Television Violence (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1977)
Television Violence (GCMC, 1977)
As a historic peace church that has rejected violence as a way of life and tried to practice love in all human relationships in obedience to Christ's teaching (Matthew 5-7 Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 22:37-40 and Mark 12:29-31, The Great Commandments) and example (His life of love and His death on the cross), we have recently become increasingly alarmed at the expressions of violence portrayed on the television screens and the effect that this has upon children in our country and especially within the Mennonite church. Statistics and studies on violence on television differ slightly, but all establish beyond doubt that violence on television is very real. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 12-8-75, states, "The average American child will have viewed 15,000 hours of television by the time he has graduated from high school, as compared to having been exposed to some 11,000 hours of formal classroom instruction. He will have witnessed some 18,000 murders and countless highly detailed incidents of robbery, arson, bombing, forgery, slugging, beating and torture, averaging approximately one per minute . . ." (regular programming and cartoons). The National Association for Better Broadcasting indicates that 60% of today's prime-time television offerings are violent.
According to the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting the most violent shows on television in a six-week period of monitoring in the summer of 1976 were programs like "Swat" and "The Rookies," containing 180 and 112 acts of violence respectively in the six-weeks' monitoring period. The least violent shows during that same period were "The Bob Newhart Show" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," with no violent acts portrayed during the same six-week period. Network ranking on violence in prime-time programming during this study period: CBS -- 4,993 acts of violence; ABC -- 6,329; New Brunswick, Canada)C -- 6,581.
I. The Effects of Television Violence
Thomas Hoving, in This Week magazine, points out that the Presidential Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence states, "The mass media may be the most powerful social force at work in America today, creating a national culture, influencing a broad range of people's beliefs and attitudes." Most studies done on the effects of television violence on children indicate that television violence has a direct effect upon the thought and behavior patterns of developing children. Studies also indicate that adults are affected negatively by television violence. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 12-8-75, states "146 articles in behavioral science journals representing 50 studies involving 10,000 children and adolescents from every conceivable background, all showed that violence viewing produces increased aggressive behavior in the young," These studies on TV violence indicate the following effects upon children:
- It tends to teach the child that violence is an easy answer to every problem.
- It reinforces and encourages aggressive and violent behavior in children.
- It has the effect of causing indifference to human suffering and indifference to the concept of reverence for life.
- It tends to blunt or immunize children against the tragic consequences and results of violence (John Murphy of New York City).
- Promotes indifference to human pain, and tends to cause us to lose our natural sympathies for the suffering of others (Fred Wertham, in Violence and the Mass Media).
Wertham summarizes, "Whether crime and violence on television arouses lust for violence, reinforces it when present, shows a way to carry it out, teaches the best method of getting away with it, or merely blunts the child's awareness of wrongness, television has become a school for violence." The Presidential Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence concluded that "the excessive amount of television crime, violence and brutality can and does contribute to the development of attitudes in many youth that paves the way for delinquent behavior." Dr. Walt Menninger, Hutchinson News, 9-2-76, says, "everyone watches TV. They see a world in which good guys and bad guys alike use violence to solve problems that achieve goals. Violence is rarely presented as illegal or socially unacceptable. Indeed, as often as not, it is portrayed as a legitimate means for obtaining desired ends."
II. The Effect Upon the Mennonite Church
What will the above influence do to us and our children? We are not aware of studies done on the effect of television violence upon Mennonite people and Mennonite children, but we believe that the influence of television violence will tend to erode our basic principles of love and compassion as revealed in Christ. Therefore television violence must be viewed with increasing alarm by those who proclaim the way of love and peace. For even as we would refuse to poison our children at the dinner table, so we must equally guard against the poisoning of their spirits by this pipeline of violence!
III. What Can We Do?
The Christian Science Monitor says that concerned people are going to have to get together to "disarm television." Steps are being taken in Canada and other countries using American television and films, to study the relationship of media violence and real crime. Already they have eliminated from their viewing some of the American programming. (For example, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has eliminated the "Cannon" series from its lineup.) The National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting has organized and is actively at work trying to confront the networks in the hope of getting less violent television programming. Sponsors have indicated very often that they want to hear from the viewer with regard to the content of the programming. Some companies, such as Kraft Cheese and Eastman Kodak, no longer allow their products to be advertised in connection with violent shows.
With the adoption of this statement of concern, we recommend that every congregation in our Conference be challenged to take some action with regard to a witness against violence on television. Following are a few suggestions:
- Form an ad hoc study commission in your own congregation to study the fact and effect of violence on television in your community and congregation.
- Form monitoring committees that will record the amount and kind of violence on a program, the name of the show, the name of the sponsor, and tabulate these.
- Write letters to sponsors of violent television shows, with carbon copies to the local station, and to the Federal Communications Commission or the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC), protesting the portrayal of this violence -- be brief, but very specific!!! Also, tape violent shows and tell sponsors that you are doing so!! On the other hand, when a company puts on a wholesome, beneficial, and non-violent program, write to the sponsor to encourage that kind of programming. (The Everglades Publishing Company of Everglades, Florida 33929, publishes a quarterly TV Sponsors Cross-Reference Directory, which gives the names and addresses of all television programs and their sponsors.)
- Call the sponsors of these programs and also the program directors of the local television stations and engage them in a discussion about the violence of their television programming. Also, ask them for suggestions on how local congregations and church groups can get involved in supporting and helping to produce more creative programming. Some of these have WATS Lines and you can call them without charge.
- Write letters to the editor of your local and regional papers, pointing out the need to guard against violence on television and encouraging people to watch more wholesome programs.
- Ask the Inter Mennonite Media Group, and perhaps our Seminary and church colleges to explore the whole matter of violence on television, encouraging them to become pioneers in producing and encouraging better TV programming.
- Write to the many organizations concerned with violence on television asking for information and encouraging them in their efforts. Here is a list of some of these: National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting 1346 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 415 Washington, D.C. 20036 Action for Children's Television 46 Austin St. Newtonville, Mass. 02160 Help America Reduce Televiolence Post Office Box 1701 South Bend, IN 46624 American Council for Better Broadcasting 120 East Wilson Madison, WI 53703 Morality in Media, Inc. 487 Park Ave, New York, N.Y. 10022 Media Action Research Center, Inc. 475 Riverside Dr. Suite 1370 New York, NY 10027
- Make a concentrated effort to stimulate an awareness within the congregation of not only the content but also the amount of viewing; to encourage and assist families in effectively implementing alternative activities and experiences that will provide opportunities for real-life interpersonal relationships.
- Suggested resource material: The Plug-In Drug: Television, Children and the Family Marie Winn, Viking Press, 625 Madison Ave. NY, NY 10022 copyright 1977
This statement of concern was adopted by the Eden Mennonite Church of Moundridge, Kansas, at its annual meeting January 12, 1977, and recommended to the General Conference Mennonite Church.
Context of the Resolution
This resolution on television violence reflects a common practice within the General Conference Mennonite Church through which a single member congregation brings a resolution to the denomination's delegate body for discussion and possible approval.
The addresses and bibliographic references provided in the resolution were current in 1977.
Resolutions approved by the delegates at the triennial convention of the denomination are not binding on local congregations or district conferences unless they are also formally adopted by those bodies.