Author suggests taxing violence in mass media
Violence in the media, long deplored by so many thoughtful people, continues unabated after years of investigation of its effects, particularly the effects of the visual media upon children. It is now established that violence in film and video tends to produce violent behavior in children. It prevents them from learning to solve problems by discussion or negotiation and thus it prevents them from resolving conflicts peacefully. Television's technique of showing violent acts, but not the subsequent suffering, prevents children from learning to empathize with victims or even knowing the results of the violence. There are also known effects on the behavior of adults; for example, there was an increase in wife abuse connected with viewing the Gulf War through television in 1991, and such increases are known to arise after viewing football games.
The lack of effective action to cut down on media violence must surely be connected with the distaste for censorship and the dilemma of enforcement of any kind of ban. Censorship is an ugly word in our society, and apparently the media must be free even if that freedom includes the right to corrupt us and our children. After all, we are not obliged to go to the movies or to watch television or read newspapers.
Nevertheless, it is surely time something was done about violence on television and film for public viewing, though I do not think it is a social problem that can be solved, any more than we could totally prevent smoking cigarettes or drinking. It is significant, however, that great progress has been made with smoking and drinking as social problems. The health hazards have been excellently and convincingly put to the public, help and safety networks are available to the addicted, and their dangerous pleasures are taxed, heavily in many jurisdictions. As a result of the combined strategies, smoking has been greatly reduced, and heavy drinking is less widespread.
Violence is surely just another analogous social problem, an affliction that we could attempt to free ourselves of to a great degree. But there would have to be analogous efforts at bringing it under control. Why not a campaign against violence throughout the media, including advertising the established knowledge of the evils of violent movies and television showings? And why not a tax?
Implementing a violence tax may seem impractical, but let's think a minute. Thereis already a censorship board for films, whose function could easily be expanded to deal with the tax, and indeed tax-setting might eventually become its prime function. What the method of tax assessment would be, can only be guessed. The debate on this subject would inevitably be difficult, but the process of debate itself could be important in the meeting of minds involved: people from governmental and non-governmental organizations, individuals within and outside the film and media industries. Defining the violence taxation criteria would amount to a new game (Triggerill Pursuit?). One strategy might be to set up a violence index: man strikes woman, one point; woman kicks man, one point; man draws gun, two points; man points gun at person, three points; man fires single shot at person, five points; deliberate car crash, two points; car bursts into flames before driver can get out, four points; and so on. It's a game anyone can play: good clean fun. If a violence index were agreed upon, it would then be necessary to set the mill rate-the multiplier that tells you how much has to be paid per showing of the television program, movie or video, or per day if it is a rental. Setting the mill rate is a matter for the politically astute. Note that governments, astute or not, are in great need of money, more now than ever. They might go for it.
Derek Paul is President of Science for Peace.