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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I respectfully disagree with Howard Childress, whose letter appeared in a recent column. Mr. Childress maintained that sex, violence and bad language on TV are merely reflections of society and do not really influence the viewers.

If he were right, advertising agencies across the nation would be out of business.

Through those ad agencies, U.S. advertisers are spending billions (that's with a "B") per year to influence viewers to buy their products and services. They know how much television influences viewers; they have tested it many times!

Abby, imagine a dialogue between a concerned viewer and a TV executive. It might go something like this:

CONCERNED VIEWER: Mr. Television Executive, your shows have too much sex, violence and bad language in them. They're a bad influence on our young viewers.

TV EXECUTIVE: Our shows just reflect society; we don't really influence viewers. They will do what they want, no matter what we put no TV.

VIEWER: Fine, Mr. Executive. I want to buy a minute of advertising on one of your prime-time shows. How much will that cost?

EXECUTIVE: We can let you have a minute of prime-time advertising for just $100,000.

VIEWER: What? $100,000! Why so much?

EXECUTIVE: Because we reach so many households and so many potential buyers of your products and services. We know we have great influence with our advertising; we've tested it.

VIEWER: Wait a minute. Are you telling me that sex, violence and bad language don't influence your viewers, but your advertising influences your viewers so much that you are going to charge me $100,000 per minute for it?

EXECUTIVE: Yes. That's exactly what I'm telling you.

VIEWER: Well, I think I'll find another way to spend my money. -- KEN LEINWEBER, WILLINGBORO, N.J.

DEAR MR. LEINWEBER: I was inundated with letters from readers who disagreed with Howard Childress. For a sample, read on:

DEAR ABBY: Although a regular reader, I have never written before. But I had to respond to Howard Childress about the media reflecting rather than setting the standards, values and trends of society.

He is right, of course. But the media are not off the hook. The human condition has always included a base nature. In the name of money, the media are pandering to that nature.

There will always be a market for trash. Media leaders could and should use their positions of power and influence to reflect the best in us. When they choose to reflect the worse, a dirty atmosphere is created, which adds to the downward spiral of morals and values we now see. The media certainly contribute to this spiral.

If you print this, you are welcome to use my name. -- JONATHAN ROTH, PLANO, TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the letter from Howard Childress, who said the media only reflect the trends of society rather than set them:

You, sans qualification, replied that there was truth in his observation. We have ample evidence that the media do, in fact, affect how people behave. Would Mr. Childress suggest that commercials are merely a reflection of people's buying habits? Aren't they actually deciding our buying habits?

Mr. Childress used stories from the Bible as substantiating evidence. Let's look at the evidence that is better documented and more reliable. Children are murdering children. Short of the original sin, children are innocent until taught to do bad things. They don't instinctively throw baby brothers out of 15-story buildings. They learn to devalue life from watching lives bring snuffed out. Where do they see people taking lives? TV and movies. I wouldn't say from books because most people don't read many books.

I remember studying a case in psychology class where a small village, similar to the one Mr. Childress described, was without TV. Cables were run into the village. Sociologists, realizing the opportunity to study TV's effect, surveyed the villagers. Two years after the installation, they resurveyed, finding that aggression and the propensity for violence had increased disturbingly.

While I agree, the media do reflect social mores, they undoubtedly influence those mores greatly.

We must hold producers and advertisers responsible for this influence; otherwise, we will likely become prisoners in our own homes. -- JEFF PAUL, MINNEAPOLIS

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