Sex & Violence on Television


Me Llaman Lolita, a telenovela from RCN (Colombia)

Television has often been criticized for using cheap titillations (specifically, the twin evils of sex and violence) in pursuit of higher ratings. Furthermore, the resultant erosion of family values and bankruptcy of societal morality form the root of all of society's ills and woes. In defense against such accusations, it is often pointed out that such portrayals are usually embraced only by extremists with political agendas. Even so, regardless of the motivations of the accusers, this does not necessarily invalidate the basis of the critique.

In this note, we wish to address how Latin Americans feel about these issues. Regardless of the actual effect of sex and violence on television, their perceptions will have a material impact on the future of television.

In Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1996, we posed a couple of statements:

and the respondents were asked to indicate whether they 'disagree mostly', 'disagree somewhat', 'neither agree nor disagree', 'agree somewhat' or 'agree mostly' with these statements.

From the 6,634 respondents between the ages of 12 to 64 in 19 Latin American countries, we obtain the following results:

Table 1: Opinions about Sex & Violence on Television

  Too much sex on television Too much violence on television
%Agree mostly 45% 55%

When half the population say that there is too much sex and violence on television, this is no longer a negligible issue embraced by a minority of fanatics.

We should point out that there are substantial differences among Latin American countries. In the Table below, we break down these numbers by geographical region. In Chile and Colombia, there are strict codes concerning what may or may not be shown during different times of day. In these two countries, we see the lowest proportions of people who feel that there is too much sex on television. (Note: These restrictions have caused some problems with local cable operators, who have no control over what pan-regional cable channels are showing.) By contrast, Brazil is the most liberal country, and nudity appears regularly on prime time broadcast television there, so we have the highest proportion of people who feel that there is too much sex on television.

Table 2. Opinions about Sex & Violence on Television by Country

  Too much sex on television Too much violence on television
Argentina 44% 44%
Brazil 59% 64%
Chile 18% 46%
Colombia 22% 32%
Mexico 33% 39%
Puerto Rico 39% 52%
Venezuela 57% 54%
Bal.Cen.Amer/Carib. 29% 36%
Bal.South America 48% 59%

In the next table, we show the numbers by demographics. Opinions do not differ significantly between the genders, but the proportions who think that there is excessive sex and violence increases by age.

Table 3. Opinions about Sex & Violence on Television by Gender and Age Group

  Too much sex on television Too much violence on television
Male 12-64 44% 51%
Females 12-64 46% 52%
Persons 12-17 37% 46%
Persons 18-24 41% 45%
Persons 25-34 45% 52%
Persons 35-44 49% 56%
Persons 45-54 51% 56%
Persons 55-64 57% 63%

In Table 4, we classify the opinions by our psychographic segments. As we would expect, we find the highest proportions of complaints among traditionalists who are concerned about family values ("People should have more respect traditional values"), and the fewest complains from young people who are interested in learning about alternate cultures and lifestyles.

Table 4. Opinions about Sex & Violence on Television by Psychographic Segment

  Too much sex on television Too much violence on television
Image Seekers 36% 40%
Curious Cosmopolitans 39% 50%
Global Professionals 42% 49%
Concerned Traditionalists 60% 67%
Comfortable Conservatives 49% 54%

Of course, we cannot pretend that we solve the problem in this short note. Certainly, we can see that half the population thinks that there is too much sex and violence on television. At the same time, we cannot deny that sex and violence are there on television precisely because that is what the public wants to see for themselves, while believing it to be bad for their children.

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(posted by Roland Soong, July 2, 1997)


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