WASHINGTON, DC—A sharp rise in nearly bloodless attacks, improbable explosions, and other forms of highly choreographed violence has concerned citizens demanding that the government pass strict new standards for what they consider the key culprit in the increasingly formulaic violence in today's streets: prime-time network television.
"For decades, we've watched passively as acts of hackneyed violence have marred our one-hour dramas. Now this violence has spread out of our homes and onto our streets," said Marie Underhill of the Dallas-based Parents' Council For Responsible Programming. "There is a direct relation between the number of hours teens spend watching TV action shows and the escalation of clichéd violence in our cities."
Said Underhill: "How many times must we watch an innocent man get thrown from the hood of a speeding car only to get up unharmed and continue to run from the agents who pursue him, only to get thrown into a stack of warehouse crates? How many street grocers' carefully stacked vegetables must be scattered to the four winds by haphazard, ill-conceived car chases before we, as a society, say 'Enough'?"
Although once largely the domain of prime-time network police dramas, acts of illogical or poorly executed violence reached record levels in 2005, up by more than 12 percent since 2004. "Our research shows that the average child watches 75 to 90 sanitized and uninspired acts of televised violence per week," Underhill said. "That number is rising steadily as network TV action shows grow even more derivative."
The threat of formulaic violence first reached national attention in 2002, when a shoot-out between two mostly white street gangs occurred at a Bloomington, IN gas station, in which approximately 75 shots were fired. No injuries were sustained, but the melee did cause a slow-motion fireball that eyewitnesses called "predictable." Formulaic violence again made headlines in 2004, when Denver-area trucker Lance Cuttler recaptured his stolen 18-wheeler by crouching atop the cab and swinging his legs through the driver's side window, kicking the thief out the other side.
Experts agree that incidents like Cuttler's are approaching near-epidemic proportions. Police nationwide are reporting increases in bullet wounds to the shoulder area that have little effect on the victim's ability to use the affected arm, and a rising number of vulnerable blond women being rescued just in the nick of time by a man wielding a two-by-four who was previously thought to be knocked unconscious. In Los Angeles alone last year, 335 vehicles sailed over cliffsides only to land right side up, giving their uninjured occupants plenty of time to exit the vehicle and run a safe distance away before it suddenly burst into flames.
"It definitely can get pretty formulaic around here Friday, Saturday nights," said bouncer Ed Michaels of the Schaumburg, IL suburban nightspot Turbo's. "These guys are a pretty unimaginative crowd. Once they get some wine coolers in them, you see a lot of folks tossed through plate-glass windows, heads cracked with break-away beer bottles, that sort of thing. That's usually followed up by some sort of really hacky one-liner, like 'Drinks are on the house.'"
Despite the mounting criticism, the networks defend their programming. "This kind of violence on television can play a positive role in society," said Ben Atchinson, a development executive at ABC. "When someone gets their head rammed through a jukebox, it's best if the victim simply relaxes, because they will not be hurt. The only effect of the assault will be a humorously slowed-down version of the song that was playing previously."
But concerned citizens like Underhill reject this argument, saying that it cheapens and distorts the authentic nature of American violence. "I recall a time not long ago when a bullet in the chest meant a sucking chest wound, not a quick bandage job and a climactic final confrontation with a criminal mastermind atop an unfinished skyscraper."