Smoke and Mirrors

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In SMOKE AND MIRRORS: VIOLENCE, TELEVISION, AND OTHER AMERICAN CULTURES, John Leonard considers the controversy surrounding television violence. He argues that correlations between televised violence and acts of violence in the real world are not only simplistic but unfounded. Leonard calls television both a window and a mirror. As a window, it shows us the heights to which our society aspires, as well as the depths to which we so often sink. More often than not, he claims, television’s window shows us visions of the goodness in humanity, in shows such as M*A*S*H, THE COSBY SHOW, and a host of enlightening TV movies. It is television’s role as mirror of our society, showing us the bad as well as the good, that leads to television’s becoming a scapegoat for society’s ills, particularly violence.

With the TV ratings system, talk of a “V chip” in televisions, and even congressional hearings regarding television violence, John Leonard’s SMOKE AND MIRRORS is a refreshing change from the prevalent TV-bashing. Leonard’s writing style is lively. He relishes demolishing arguments from the right that TV “causes” violence, while with equal glee dismissing pretentious academic analysis of the topic from the left. Most importantly, Leonard supports his arguments with clear logic and solid evidence, while never losing his wry sense of humor.