- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The bilious index is up in America as television commercials resort to mindless anger to sell their wares. A Snickers ad featured two plug-ugly bruisers chomping at either end of a candy bar until their lips touched and kissed accidentally —and then quickly tearing clumps of hair from their chests to prove their virility.

TV “shockvertising” is now an “edgy” amalgam of someone zapped by a meteorite while waiting to disembark at his office on the moon; real car crashes; passengers are side-swiped and tossed around like crash-test dummies; a car terrorizes and attacks a lovesome pink piggy bank; everybody slaps each other hard in the face; a guy throws a rock at somebody’s head; a couple driving at night pick up a hitchhiker carrying a large ax (and some beer), followed later by a second hitchhiker — with a chainsaw; a sky diver sans parachute throws himself out of a plane to chase a six-pack of beer.

Civility appears to have been relegated to a quaint custom of yesteryear. Cruel and callous are traits to be admired. Mind-numbing violence is a-OK and healthy. The country came to love a murderous crime boss named Soprano. Good characters are bad ones. To peddle something in a television commercial these days the take-no-prisoners, arrogant salesman must make the prospective buyer feel like a twittering half moron.

Sex is ubiquitous in sitcoms and docudramas — only raunchier. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and now their countless imitators can’t seem to get out of the front seat of a sports car without giving the paparazzi a well-waxed view sans panties.

TV commercials, blogs and YouTube send subliminal messages that say sex is power and money. The new feminist movement in cyberspace seems to be raw sex for raw power. Invasive cosmetic surgery for teenagers is part of the unwholesome mix. Stats for Botox injections, chemical peels, laser hair removal, are all up year over year. “Who needs brains when you have these?” proclaims the T-shirt on a well-endowed teenager.

When teenage sex no longer shocked, the envelope pushers dabbled with the menage a trios and intergenerational sex. But that didn’t last long either. So it’s back to violence.

There are now some 16 million suffering from “explosive rage disorder,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The endless gory details of Iraqi horrors on television news and documentaries have also contributed. Orlando, Disney World HQ, is now the angriest city in America and Manchester, N.H., the least angry, according to a Men’s Health magazine index. One would expect New York City with all its hustle and bustle and frustrations in inclement weather to occupy a high ranking in the survey; it was only the 57th angriest.

Good news for some and a dirge for others is word that rap music has gone into a tailspin after climbing off the charts for the last 30 years. In a study by the Black Youth Project, the majority of youngsters said rap videos were too violent. Another poll by AP and AOL-Black Voices said 50 percent of respondents judged hip-hop cadences “a negative force in American society.” “You don’t come to the hood no more” and ghetto revivals fail to captivate as they once did.

So all is not lost. Hip hop hoodlums still seek events to terrorize — e.g., last months’ NBA All-Star Game — but resistance now mobilizes to ridicule the troublemakers.

Study after study has demonstrated that children exposed to violent TV shows were more likely to be convicted of crime later in life. And women who OD’d on TV violence threw things at their husbands and men were likelier to beat up their wives. And these women are also at increased risk of heart disease, according to cardiologists at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

From TV advertising to video games, acts of violence, even if only violent spoofs in commercials, are woven in and out of the viewing fabric. By the time a youth reaches 18, he or she has witnessed 32,000 murders, 40,000 attempted homicides, and 200,000 acts of violence. Couple that with news reporting on wars an civil strife, and for some, violence, even murder, becomes an acceptable solution to problems.

TV commercials are only one medium for the 3,000 advertisements that most people are exposed to daily. Cross-marketing of products linked to TV shows and movies, radio, online in cyberspace, static and mobile billboards, even airline barf bags, are some of the others.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report, two years overdue, mandated by Congress that suggests a law that would let the FCC regulate violent programming, the way it supposedly regulates sexual content and profanity. No one thought this would get much beyond defining “excessive violence.”

One can plausibly argue that violence is in the human DNA. In the 20th century alone, the Russo-Japanese war, two world wars, the Holocaust, the Russian civil war, the Armenian genocide, the Abyssinian conquest, the Spanish Civil War, India’s partition, the French Indo-China war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Algerian War, China’s Cultural Revolution, the Iraq-Iran war, the Rwanda genocide, and a few others, caused well more than 100 million killed.

Over the centuries, some historians estimate the number of killed “in the cause of Christianity” at more than 1 billion, which would make Muslims less sanguinary than Christians. In 5,000 years of recorded history, there have been some 6,500 wars, many of them taking a million lives each.

For couch potatoes, ignorance is bliss. According to the Sourcebook for Teaching Science, the number of hours per day TV is on in an average U.S. home is 6 hours 47 minutes. Number of minutes per week parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5. Percentage of Americans that watch TV while eating dinner: 66 percent. Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79 percent. But they don’t connect the dots. So TV detox is long overdue.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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