behavior, and whether there are gender or racial differences in what children learn from television.37 The two conducted experiments different from the conventional protocol in television effects research. It is helpful here to explain just what kind of research protocols were devised in the 1960s to understand just how Leifer and Graves differed.

Arguably the most famous studies come from social psychologist Albert Bandura and his colleagues, Dorothea and Sheila Ross, in 1961-1963. Bandura, Ross and Ross performed tests to understand the degree to which children could learn to act from what they saw on a television set. The studies, based on the use of a Bobo doll, have been collectively and colloquially grouped together as the infamous “Bobo doll experiment.”38 During the experiment, aggressive behaviors were shown in three different situations: by an adult in real life, by an adult on film, and by an adult dressed as a cat (to simulate cartoons) on film.39 In the first situation, children were brought in a room, one by one, in which play materials were available. In the corner, an adult was sitting quietly with tinker toys, an inflated Bobo doll, and a mallet. When the child was playing, the adult began to attack the Bobo doll “in ways children rarely would.” The model laid the doll on its side, sat on it and punched it repeatedly in the nose; the doll was picked up, struck with the mallet, and tossed about the room. The sequence of physically aggressive acts was repeated, interspersed with verbally aggressive phrases such as ‘Sock him in the nose…,’ ‘Hit him down…,’ ‘Throw him in the air…,’ ‘Kick him…,’ ‘Pow…,’ and two nonaggressive comments, ‘He keeps coming back for more’ and ‘He sure is a tough fella.’”40

The second group of children witnessed the same events, but screened on a television set. The third group watched a film of the same events, but this time the adult was dressed as a cat (to mimic cartoon effects). A fourth group of children did not view any aggressive models and served as the control group. At the end of ten minutes, the child was taken to an observation room in which an experimenter recorded behavior. Each child was “mildly annoyed” prior to entering the observation room.41 The room included aggressive toys (mallet, dart guns, and a Bobo doll) and nonaggressive toys (tea set, crayons, coloring paper, cars and trucks, plastic farm animals). Each child spent 20 minutes with the toys. The authors reported that those who had seen the adult model attacking the Bobo doll showed twice as much aggression than those in the control group, as evidenced by their playing with the aggressive toys. Their conclusions were that viewing violence reduces a child’s inhibition against acting violent and that violence viewed on film is as influential as seeing violence in real life.42

The result for the scholarly community, and the public at large, was that television could no longer be ignored as a influential source of social behavior. Conclusions were immediately reported to the public, characterizing television as a cause of real-world violence. In one article Bandura’s work was reduced to the following statement: “children who watched TV violence displayed twice as much aggression as those not exposed to it.”43 According to the article, Senator Dodd cited Bandura’s work during his 1961 hearings as evidence that television taught children to act violent in the real world. In 1963, Albert Bandura discussed television-induced aggressive behavior in Look magazine in an article titled “What TV Violence Can Do To Your Child.”44 He wrote that children were being raised on a “heavy dose” of violence on television and scolded parents, teachers, and self-defined “experts” who held the view that television violence had neither harmful nor beneficial effects on children, except for those who might already be insecure or emotionally disturbed.45 All subsequent studies on the effects of television (and film) utilized similar experimental protocols, with only a few studies finding contrary evidence.46 These experimental methods have been criticized for flaws and a lack of external validity since the early 1960s, but these criticisms have gone largely unnoticed outside the small, but influential, effects-research community. Bandura is now one of the most well-known names in social psychology, and this is the experimental backdrop in which Leifer and Graves worked.

As if to confirm that nothing had changed in network television in the four years since A Reporter’s Special in 1973, and seemingly since 1961, Dr. Moore raised the question in Say Brother why there was so much violence on television. Leifer reiterated what the station executives had said in A Reporter’s Special, that violence makes money for the networks. But networks, Graves clarified, were not allowed to show all types of violence. The networks abide by the National Association of Broadcaster’s Code, which prevents networks from showing “blood and gore.” As a result, Graves says echoing the concern of de Sola Poole, the “real” consequences of violence are not shown. This, she says, teaches children nothing about the reality of violence. Leifer, reiterating a common interpretation among scholars, argued that children learn that violence is acceptable and useful in real life and that they should be frightened of the world outside. These assertions, as mentioned above were reflected over and over again in newspapers. But what is strikingly unique about Liefer’s and Graves’ responses is how they discuss whether there is evidence to suggest whether laboratory results extend into real life.

Leifer and Graves argued that, while television has effects on children, researchers cannot conceivably make the connection that if there were, say, 100 acts of violence on Monday night television there would be 400 acts of violence on Thursday in the streets. And if you cannot quantify or measure real-world effects, what could anyone say conclusively about the effects of television violence? Leifer and Graves thus took a different approach to studying television effects. Rather than ask adults to evaluate children for being aggressive, then showing them a video clip, and then re-assessing their aggressive behavior, Leifer and Graves decided to ask children and adolescents what they thought was real on television, what they thought was pretend, and how they decided which was which. The goal was to figure out how young viewers differentiate between fictional narratives that conform to their values and those that do not conform. The sophisticated viewer, Graves said, is not one who discounts everything, but one who can say there are some good thing and some bad things, and they “have to figure out what’s what.”

Just briefly touched upon in A Reporter’s Special in 1973, the issues of race and gender were quite important on Say Brother in 1977. Moore asked the two researchers how we can deal with racism or sexism, since they are forms of violence and “do violence to one’s self confidence and image.” Violence had been defined in this way by other scholars, and reiterated by the Surgeon General’s report. Since television allows one to learn about self-worth, the Surgeon General’s report explained, the medium “does violence to blacks and minorities by portraying them in ways that lower their self-esteem.”47 Graves and Leifer indicated that there were only minor racial and gender differences in what children learn from television. Nevertheless, Graves and Leifer argued, a variety of values and practices exist in society, and we “cannot presume to say there should not be this or that value or practice.” In the case of effects on children, they say, children will compare what they see to what they know from their home environment and what is being taught in the family. Rather than suggesting that racism and sexism should be done away with on television, in their view it is better to leave those lessons in the parents’ control rather than with someone “at a higher level of deciding.”

Leifer emphasized that the solution is not to actively ban racist or sexist content, but instead provide more variety in programming. The result would be an overall reduction in violence, racism, and sexism. Graves agreed. Even with special advocacy groups working at the federal level to combat television indecencies, Graves said, advocacy agendas are limiting. The only solution was greater diversity; new ideas and new people must to be brought to the medium. The essence of their argument was that any other solution would amount to censorship and counterproductive. And because the content of television was “not going to change” based on research, their strategy was to work around the issue. If they could learn from those children who seem to be “immune” from the images of violence, if they could figure out how those children watch and interpret television programming, perhaps those practices could be taught to other children. If they could not influence content, maybe they could influence viewers. Unlike the Bobo Doll studies, this kind of research attempts to be highly representative and highly practical. But also unlike Bandura, Ross, and Ross’s single 1961 study that has been cited 470 times, Leifer and Graves’ study has been cited only 39 times since their publication in 1974.48

These two 1970s programs summarized for the public audience a few common and long-standing questions about the effects of television violence, industry opinion on the matter, and what could be done about television violence. Interestingly, the industry executives acknowledged that they have some responsibility, a rare position for industry executives then and nonexistent moving forward as we will see in the next sections. Yet both programs ultimately emphasize that the viewer has sole responsibility in their viewing habits. Industry executives argued that viewers could communicated by their wants by influencing ratings, and Leifer and Graves emphasized the role parents play in monitoring their children’s television viewing.

The 1990s Shift to Guns

Before a looking at public television discussions of television violence in the 1990s, it is important to consider the context of violence of the time. In the early 1990s, the United States was faced with what some described as “epidemic proportions” of violence, and the public was keenly aware of gun violence in particular.49 Though increased trends in violent crime in general could be attributed in part to changes in police practices and reporting standards, and while specific trends in rape, robbery, and burglary did not increase over time, trends in youth homicide and aggravated assault did escalate, and escalated as a direct result of proliferating gun violence.50 Homicide and aggravated assault showed steady increases since 1980, with the peak rate for homicide occurring in 1993 at more than twice the rate at 1980.51 For example, in that year in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, murder was the leading cause of death among those between 20 and 24 years old, and the second leading cause of death for those 13 to 19 years old.52 Much of the increased violence was due to rampant, and widely publicized gang activity of the 1980s and early 1990s in many urban communities.53 The violence was so prevalent in so many communities, that it was reflected in mainstream art and pop culture. For example, the lyrical content of gangsta rap, the most globally lucrative of all hip-hop movements, during this era was heavily themed on gun use, drug use, and violent crime, consistent with the realities of inner-city violence.54 Of course the violence was not limited to the inner cities, but the Los Angeles riots in 1992 only emphasized the obvious disparity.

According to statistics from the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in 1994, handguns cost 24,000 lives annually; while murder by non-firearm weapons had gone down by 11%, murder by handguns had gone up by 52% since 1987.55 In January of 1994, the New York Times conducted a poll, co-sponsored by CBS, which asked respondents to identify “the single most important problem facing the country.”56 Surpassing healthcare (15% of respondents), the economy (15%), and jobs (12%), the leading issue was gun violence (21%), followed closely by violent crime (19%). Almost two-thirds of respondents said they believed crime had increased in the passed year, and over half responded that crime increased in their community (though there was no concomitant increase in the number of people that felt afraid to go outside compared with earlier studies, and only 7% of respondents had installed a home security system).57 Congressional members debated crime bills during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when another Crime and Violence Committee was established, with much attention to gun control legislation. Congressional attention on gun violence in these years is significant.

On March 30, 1981 John Hinckley, Jr., attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. At close range, the shots seriously wounded the President and three others. While Reagan recovered, Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head, was left permanently paralyzed and permanently confined to a wheel chair. Brady and his wife, Sarah, campaigned thereafter for effective gun control, since the 1968 Act proved to be largely symbolic and lacked any practical use. However, unlike the immediate passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 after the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., legislation following the attempt on Reagan was not introduced into Congress until 1988, and it was consistently debated on for several more years without passage, and with heavy lobbying by the NRA.58 Meanwhile, handgun violence escalated, and several highly publicized mass shootings occurred involving high-capacity, military style firearms:

In 1983, a masked gunman opened fire outside a party store in Detroit and wounded four people.59 In January 1989, Patrick Purdy opened fire with an AK-47 in an elementary school in Stockton, California, killing five children and wounding twenty-nine others and a teacher. In October 1991, twenty-three people were killed and nineteen others wounded when a man drove his truck into a cafeteria and started randomly shooting with a copy of an AK-47. In January 1993, a Pakistani man shot five people in the front yard of the CIA facility in Virginia using a Glock-17 and a Ruger P89. The next month, four ATF officers were killed and sixteen others wounded at the Branch-Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, where the cult hoarded nearly 200 semi-automatic rifles. In July 1993, eight people were killed and six others wounded at a San Francisco law office shooting involving semiautomatic assault pistols; and finally in December 1993, two days before the Senate hearings on video games, a gunman used a semiautomatic pistol, randomly killing six people and wounding twenty. In all cases, large amounts of ammunition were used or within reach.60 In 1992, over 35,000 people were killed by gunfire (including suicide) in the United States, with only cars causing more fatal injuries.

Gun violence was very much on the minds of citizens. There was widespread public opinion that the access to firearms was a major contributor to violence, and advocacy groups, such as the Children’s Defense Fund, joined the campaign against assault weapons.61 Though delayed almost 14 years after the assassination attempt on Reagan, the “Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act,” as it came to be known (also the Brady Bill or Brady Act) was finally passed and signed by President Bill Clinton on November 30, 1993.62 While the Act called for a waiting period during the purchase of handguns, a crime bill passed in 1994 included a limited assault weapons ban.63

But some people were not convinced crime bills and gun bans were sufficient. Looking at newspaper and magazine articles of the early 1990s, popular opinion still included indictment of television, film, and video games. In 1990, A New York Times reporter linked crime in New York with violence and gunplay on television, and on cartoons where people who are hurt do not show pain or damage.64 In 1991, lawyers for three teen-agers who plotted to kill a school bully blamed their behavior on media violence. The teens’ public defender said children were learning that “violence was commonplace,” from television and video games.65 In a letter to the Editor of The New York Times, one person wrote:

Of course you’re right about the extremity of the crime problem (“The Tides of Crime,” editorial, April 25). And getting rid of guns would surely help… Can I be the only one who thinks that we all live in the climate of violence created by television and the movies? I recently bought a television after three years without one, and I am astonished at the level of violence there. Half of the shows involve someone getting killed or beaten. “The Silence of the Lambs” won the Oscar. All this creates the belief that violence is normal. And as long as we think that, we will never solve the crime problem. We will also never get real gun control, because most Americans want their guns, because violence is normal. - Bob Johnson, Ann Arbor, Mich., May 4, 199266

The Clinton Administration agreed and looked to entertainment media as a source for increased social violence. In late 1993, despite a decrease in gun-related violence on television, Attorney General Janet Reno had warned the television industry that the federal government would intervene if it did not decrease the amount of violence on television. A few weeks later, President Clinton urged film and television executives during a fund-raising event to take more responsibility for their role in shaping the morality of American youth with violent entertainment.67 Eventually the Administration would pass the Television Communications Act of 1996, which included a provision for the V-chip, allowing parents to control programming. In addition, the Administration required the television industry to employ ratings, but no overt content regulations were passed.

A 1990s Public Television Approach to Television Violence

On February 12, 1993 in Liverpool, England, 2-year-old James Bulger was found brutally tortured and murdered by two 10-year old boys who had abducted Bulger from a nearby shopping center. It was asserted in UK tabloids and press that the 10-year-olds had watched the movie Child’s Play 3 (Jack Bender, 1991), and had imitated what they had seen. Authorities could never establish whether they had seen the film, but the incident fueled the controversy over the real-world impact of violence on television. This incident inspired an episode of GBH’s The Group, which aired on February 22, 1993 titled “On Kids, TV and violence.” Panelists were Peggy Charren, Founder of Action for Children’s Television; Craig Latham, Forensic and Child Psychologist; Caesar McDowell, Assistant Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Ronald Slaby, Senior Scientist, Education Development Center; Juliette Tuakli-Williams, Pediatrician at South End Health Center. They discussed the responsibilities of parents in monitoring children, as well as the impact of television as a “babysitter” for children.

Responding to the murder of James Bulger, Craig Latham pointed out that the event is evidence against the “myth” that violent offenders “look different” and more “defective” from the rest of us. Contrary to what the Surgeon General’s report and other researchers had concluded years earlier that only certain children are affected, Latham asserted that any one of us could become violent as a result of exposure. Juliette Tuakli-Williams agreed; we only need to look at what television shows us. The Incredible Hulk, she said, taught children that even “mild-mannered men” can be provoked enough to “turn into an animal.” And finally Richard Slaby argued that television as a contributing “member of the family,” must be investigated for interactions with children. For these commentators, it simply was not true that a violent person must be different from the “normal” person.

Peggy Charren, however, immediately criticized the blaming of television for the behaviors of children or other aggressive people. Perplexed, Charren bemoaned the standard and immediate implication that television should be faulted “when something peculiar happens with children.” Charren argued that much larger issues account for how a child behaves. If there was an equal distribution of wealth in the U.S., if family leave policies allow for more time to be spent with children, and if the child always came first, she said, the problem would be much less of a problem. Charren “stop[ped] short of blaming television,” she said, because it would “let everything else of the hook.” Caesar McDowell agreed that if we lay the blame on television, we neglect the issue of what goes on in the family. Latham, in answer, suggested that the public wants to externalize the causes of violence. To accept that behaviors result from inside the family dynamic, meant that something was “wrong” with the family. It is hard to see 10-year-olds as evil, he said, so blaming some external cause makes sense. But, Charren argued, while the research may have showed that children believe violence is an easy solution to problems, the research does not show that children who watch violence on television then “go pick up weapons.” Moreover, “for most of us,” she said, we don’t open the door expecting to be shot.”

We are too quick in society to “get it off the air,” Charren said echoing earlier sentiments of Leifer and Graves. Censorship, she argued, is never the right tactic. She cautioned against bringing religion into schools as a way of solving problems and as a method of developing “correct” morals in children, something political pundits were considering. The solution, the group surmises, is to have more awareness in the family. The public must share their concerns with networks, and conversations must be had across disciplines- pediatricians, public health professionals, criminologists, and parents must all be part of the discussions at all levels.

What happens in the family is precisely what Frontline investigated two years later in 1995, in a special sensationally titled, “Does TV Kill?” Bill Moyers introduced the program with views similar to the 1940’s Catholic Church Legion of Decency characterization of comic books, that with television, the “appliance from hell had gotten into everyone’s home,” feeding a “dose of something evil,” and planting the “seeds of violence.”68 Just what impact was this having? To attempt an answer to the question, correspondent Al Austin and a camera crew rented a house in Schenectady, New York, where Frontline says television was invented in 1928. Al Austin selected three families to document for several weeks. The families allowed cameras to be set up in their homes to have their television viewing monitored. Footage of the households revealed exactly the concerns of The Group, that parental guidance and family environment provide better explanation for their children’s behaviors than television effects. The episode also incorporated a history of effects research, and Frontline investigated the evidence on whether TV was truly “killing people and corrupting the world,” or as industry executives claim, whether television simply reflected the world as it was.

Frontline introduced viewers to Albert Bandura’s 1961 research by way of a video clip of his Bobo doll experiment. The black and white video is of a woman actively beating up the Bobo doll, and Austin explained that children were later left alone with the doll while researchers observed how they behaved. Austin pointed out that it was still hotly argued what, if anything, these studies proved. Austin then introduced a 1963 research study by social psychologist Leonard Berkowitz, as a way of confirming Bandura’s findings. During Berkowitz’s experiment, he showed college students a clip from the film Champion (Mark Robson, 1949) in which Kirk Douglas’s fights in a boxing match.69 Austin summarizes that half of the participants were told Douglas was a villain, and the other half was told Douglas was a hero figure. The results showed that perceived “justified violence” encouraged men to use violence. In short, Austin said, it was then widely regarded by social scientists that violent images can have a powerfully negative effect on viewers.

One of the families Frontline monitored showed distressing images. While the other two families seemed to have normal childhood behavior, a child in the third family exhibited obsessive amounts of television viewing. A monitor in his bedroom showed this boy watching television alone, nonstop throughout the day, only pausing to eat dinner after pleas from his mother. This behavior was repeated daily. The child admitted to being a minor bully in school and not reading very well. Do these behaviors stem from his viewing habits, or do they instead stem from an obvious lack of involvement from his mother? Frontline considered whether laboratory studies had any bearing on the real world. To answer this, Austin presents the work of psychologist Leonard Eron who observed children in Hudson County in 1960 and found that television violence led to aggressive behaviors. Devising a longitudinal study, Eron went back to the community ten and twenty years later to check up on the children in his original study. He and his collaborators on these studies (including Berkowitz) found that boys who watched a lot of violent television as children were more likely to get into trouble as teenagers and adults. Boys who were more aggressive at age 8 had more criminal convictions, more serious offenses, more traffic violations, more drunk driving incidents, and more aggressive at home.70

Frontline tracked down two of these men, Pat and Mike, who were part of the original study and had watched violent television as children. They were 42 years old in 1995. While Pat had chronic issues with illicit drugs and eventually lost his wife family, Mike had “never been aggressive in his life.” Mike was living comfortably with his family of four, and was genuinely confused by the statistics of Eron’s studies. Pat allowed cameras to be placed in his house, and what Frontline found was indeed nothing shocking. Mike’s four-year old snuck downstairs to watch television on a Saturday morning; the family had the television on during dinner time; some programs were watched, others were left on for an empty living room; and some viewing was not viewing at all, but endless channel surfing. Despite the television being on, the family interacted often.

Pat, and others like him, posed a conundrum to television violence researchers. Just as Graves had explained in 1977, research could simply not predict who or what would be affected by television. A glaring problem was that there was no way to compare children who watched television and children who did not watch television, since everyone had television by the 1960s. Television intervention experiments suffered from the lack of true control groups, save for one unique 1973 study. In that year, Frontline explains, television arrived for the first time to a small town in British Columbia. A psychologist from the University of British Columbia, Tannis Macbeth Williams, observed children, teenagers, and adults just prior to television’s arrival there. She had a checklist of 15 different aggressive behaviors, such as kicking, slapping, and verbal aggression. After 2 years of television use, Williams found that there was a significant increase in physical and verbal aggression in elementary school children, community activities decreased, and creativity decreased.70 Al Austin told viewers the study was considered “rock solid.” However, he said, not all independent variables were accounted for when assessing effects. At the same time television was brought to the rural BC community, a new road opened the town to the outside world, and business tripled. A crime wave, the usual indicator for television critics that television was causing violence, never hit the town. Importantly, parental guidance was not assessed. A member of the BC town summarized the study this way: there is always the “odd individual” that says television changes things.

Television executives corroborated this attitude. Frontline interviewed Fox Network’s Executive Vice President, George Bradenburg. According to Bradenburg, the television industry has overwhelmingly rejected the view that television contributed to violence in society. Instead, “the problem today is that kids have knives and guns.”71 Television writers concurred. At the Universal Studios lot, Frontline asked Dick Wolf, creator of Law and Order (Universal, 1990-2010) about the issue. “We’re an easy target,” Wolf said, “We’re overpaid pinheads.” He reiterated Bradenburg’s assertion that television is a scapegoat, and that access to guns was the real problem in addition to the lack of effective parenting. Frontline interviewed social scientists then looking into the issue. In response to the claim that television was a scapegoat, George Gerbner, communications scholar, argued that this response sidestepped the real issue. Television violence, he said, is “happy” violence; it is “cool, swift, and funny,” and easily leads to a conclusion. Just as Leifer suggested in Say Brother, Gerbner suggested that television “cultivates a sense of meanness.” In what he has termed the “mean world syndrome,” people believe they live in a mean world and behave accordingly.72 The most destructive message of television, he says, is fear; people are gripped by fear and are afraid to go out in the street. Then professor of the History of Ideas at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, Barry Sanders agreed despairingly with Gerbner and added that television creates a “remotest kind of behavior,” where “if I don’t like you, I can click you off.” Television, for Sanders, robs children of imagination. This, in his interpretation, is worrisome “if we care about anything like hope.” Life is not going on inside the child, he says; television is an “electronic eraser” of life.

What is interesting is that the actual statistics did not support these views. While the incidence of violent crime had doubled since the 1960s, violent crime rates during the 1990s dropped dramatically. In Hudson County they dropped as much as 42%, Austin pointed out. It is unfortunate that Frontline did not interrogate these statistics further. Instead, the program ended with Bill Moyers having a conversation with three contemporary experts on media and children: Elizabeth Thoman, Former Director for the Center for Media Literacy; Milton Chen, assistant professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education; and Douglas Rushkoff, media theorist. While both Thoman and Chen adhere to a panic attitude, Rushkoff emphasized that we need to consider the new crime statistics and what is actually happening in society, and society must move the conversation forward. To him, children are becoming more sophisticated as new media technologies come out (he used Nintendo as an example) and parents should embrace the new “interpersonal connectivity” that media foster. For him, TV does not kill. “We can’t fight real world violence by fighting fictional violence,” he argued, if we manage media, “we kill it.”

Concluding remarks

Television programs like these all investigate similar questions about the effects of television violence: why there is so much violence on television, what do children learn from television, and are effects indeed measurable. The most obvious issue that has changed over time is the issue of race and sexism in television that seems to drop out of concern in the 1990s. This makes sense given civil and social unrest in the 1960s and 1970s and the blatant racism and sexism of the time. But television programming, despite continuing criticism, expanded to include shows depicting strong African American and women characters during the 1980s and 1990s. Violence, however, continued to be a great concern.

Other questions remained utterly the same. Why was there so much violence on television? Do networks have a responsibility to the nation in helping to raise healthy and non-violent children? Does television violence negatively affect children? It seemed to be agreed upon by everyone and through time that commercial television employed violence because it was a moneymaker. However, was violence on television manifest as problematic in the real world? Despite decades of research, the answers to these questions were hopelessly convoluted, contended, and unclear. Several social scientists were and remained adamant about the ill effects of television, as evidenced in The Group. However the practical connection to reality was terribly ambiguous, as Frontline showed. Ultimately, even with the benefit of historical reflection, not much changed in 1995 with respect to specific questions asked since 1973, and not much more seemed to be added. The question of whether television kills seems to be even more difficult to answer after over thirty years of research.

Unlike other media panics, Frontline’s “Does TV Kill” was not inspired by a single tragic incident, but by a general sense in public opinion that violence on the street was increasing and television was bad for children. Moyers asks his post-show panel about broad television culture of the nineties, probing Thoman, Chen, and Rushkoff whether we are “creating a new kind of being, a consciousness that is new and different and beyond reach of usual traditional influences.” Reiterating Barry Sanders’ dismay, Moyers asks if this “new creature has lost faith in goodness of life… is television producing a new human being?” It is absolutely evident to Rushkoff that from the fear of television culture in the 1960s discussed above, and the questions and answers presented in television specials on television violence, that the nineties were not at all producing a “new kind” of hopeless being. In fact, children, adolescents, and adults continue to be creative, he said, in spite of television and despite what Sanders feared. Indeed, crime waves had not continued, and in fact dropped dramatically in the 1990s. Frontline in the end reiterated Drotner’s assertion that media panics repeat, and repeat often. Children may be glued to the set, but they have been glued to the set for decades. There have not been epidemics of listless, lifeless adults. That, it seems, is simply the work of zombie fiction.


1Frontline, Does TV Kill?, Michael McLeod. (1995; WGBH Educational Foundation).

2Drotner, Kirsten. 1999. “Dangerous Media? Panic Discourses and Dilemmas of Modernity.” Paedagogica Historica 35 (3) (January): 593–619.

3Ibid., 596. It bares emphasis that the designation of a moral or media panic does not imply a rejection of the objective reality of a problem. The designation, moral panic scholar Stanley Cohen writes, “does not question the existence nor dismiss issues of causation, prevention and control. It draws attention to a meta-debate about what sort of acknowledgment the problem receives and merits,” Cohen, Stanley. 2002. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: the Creation of the Mods and Rockers, 3rd edition. Routledge, xxxiv.

4For in depth discussions of the effects of television, see Boddy, William. 1990. Fifties television: the industry and its critics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press; Spigel, Lynn. 1992. Make room for TV: television and the family ideal in postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Bodroghkozy, Aniko. 2001. Groove tube: sixties television and the youth rebellion. Durham: Duke University Press.

5United States Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior. 1972. Television and Growing Up: the Impact of Television Violence. United States Public Health Service Office of the Surgeon General.

6A Reporter’s Special on TV Violence, Charles Stuart. (1973, GBH); Say Brother, “Television Violence and its Effects on Children,” Barbara Barrow. (1977, GBH); The Group, “TV, Children, and Violence.” (1993, GBH); Frontline

7Blumer, Herbert. 1933. Movies and Conduct. New York: The Macmillan company.

8For discussions on the Payne Fund studies, see Lowery, Shearon, and Melvin L. DeFleur. 1983. Milestones in mass communication research: media effects. New York: Longman; Mark Lynn Anderson, “Taking Liberties: The Payne Fund Studies and the Creation of the Media Expert,” (42-43) and Lee Grieveson, “Cinema Studies and the Conduct of Conduct,” (9-10) in Grieveson, Lee, and Haidee Wasson. 2008. Inventing film studies. Durham: Duke University Press.

9Lange, D L, R K Baker, and Sandra J Ball. 1969. Mass Media and Violence: a Staff Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Washington, DC. US Government Printing Office.

10Steiner, Gary A. 1963. The People Look at Television, a Study of Audience Attitudes. Knopf, 4; Mass Media and Violence, 207.

11Michael Mandelbaum. 1982. “Vietnam: the Television War,” Daedalus 111, no. 4, 157–169.

12U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, “No. HS-23. Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offense: 1960 to 2002,”

13Emanuel K Schwartz. 1961. "The Family in an 'Age of Violence'." New York Times (1923-Current File), Jan 22, 1-SM47; David N Daniels, Marshall F Gilula, and Frank M Ochberg, Eds. 1970. Violence and the Struggle for Existence. Little Brown GBR. For the foundational work on the concept of the “subculture of violence,” see Wolfgang, M. E., & Ferracuti, F. 1967. The subculture of violence: Towards an integrated theory in criminology. London: Tavistock Publications; A year after publication, Marvin Wolfgang (then Professor of Criminology at University of Pennsylvania) became a Co-Director of Research (with James Short Jr., Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Washington State University) for the NCCPV Task Force on Historical and Comparative Perspectives.; Schlesinger, Arthur M. 1968. Violence: America in the sixties. New York: New American Library.

14National Archives, Lyndon B. Johnson Papers, Collection 283, FG 795 “National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence,” Box 418.

15Gould, Jack. 16 June 1968. “Surrender to Television?” New York Times, 15; quoted in Cooper, 23.

16"Crime Tripled on TV, Senate Probers Told." Jun. 9, 1961.Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), 1-c7.

17Lowry, Cynthia. 1960. "Captain Kangaroo Sounds Off on Television's Baby Sitters." Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 16, 1-n13.

18Wolters, Larry. 1963. "TV Needs Clean-Up for Young Viewers." Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), May 12, 1-w10.

19National Association for Better Radio and Television (U.S.). June 1959 and Summer 1960. NAFBRAT Quarterly. Los Angeles: National Association for Better Radio and Television

20Ibid., 8-9. It should be noted that the comic book version of Superman was indicted along with every other comic book during the 1950s, when the United States Senate held hearings on the comic book industry and its effects on children. For a discussion on these events, see Nyberg, Amy Kiste. 1998. Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code. Jackson [Miss.]: University Press of Mississippi.

21While most critics tended to say that children need to be protected, both children and teenagers were a concern, and there was often no distinction between groups.

22"Dodd to Open Drive Against TV 'Crime Diet'." Feb. 10, 1962. Chicago Daily Tribune, 1-a12.


24Wolters, Larry. 1961. "Westerns Face Stern Revision." Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Aug 13, 1-s4.

25Wolters, Larry. 1960. "Japanese TV to Shun Cowboys and Samurai." Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 04, 14-14.

26Coughlin, Francis. 1961. "Crime on TV Called Harmful Only to TV." Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Mar 07, 1-a5.

27Schumach, Murray. 1961. "NBC Acts to Subdue Violence." Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jun 25, 1-n8; Wolters, Larry. 1961. "Westerns Face Stern Revision." Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Aug 13, 1-s4.

28Wolters, 1964.

29Schlesinger, Arthur M. 1968. Violence: America in the sixties. [New York]: New American Library; ix.

30Ibid., 50

31Ibid., 54; McLuhan’s theory was rather different to Schlesinger’s interpretation, however, and Schlesinger acknowledges the difference. It would not matter, for example, if the content were children’s cartoons or overt violence; the effect on society would be identical.

32Johnson, Nicholas. “Television and Violence: Perspectives and Proposals,” Statement prepared for the NCCPV, Mass Media Hearings, 369. Original italics.

33Interoffice memoranda, Nixon Administration. 1969. FG 168 (National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence). Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

34Surgeon General, 1972.

35Bogar, Leo. 1972. “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That TV Violence is Moderately Dangerous to Your Child's Mental Health.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 36, 4: 491-521.

36Surgeon General, 49.

37It is worth noting that the introductory montage of this episode was of still images of real-life violence. Images are shown of recent city riots, people running from uniformed officers, windows being broken, individuals being arrested, teenagers yelling, and finally, horrifying lynchings. The suggestion, of course, is the question of whether television images have a role in creating these violent episodes. No single incident stood out as inspiring the conversation.

38Bandura, Albert., Ross, Dorothea, & Ross, Sheila. 1961. Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 63, 3; 575-582; Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. 1963. Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 66, 1; 3-11; Bandura, A. 1965. Influence of models' reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 6; 589-595.

39Bandura, Ross, and Ross 1961, 576.


41 “Mildly annoyed,” meant that the child was told s/he could not play with certain toys they thought they would be able to play with.

42Children were not inclined to copy the cartoon cat, however.

43 “Dodd to Open Drive”

44Look magazine was a general interest large-format magazine with a distribution second only to Life magazine. Look had a peak circulation in 1969 with 7.75 million; see "Cowles Closing Look Magazine After 34 Years." Sep. 17 1971. New York Times (1923-Current File), 1-1; "Look Magazine to Halt Publication." Sep. 17, 1971. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), 1-1.

45Bandura, Albert. October 22, 1963. “What TV Violence Can Do To Your Child.” Look. p. 46-52. Cowles Communications, Inc.

46See for example, Feshbach, Seymour. 1964. “The Function of Aggression and the Regulation of Aggressive Drive.” Psychological Review 71 (July): 257–272.

47Surgeon General, 34.

48Leifer, Aimee D, Neal J Gordon, and Sherryl B Graves. 1974. “Children's Television More Than Mere Entertainment.” Harvard Educational Review 44, 2; 213–245; citation check via Web of Science; it should be noted that a citation check by Google Scholar reports “cited by” numbers of 91 (Leifer et al. 1974) versus 1,698 (Bandura et al. 1961).

49Tobia, Jill A. “The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act: Does It Have a Shot at Success.” Seton Hall Legislative Journal 19 (1994): 894–920, 894.

50Zimring, Franklin E. “The Youth Violence Epidemic: Myth or Reality?.” Wake Forest Law Review 38 (1998): 727–744, 728.

51Zimring, Franklin E. “The Youth Violence Epidemic: Myth or Reality?.” Wake Forest Law Review 38 (1998): 727–744, 729. Zimring shows that, compared with homicide and aggravated assault, other violent crimes, such as rape, robbery, and burglary showed varying, but not significantly increased trends since 1980.

52Editors. “$30 Million Campaign Underway to Halt Growing Youth Violence.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), August 5, 1993.

53Zimring, 1998.

54See Hagedorn, John. 2008. A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, and Quinn, Eithne. 2010. Nuthin' but a ""G"" Thang The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap. New York: Columbia University Press.

55Ibid.,note 2.

56Berke, Richard. Jan 23, 1994 “Crime is Becoming Nation’s Top Fear.” ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009). A1.


58Cozzolino, Marc Christopher. “Gun Control: the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.” *Seton Hall Legislative Journal *16 (1992): 245–268.

59Campbell, James R. “Detroit Street Crime Up: Mayor Imposes Curfew to Curb Teen Crime.” Afro-American (1893-1988) ProQuest Historical Newspapers: the Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988), December 6, 2013.

60Lenett, Michael G. “Taking a Bite Out of Violent Crime.” University of Dayton Law Review 20, no. 2 (1994): 573–617, 577.

61Ibid., 578 and 583.

62Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-159 [H.R. 1025], 18 USCS prec § 921 (1993).

63Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-322 [H.R. 3355], 108 Stat. 1796.

64Hechinger, Fred M. “About Education: a Haven Amid Rising Urban Crime, a School Where ‘People Do Not Expect Violence’.” New York Times (1923-Current File) ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009), November 7, 1990.

65Editors. “Kids Punished for Plot to Kill Bully.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), December 26, 1991. Johnson, Bob. May 20, 1992. “TV's 'Normal' Violence.” ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) A22; original italics

66Jehl, Douglas. Dec 6, 1993. “Clinton Gently Chides Hollywood on Violence. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) A12. Weintraub, Bernard. Dec. 28, 1993. “Despite Clinton, Hollywood Is Still Trading in Violence.” ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) A1.

67See Hajdu, David. 2008. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

68Berkowitz, Leonard, and Edna Rawlings. 1963. “Effects of Film Violence on Inhibitions Against Subsequent Aggression.” Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology 66, 5; 405–412. Aggression was measured by the application of electric shocks from one participant to another participant.

69Eron, Leonard D, L Rowell Huesmann, Monroe M Lefkowitz, and Leopold O Walder. 1972. “Does Television Violence Cause Aggression.” American Psychologist 27, 4; 253–263; Huesmann, L Rowell, Leonard D Eron, and E F Dubow. 1985. “Television Viewing Habits in Childhood and Adult Aggression.” Aggressive Behavior 11 (2): 160.

70Williams, Tannis MacBeth. 1979. “The Impact of Television: a Natural Experiment Involving Three Communities.”

71It’s worth noting that Fox Kids Network aired Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR Productions, Inc., Renaissance Atlantic Films, 1993-1996), a show that was banned in Canada at the time.

72Gerbner, George, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, and Nanci Signorielli. 1980. “The ‘Mainstreaming’ of America: Violence Profile No. 11.” Journal of Communication 30, 3; 10–29.