Two new studies indicate that both the quantity and content of television programming children ingest may influence their behavior. A 40-year study by researchers at New Zealand's University of Otago found that for every extra hour of television children watch on a weeknight, their odds of having a criminal conviction by the age of 26 increased by 30%. The scientists began tracking the television-watching habits of 1,037 children born in 1972 and 1973, and correlated how much TV they consumed with their criminal and mental health records until the age of 26. "Young adults who had spent more time watching television during childhood and adolescence were significantly more likely to have a criminal conviction, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, and more aggressive personality traits compared with those who viewed less television," said the study's lead author, Lindsay Robertson, a public health researcher at Dunedin School of Medicine.
A separate study conducted by University of Washington's Dr. Dimitri Christakis compared the behavior of 3- to 5-year-olds who watched more violent programming such as Power Rangers with that of children whose viewing was intentionally redirected toward more educational and pro-social shows such as Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street. Christakis found that children who watched the educational shows demonstrated fewer behavioral problems. "It's about changing the channel," Christakis said. "What children watch is as important as how much they watch." [latimes.com, 2/18/13; AP, 2/18/13 stats, c&e]
"Ultimately, a scattered bad word on television doesn't ruin the nation, but the continued negligence of major networks and the FCC with regard to the law and cultural impact of inappropriate content does eventually diminish society. Coarse language on television degrades us. That's why F-bombs are, indeed, linguistic bombs, and not acceptable in settings such as education and business (and sports broadcasts into family living rooms?) where basic manners are expected."
—Jeffrey McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences [indystar.com, 2/15/13]
"I'm amazed sometimes at the level of violence we get away with on my show. Yeah, it's OK to watch a girl burn to death, but God forbid I show a piece of her nipple. The sex boundaries are much more delineated and adhered to than the violence."
—Kurt Sutter, creator of the FX drama Sons of Anarchy [latimes.com, 2/15/13]
"I've been working on an essay about the profusion of gory violence in TV dramas today … and one explanation for it that comes up over and again is that you need 'stakes' to hook viewers. You need, that is, a sense that the characters stand to gain or lose something important, and in the 'important' sweepstakes 'getting violently murdered' generally trumps everything. That's understandable, and it's at least somewhat related to real life. You, I, and everyone will die someday—though probably not at the hands of a biker gang or zombies. But death is not the only thing that makes your life worthy of your attention. There's growing up, finding your limitations, learning who you are. There's being grown up, being forced to reassess your life, figuring out who you still can be. There's wanting things and pursuing a calling—which does not always have to be building the largest meth operation in the Southwest."
—Time television critic James Poniewozik, in his article "The Importance of Bunheads," which argues that decidedly non-gory series such as ABC Family's teen dramedy deserve a place on television [time.com, 2/26/13]
Adult-themed lyrics and videos from nine-year-old rapper Luie Rivera Jr.—who goes by the stage name Lil Poopy—have prompted the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to investigate whether the youngster's material violates any laws. A concerned citizen contacted the agency after seeing the boy perform in videos with sexual innuendo and drug references. In one video, he reportedly rides around in a Ferrari and says, "Coke is not a bad word." Another finds him in a nightclub as people toss cash at a female dancer. Cayenne Isaksen, public affairs director for the agency, has refused to speak to the press other than to acknowledge that "an investigation is now open." [cnn.com, 2/25/13]
In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., some politicians are trying to pass laws that would place a "sin tax" on violent video games. Connecticut lawmaker Debralee Hovey has proposed a 10% tax on M-rated games, with the money going to the state's department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. "In conversations, I've found many 9- to 12-year-old kids who are playing these M-rated games," Hovey says. "And they are way too fragile and malleable to be viewing this kind of realistic violence." A similar bill was introduced in Missouri which would charge a 1% tax on games carrying a T, M or AO rating. [theatlantic.com, 2/13]
"At these awards shows, I used to always be looking for examples of perfectly well-adjusted people. Now I'm like, 'Half these people are lunatics!' And I might be a lunatic. But I just want to see that lunacy expressed in a way that feels genuine and interesting."
—actress, writer and producer Lena Dunham, the 26-year-old star of HBO's critical darling Girls, a racy series about four young women trying to make their way in New York City [Rolling Stone, 2/28/13]
Seth MacFarlane's controversial stint as host of the Oscars drew the biggest ratings for the show in three years, with 40.3 million viewers—a million more than last year—tuning in. But many of his edgy jokes continue to draw criticism from various cultural corners:
Two California state lawmakers, assemblywomen Bonnie Lowenthal and Hannah-Beth Jackson, for example, sent a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Hawk Koch, exhorting him to use "better judgment" when choosing next year's host. "There was a disturbing theme about violence against women being acceptable and funny," the lawmakers wrote, "from topical jabs about domestic violence to singing about 'boobs' during a film's rape scene, Seth MacFarlane crossed the line from humor to misogyny. … On Oscar night, when Hollywood seeks to honor the best, Seth MacFarlane's monologue reduced our finest female actresses to caricatures and stereotypes, degrading women as a whole and the filmmaking industry itself."
Writing for The Huffington Post, associate producer for The Big Picture Dawn V. Woollen said, "I just cannot get Sunday's Oscars out of my head. I know, I know, at this point I should move on. I mean, shouldn't I be used to casual sexism, racism and anti-Semitism veiled as lazy attempts at humor? They're just jokes! The Oscars are a tough gig! Comedy pushes limits! Hahahaha? No. Simply, once and for all, no. And here is why: Nominated on Sunday was the powerful, disturbing and moving documentary The Invisible War about military sexual trauma (MST) in our armed forces. … Several of the survivors featured in The Invisible War attended the ceremony on Sunday, walking the red carpet. This was not just a photo-op for them. In this moment they knew their stories were heard, that they mattered and we believe them. … The thought of these survivors sitting in the audience while "We Saw Your Boobs" used Jodie Foster and Hillary Swank's rape scenes as a punch line makes me sick to my stomach." [usatoday.com, 2/25/13; salon.com, 2/27/13; huffingtonpost.com, 2/28/13]
Awards shows still matter, it seems, when it comes to telling people what they should like. Virtually all of the music featured in the Oscar telecast on Feb. 24 enjoyed big sales bumps in the week that followed. Downloads of Shirley Bassey's 164 James Bond theme song "Goldfinger" jumped 310% even as traffic to Bassey's Wikipedia page surged 30%. Meanwhile, sales of Adele's Bond tune, "Skyfall," jumped 56% and Barbara Streisand's "The Way We Were" enjoyed a 20% spike. Sales of several Les Misérables tracks increased, including Anne Hathaway's performances of "I Dreamed a Dream" (up 70%), "One Day More" (up 137%) and "Suddenly" (up 23%). Soundtrack sales for the films Dreamgirls, Chicago and Life of Pi all enjoyed solid gains as well, up 162%, 23% and 230%, respectively. [billboard.com, 2/27/13 stats, c&e]
Duck Dynasty scored massive ratings when its third season premiered last week. The reality program, which focuses on a heavily bearded family that manufactures duck calls, drew 8.6 million viewers—A&E's most-viewed show ever. Its rating among the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic was higher than that earned by either Fox's American Idol or ABC's Modern Family. [ew.com, 2/28/13]
"I think people are hungry for hope. People are hungry for God, and this series presents the Bible in fresh, visual ways. But I think ultimately it will really connect in their hearts."
—actress Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel). Downey and her husband, Survivor producer Mark Burnett, are currently promoting their new 10-hour (five-week) miniseries The Bible, which debuted on History Channel March 3. Burnett says of the series, "It really is family programming. It's for young. It's for old. And equally important, it's for teenagers." [foxnews.com, 2/28/13]