It seems to me, however, that those who maintain that sex and profanity in the culture should be treated more leniently than violence actually have it exactly wrong: earlier social values, which were lenient toward depictions of violence but were fairly strict about depictions of sex and the use of profanity, had it right, and the modern, more “enlightened” approach is in fact blinkered and wrong. The reason lies precisely in this matter of consequences. When sexual license is depicted without the consequences — broken homes, never-formed families, betrayed loved ones, suicides, disfiguring and deadly venereal diseases, agonizing confusion about one’s sexual role, etc. — all the audience is left with is the lure of erotic pleasure. Bad consequences are either ignored or are seen much later than the choices that led to them, thus greatly weakening any connection the audience may have between the action and any deleterious effects.
The same is true of depictions of profanity and other vulgar behavior: what the audience sees immediately is a cathartic effect, not the generalized loss of self-control that pervades society when such things are allowed.
With violence, by contrast, the consequence are always there, as they are part and parcel of the action. If two characters in a television drama episode get into a fistfight, an audience member cannot help but observe the hurt that is being done, and if, as is the case with any effective fiction, one identifies with at least one of the characters in the fight, the audience member will sympathize vicariously with that person’s pain and immediately appreciate the consequences of violence. Hence, it seems clear, any depiction of violence necessarily contains the antidote to any perverse appeal that this depiction of violence could have.