Sex, violence: what impact? TV special offers many opinions, few solutions

How free should free speech be -- especially when it involves sex and violence? The topic is far from new, and avenues of discussion in most media have been well traveled. But Sex, Violence, and Values: Changing Images (ABC, Sunday, 12:30-1:30 p.m.) proves that coverage of the topic, while maybe a bit tired, is far from exhausted. Carole Simpson presides over this ABC News special, which has a format designed for Sunday-afternoon, short-attention-span viewers. First, three ABC correspondents (Jeff Greenfield, Tom Schell, and Tim O'Brien) present short essays on various aspects of the problem. Then Ms. Simpson leads panels of experts, mostly academics, in discussions about their points of view. The concentration, however,seems to be mainly on sex rather than violence, except where the point is made that pornography is really violence against women.

Interspersed throughout is data based on an ABC News survey. The poll reveals, for instance, that 40 percent of Americans have watched X-rated films and that 57 percent don't believe that anti-pornography laws are strict enough.

Some of the questions raised: Does exposure to pornography or sexually explicit or suggestive material encourage greater activity, or does it serve merely as a safety valve? Is there any scientific evidence that watching sex and violence tends to desensitize viewers? Would legislated restrictions endanger First Amendment rights?

There is fervent discussion about all of the above, with pros and cons vehemently defended. Some of the possible solutions debated: broad mandatory sex education; a better ratingssystem for all media; lock boxes on TV sets.

Does this show provide viewers with anything new? Unfortunately not. But it may encourage us to rethink some of our attitudes.

In a society that supports three times as many sex stores as McDonald's restaurants, Carole Simpson says we must face the fact that ``if there was no market for pornography, there would be no pornography. If the American people want change and demand change, there will be change.''

``Sex, Violence, and Values'' will certainly get your own family round table off to an energetic start.

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