A few years ago, our local TV station received a complaint from a viewer. He said that all the shows we were airing in the evening were about murder, rape and other violent or criminal activities. According to the viewer, we should be ashamed of what we were airing and he wondered how we sleep at night.
Actually, after a long day at work, I’m tired and I sleep pretty well. But I understood his point.
We live in an increasingly violent and dangerous society – especially during this stressful time of social distancing – where people beat up their neighbours over yard borders. Where spouses kill for money or so-called love. Where suicide bombers are showing up beyond the borders of those tiny countries we can neither spell nor pronounce. Where distance and international borders mean nothing thanks to cyber-crime.
This is our world. And we’re getting less upset about it every day. Does that mean we’re getting used to the growing violence?
Maybe. Maybe not. Recently, during a White House briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany played a violent video to illustrate the truth about the recent Portland protests. Fox News, which had been covering the briefing live, abruptly cut away from the White House, claiming the imagery was too violent to show during daytime television.
Probably a good call. Ironically, Fox has no problem showing similar video over and over again on a loop during all its prime time shows. But thanks for protecting all the small children watching CNN during the day.
Studies have long identified violence on television as a major cause of the desensitization of people to violence in real life. (Not causing real-life violence but the desensitization to it.) Video games, the internet and social media have only added to this.
Of course, your local television station doesn’t control what shows are aired. (I know, it’s a shock.) With exception of some specific times allotted for local news and programs, we are contractually required to air the programs from our affiliate networks – Global and CTV.
However, the reason networks air such violent shows is because they are, in fact, popular. They’re the shows people want to watch each night. Even in this time of excessive repeats and pulling old shows out of the archives, the darker and edgier the better.
So what are our options to avoid sliding into violent despair?
CBC has always had a slightly more family-friendly line-up. But even they’re getting darker with each season. Why? Simple competition.
The number of viewers dictates how much TV stations can charge their advertisers for commercial airtime during a specific show. If they can’t charge enough, they can’t continue to pay for the shows, both from the networks and from local productions. So they look for shows that will allow them to charge enough to turn a profit.
So it’s a numbers game. And thus far, the killers, rapists, thieves and terrorists are winning. Unless you tune into repeats of Friends.