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DAVIDSON: Violence, Alcohol, & Drugs — Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

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Violence on television is more pervasive than in real life. In their research project, years back, called “Watching America,” Stanley Rothmann, Robert Lichter, and Linda Lichter found that television characters had been murdered at a rate 1,000 times higher than real world victims.

Since 1975, a major character on prime-time TV is 17 times more likely to experience a personal confrontation with criminal violence than are the viewers who watch them every week. The broadcast networks’ prime-time schedules contain more than 1,000 scenes of violence per month. The “promos” for coming attractions depict even more violence than the shows themselves. The mayhem level even increased during a public outcry over TV violence.

Amazingly, businessmen and businesswomen are twice as likely to represent villains and three times as likely to commit crimes as are characters in other professions. Three out of four programs that show business dealings portray business as dishonest or corrupt.

Shaping Our Collective Consciousness

The authors concluded that television is an obviously artificial world that takes on a life of its own by shaping our collective consciousness. “For better or worse,” says Star Wars producer George Lucas, “films and television tell us the way we conduct our lives, what is right and wrong. It is important that the people who make films have ethics classes, philosophy classes, and history classes. Otherwise, we are witch doctors.”

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The National Coalition on Television Violence, in the early 1980s, undertook studies which showed that immediately after watching programs which emphasize combat, there is a substantial, readily observable increases in playground violence among what are otherwise considered to be normal children.

“What we think of now as the excess of the Roman circuses, where in the end
hundreds of thousands of people died, didn’t start out that way,” PBS producer Bill Moyers once said. They started out legitimately as circuses, but the audience demand for more and more resulted in forms of entertainment becoming bloodier and increasingly grotesque.

Have a Drink on Me

A study of Hollywood films showed that in one given year, 90% of all films contained alcohol. The beverage consumption by characters within films often depicted “an alcoholic style of drinking.” Yet, largely, no harmful side effects were depicted.

Before the 2007 decision by the Motion Picture Association of America to ban smoking in films rated lower than R, the National Coalition on Television Violence found that 53% of films contained cigarette smoking and more than 85% of those films had a major character smoking throughout the film. This confirmed Michael Medved’s findings in his book, Hollywood Versus America, that the characters in movies were three times as likely to smoke as the people in the audience watching the movie.

Drugs Abound

In NCTV’s observations, 14% of films contained scenes depicting illegal drug use. The conclusion: Despite claims from Hollywood to the contrary, Substance abuse in Hollywood films has not decreased. “It has a serious, harmful effect on America’s youth,” says actor Edward James Olmos. “Nothing that we do can ever stop the damage we have done.”

Many countries around the globe seek limits to how much American television they will allow to be broadcasted in their countries. Some countries have levied an outright ban on American television programs. When will American broadcasters limit themselves?

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About the Author:
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit for more information.