Reader asks: Does TV play a role in bullying behavior? | Ask Erin, Kitsap Week

Ask Erin - Richard Walker
Ask Erin
— image credit: Richard Walker

Dear Erin,

Your column in last week’s Kitsap Week entitled “Bullies: not just a school-aged problem” touched a chord with me.

I’ve been trying to get my thoughts around an idea of one possible contributor to bullying: much of the current crop of television entertainment which involves put-downs or confrontations.

“Two and a Half Men” is a show about putting down women, and each other.

In “Golden Girls,” each tries to out-jab the other, but especially pick on Betty White.

The whole “Survivor” series, “The Next Top Model,” “The Bachelor (ette)” —all are a series of put-downs.

Have you made the same connections between bullying and television entertainment?

Jim Hochstein


Dear Jim,

You bring up an excellent point.

After reading your letter, I decided to do my own non-scientific study, plopped down on the couch and viewed a handful of old shows to investigate. I set out to answer the question: Has our humor become nasty over the past few decades?

The first show in my queue was an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

For the most part, it was fairly benign. The cruelest things said were bald jokes directed toward the television producer, some I would categorize as hurtful. Most of the humor, though, came from the quick banter between the characters, with an occasional slapstick bit from Van Dyke. I ended the show feeling lighthearted and amazed at Mary Tyler Moore’s small waist.

Next up was “The Andy Griffith Show.” Again, a very mellow comedy. The funny bits came from Don Knotts’ facial expressions. There was some arguing between Knotts and Griffith, but no below-the-belt hits. There was also some G-rated name calling between Knotts and “Otis.”  I ended the episode feeling nostalgic and whistling the theme song.

When the opening of “Happy Days” — a childhood staple — came on, I almost cried. It has been years since the jukebox graced my screen. Again, the show’s comedy was very mellow. Because it “filmed before a live-studio audience,” the humor seemed very natural and not forced. Henry Winkler threw a couple of digs, mainly directed toward Tom Bosley. The most vicious thing I heard came from Ron Howard when he told his sister to “Sit on it.” The episode ended, leaving me to feel like a pre-teen again with my crush on Scott Baio.

“The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties” rounded out my blast-to-the-past television marathon. The shows were sweet, good natured and taught  lessons such as to come to your parents when you have a problem and that family will love you, even if you are a conservative growing up with liberal parents.

Particularly in “The Cosby Show,” the characters clearly respected and loved each other and the humorous moments were derived from their reactions to predicaments rather than at the expense of others.

All of the shows began with a problem, and the solution was worked out over the episode. And even though I know it’s not realistic for most problems to be fixed in less than a half hour, I ended all of the shows feeling optimistic.

I can’t say the same for present-day television shows.

To contrast the old shows, I watched some current television. And you are exactly correct, much of the humor in today’s television lineup comes from putting people down and laughing at their expense.

I watched a rerun of “Two and a Half Men,” and finished the episode feeling empty inside. The cheap shots and degrading humor did nothing for my well-being.

Even less-extreme shows seem to find their humor by mocking others and pointing out people’s flaws. Isn’t that classic bullying behavior — putting down others in order to make yourself look better?

What are we teaching our children? That humor comes by way of making fun of others? And to defend ourselves we should have evil comebacks at the ready? Tit for tat?

Thank you, Jim, for your eye-opening letter. I say to vote with your television remote. Choose to watch shows that don’t leave you feeling hollow. Send a letter to the networks, stating your disappointment.

And now excuse me, for I have a date with a red-haired woman who married a Cuban singer. Oh, how I love Lucy.

— Ask Erin is a feature of Kitsap Week. Have a question? Write Ask Erin, Kitsap Week, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo 98370 or email Questions can range from advice to practical issues.

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