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When make-believe becomes reality

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Stephanie Snow lives in Beaverton and is the director of the Portland chapter of Parents Television Council.)

In the past few months, I have read and listened to too many stories of teenagers killing each other over trivial issues, random shooting sprees and other episodes of violence happening all across our nation. Recently, the Parents Television Council, of which I am a local member, released a study regarding violence in the media. They found, among other things, that violence in prime-time television programming is up 75 percent since 1998. Not only that, but the types of violence displayed are becoming more shocking, gruesome, deviant and disgusting.

How much more can we afford as a society? How long are we going to ignore the role that Hollywood plays in these, and other horrible atrocities that we are seeing on an ever-increasing scale? Those who try to constantly 'push the envelope' paying homage to the god of 'entertainment' or 'art' are slaughtering our children in the process. I'm talking about more than the death toll. Being exposed to an endless barrage of violence, portrayed in an endless stream of disturbing ways, in many television programs, video games and movies, is damaging our children's ability to feel compassion, sensitivity to the suffering of others, and the reality of consequences that may come as a result of such actions. (There have been many studies done that show this correlation.)

We are taught that the way to deal with anger, life issues, relationship problems, or any number of situations is to grab a gun, or a knife, or whatever happens to be nearby to take care of it. Not only that, but we now are instructed in many sick, twisted, and disgusting ways to inflict this pain on others.

Now, before you disregard my argument and label me one of those 'wackos' wanting to use the media as a scapegoat, hear me out. I am very well aware that there are many, many influences in each of our lives that shape the decisions we make: one's upbringing, mental capabilities, potential disabilities, current stressors in life, family issues, financial issues… I could go on and on.

We all know that there is an endless list of mitigating factors. However, I do not think we can overemphasize the importance of the impact that media does have on our collective mind. Who can still pretend to argue that what we see or hear doesn't have an effect on us? If it were so, why would companies spend literally millions of dollars advertising their products during television programs, with subtle messages about how their use will change your life? It would make no sense. This is one issue we have got to pull our head out of the sand and wake up about.

What ever happened to good, wholesome family entertainment? I have heard some people argue that what we see on television is 'reality' for most people, and that we should be able to come home, relax and watch something we can relate to. Wow. If that is true, how sad. And, if it is true, and our lives are all a mess, and people all around us are being murdered, lied to, cheated on, raped, lost on deserted islands, sleeping with all their co-workers and/or neighbors, we are in a hopeless state.

And, if it is true, what in the world is wrong with looking up? Why do we need to wallow in, and watch for 'entertainment,' the basest, most disturbing images of (sub)human behavior? Maybe what we all need is some uplifting, motivating entertainment that will encourage us to strive for the best within ourselves, to achieve great things, to treat each other with respect and decency and create the type of world that we all say we want.

I find it very interesting that many celebrities take a stand on high-profile, global issues such as childhood starvation, environmental preservation and the plight of third world countries, yet are contributing to one of the greatest breakdowns in our entire society - the innocence and decency of our children. To me, this is the greatest display of hypocrisy.

Those who are in such a position to help shape our nation and society, are choosing to 'push the envelope' - right off the edge of decency - instead of creating a form of entertainment that would be truly inspirational, and worthy of real and lasting awards, as opposed to the coveted golden trophies passed out yearly among their crowd.

Polls have shown that 70 to 90 percent of consumers are unhappy with current television programming. It is time that we, the too-often silent, majority demand more from Hollywood.

(You can find out more about the PTC at www.parentstv.org)