What do ‘Saw 3,’ ‘CSI:Miami’ and working parents have in common?

I attended a presentation last night that was equal parts fascinating and disturbing. It was held at the Manhattan townhouse of a fellow Northeastern alum and featured Jack Levin, Ph.D., and co-director of NU's Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.

May 6 - violence Dr. Levin is arguably the world's leading expert on what he calls 'murder, mayhem and the media.' He studies serial killers, mass murderers and the rise of violence in society. Not your everyday line of work, to be sure. 

Levin says our hyper-violent society is spiraling ever further out of control. He cites a number of reasons why:

– the motion picture industry's rating system which, he says, goes virtually unenforced. As a result, kids as young as 10 are routinely allowed into theatres to watch such horrific slasher flicks as 'Saw,' 'Vacancy' and 'Basketball Diaries.'

– the lack of parental supervision at home. Moms and dads are both working nowadays (except the unemployed ones, of course). As a result, latchkey kids have unlimited access to the most violent programming on TV (Levin says most violent crimes committed by kids occur during the unsupervised, after school hours of 3-7 pm)

– an increase in not only the quantity, but the 'quality' of carnage on both the small and large screens. Levin says he's visited many crime scenes and attended countless autopsies, but the real thing is now being equaled, if not surpassed, in graphic reality by TV shows like 'Bones,' 'Law and Order' and the 'CSI' series. Levin says they routinely broadcast the most heinous, hideous and graphic images.

Now, add a dash of easy access to paramilitary weapons and a glorification of villains by the media and you have the final ingredients for widespread death and destruction. On the subject of media coverage, Levin showed us how the cover of People Magazine has dramatically changed since the magazine's introduction and now routinely features murderers and serial killers alongside the likes of Brangelina and Tomcat. Last, but definitely not least, we have the insatiable appetites of ordinary Americans weighed down by the drudgery of their lives who simply can't get enough blood and guts.

It's a toxic cocktail and one that Levin says has become more lethal with each passing decade. The only solution: boycotting TV programs and movies that carry such obscenities. It works, he says, citing Don Imus as a textbook example. Imus, says Levin, is 100 percent non-racist in his content since being fired by WFAN for his Rutgers' women basketball team comments a few years back.

The other solution? Disengaged parents need to engage the 'V-chip' on their cable boxes. If they won't supervise their kids' home viewing habits, says Levin, at least they can limit access to the most violent programming.

Levin shared a sad, sobering, scenario last night. For me, the bleakest parts concerned the future: things are very bad, only getting worse and no one really seems to be angry about it. What does it say about the image (if not the morals and ethics) of an entire population that allows this sorry state of affairs to continue unfettered?

6 thoughts on “What do ‘Saw 3,’ ‘CSI:Miami’ and working parents have in common?

  1. The social science on the connection between violent behavior and media exposure to violence is still quite complicated, but we can all agree that heavy childhood exposure to mediated violence is a bad idea. My kids also are annoyed that they can’t watch the R-rated films when some of their friends in suburbia are permitted to do so. For the record, my kids are 10 and 11.

  2. I know from experience the impact of violence on young children…in my youth I was a friend of a boy, let’s call him Mike..who was terrorized by a group of bad kids, let’s call them Johhny C. and Tim…this group changed poor Mike’s life. But the interesting element of their life of violence led Johnny C. and Tim to become a burden on society. Neither bully ever amounted to anything. So beware… the kid who consumes himself with violence may be buying himself a one way ticket to Palookaville. VIOLENCE KILLS.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Ted. I’d glad you’re preaching non-violence at home. That said, like to see you cut down on the amount of fighting you bring to the workplace. Punching out underperforming account executives is simply wrong.

  4. I find similar challenges with the NHL. I have a seven year-old son who adores hockey. He plays and watches it religiously. When he is on the ice, he’s an incredibly fair player – aggressive as hell but fair. There’s not even a hint of fighting or unsportsmanlike conduct.
    But then we watch the professionals and it’s a different story. Lots of unsportsmanlike conduct and way too much fighting. At first, I had trouble explaining why they were allowed to punch each other’s brains out and only get a five minute penalty, not to mention that most of them receive a standing ovation from the fans.
    But, like Art, I continually try to put it into context for him. First, I explain that I think fighting is wrong. Then I point out that many players – in fact, most – never fight and are out there because of their unbelievable talents and athleticism. Finally, I warn him that fighting can and does lead to serious injury and therefore should always be avoided.
    Not sure how it’s resonating but time will tell.

  5. Thanks so much for the comment, Art. Based upon Dr. Levin’s comments, your excellent parenting skills place you in the minority. He says far too many parents use the TV as a babysitter. He also told us about an experiment he conducted in Boston. He sent 10 children under the age of 10 to 10 different theaters showing R-rated films. Seven out of 10 were allowed in. That speaks volumes.

  6. I absolutely agree, Steve, and I work hard to make sure my kids aren’t exposed to violence on TV or on video, for that matter. My 13-year-old daughter is now pushing to see R-rated movies; much to her chagrin she’s not persuading me.
    However, I am skeptical about the future you paint, because I think that every generation views its troubles of today as only getting worse, with the world going to hell in a handbasket in the near future. I recall having read similar sentiments about children going back a hundred years. Rock and roll was accused of having the same kind of effect. I think the important take away from this is that it is we as parents who are responsible for what we expose our children to, and for providing them with context when they are exposed to something questionable. I do this routinely with my 10-year-old son who is especially troubled by TV shows that show children getting hurt. I remind him that it’s TV, that it’s not real, and then talk with him about what reality is like, how he can keep himself safe, and how his mom and I are keeping him safe. Then if it seems like the program in question is too disturbing for him, we don’t allow him to watch any more.