Monday, June 1, 2009

Violence in Media: The Illusion, Allusion, Delusion and Contusion

By Nilo A. Bermeo

“There is a great streak of violence in every human being. If it is not channeled and understood, it will break out in war or in madness.” - Sam Peckinpah

In the film version of “The Osterman Weekend,” directed by Sam Peckinpah, agent Laurence Fassett watches the brutal murder of his wife on video. Later, journalist John Tanner is shown video incriminating his closest friends as double agents. While the movie itself is a commentary about manipulation, the actions both Fassett and Tanner take as a consequence of what they have seen is about individual choice. That is the sole factor in committing violence. No matter what Fassett or Tanner saw on screen, they each chose to act according to what they believed was right for them at that moment. Individual choice and individual responsibility is at the heart of this article. With an ever increasing bombardment of protests, studies and oversaturation, the issue of violence in media has taken a witch hunt mentality. Violence in media is seen as an addictive drug the youth of today are being forced to take on a daily basis. A drug that the self-haloed older generation has taken upon as a crusade they desperately need to win. Yet are the youth of today in need of salvation? Are the youth of today nothing more than empty cans that can only retain the evils of humanity? My answer to both of these questions is no. I do not believe violence in media is such a crippling, mind-warping narcotic. I believe the youth of today are much stronger than that. I believe the youth of today have a much better chance of decreasing violence than the older generations in control of the world right now. I believe the youth of today are much stronger and more intelligent than the older generations give them credit for.

The Illusion

The following are “facts” concerning violence in media (taken from Without seeking to include every statement concerning this issue, I have chosen the most common and those often used to advocate stopping violence in media.

By the time a child is eighteen years old, he or she will witness on television (with average viewing time) 200,000 acts of violence including 40,000 murders (Huston, et al, 1992).
Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 studies have been done on the effects of violence in television and movies. The majority of these studies conclude that: children who watch significant amounts of television and movie violence are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, attitudes and values (Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1999).
Violence (homicide, suicide, and trauma) is a leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults, more prevalent than disease, cancer or congenital disorders (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2001).
Young children who see media violence have a greater chance of exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior later in life, than children who have not seen violent media (Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000).

The Allusion

While I am not seeking to completely repudiate the four “facts” mentioned above, I do wish to point out some interesting details.
According to A.C. Nielsen Co., 99% of households have at least one television. According to, “the average adult was exposed to a little over 5 hours a day of live TV every day.” Not to sound completely sarcastic, but I wonder how much violence is seen within those 5 hours? I wonder if it is comparable to the violence seen by children? Apparently all adults are better equipped to cope with violence in media than the young. With so much TV viewing, I wonder how adults can resist the impulse to commit violent crimes? I keep forgetting the older generation is completely void of that tendency.
In an article published in 2008, Steve Johnson sights new research that proclaims not all television is bad for children. Jesse Shapiro and Matthew Gentzkow state, "We find strong evidence against the view that childhood television viewing harms the cognitive or educational development of preschoolers." Aletha Huston states, "If used correctly, television can be a wonderful medium for kids. It can be a way of exposing them to the world. It can be a resource for kids to get to places and times they wouldn't get to." After listening to all the studies on violence in media, I was shocked to discover that it could have a positive influence. Who could ever believe that television could foster educational, informative and ethical programming for the youth of today? Who would dare believe that the youth of today could ease off their permanent, addictive high long enough to view anything positive? It simply boggles the mind. Perhaps the youth of today are not complete simpletons.
In an article titled, “The Benefits of Bozo” by Austan Goolsbee, it is argued that “Most studies of the impact of television, however, are seriously flawed. They compare kids who watch TV and kids who don't, when kids in those two groups live in very different environments. Kids who watch no TV, or only a small amount of educational programming, as a group are from much wealthier families than those who watch hours and hours. Because of their income advantage, the less-TV kids have all sorts of things going for them that have nothing to do with the impact of television.” This is a detail that I find of extreme importance and yet I rarely hear it mentioned when all these “facts” about violence in media are publicized everywhere. How is it fair to compare children who watch a certain amount of TV a day because his/her parent(s) are working to feed and support them with children who have at least one parent present and can afford extracurricular activities day in and day out. There does not seem to be a fair balance there for comparison and yet, data shows this is being done continuously.
Accidental death is the most prevalent cause of death among children (Medlineplus). At the top of this list are automobile accidents. Since it tends to be adults driving cars most of the time, I wonder how media in violence caused these fatalities? Naturally it had to be the children’s fault? Whoever heard of an adult being reckless behind the wheel of a car?
It was earlier stated that, “Young children who see media violence have a greater chance of exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior later in life, than children who have not seen violent media.” While I can again talk about the flaw of such a study, citing socioeconomic reasons, I think it is better to show some information from an article in the BBC World Service. It states, “There are an estimated three hundred thousand child soldiers around the world.” In many of the poorer third world countries, children are abducted from home and forced to join the military and subsequently, kill. Who made these children violent? Was it a simple television screen or was it an adult holding a gun to the child’s head and making him/her join the army? While an extreme example, I think this makes my point. People can put all the blame in media, but adults have a much greater impact on children than TV or any other electronic gizmo a child carries.

The Delusion

Let us now take a deep breath, drift deep within the mind’s realm of infinite possibilities and let us see the world without violence in media. Let us imagine a world where the most violent act shown on TV or in videogames is a slight disapproving raise or narrowing of the eyebrow. Now, let us populate this utopian paradise.

A drunken father comes home to an apartment not up to the pristine standards he mandates. He disciplines his wife in front of his small children and then pounds his eldest son for crying.
A small kid walks home from school and is stopped by a genial old man with a twinkling eye and sweet breath. He looks a lot like Santa Clause. The old man happens to carry an assortment of candy canes of all shades and coloring. He invites the small child to take a taste and retorts he has too much in the back seat of his car. He kindly asks the child if he would like to take a basket’s worth home. The child agrees.
A pair of teenagers walk the streets on their day off from school and chance upon a guy they vaguely remember seeing from time to time. This man, dressed in superb garb and brandishing the most expensive sneakers, smiles and waves them over. He produces from his coat pocket a couple of small, clear plastic bags and offers them a taste. He regales them of the extraordinary sensation and tells them to go ahead a try. It’s absolutely complimentary.
A group of twelve year olds are out on the basketball court pretending they are in the NBA finals. They are too deep in fancy footwork and acrobatics to notice the pair of men running frantically in their direction. A blur of blue can be seen just over the distance. A ballet of bullets, screams and blood postpone the game. Three players will need to be permanently replaced.

So strange that such things could happen in a utopian paradise. So strange that violence could continue despite control over media. How ever did the bygone generations maintain their utopia?
The Contusion

The argument over violence in media is an old one. Since Junior High School I have been cognitive of the whole issue. As far as I am concerned, violence in media does not make one any more or any less violent than anyone else. I believe the media can only affect those who allow it. All individuals have a choice when it comes to committing violent acts. To say media makes our children more violent is like saying jaywalking makes adults’ hardened criminals. The two do not add up so simplistically. Still, aside from individual choice and individual responsibility, I am troubled by the rhetoric being spewed by the older generations. Though they continuously attack violence in media for the sake of the young, they are in fact, attacking the young themselves. By trying to rid media of violence, the older generations are stating that the younger generation simply cannot tell right from wrong. This is utterly ridiculous. Why is the older generation quick to point out how much more violent and aggressive the younger generation is and yet not point out the good qualities as well? Last time I checked, the younger generation is also more tolerant and accepting. Why do we only hear the bad of the young and not the good? What’s more, unless I’m completely and utterly insane, most of the world’s problems are directly connected to the actions of the older generations. Who is allowing for all the atrocities across the world? Children? No. Who are continuously building up nuclear armaments and parading around to other nations, taunting them? Children? No. Who control the political arena, the media and the law enforcement agencies? Children? No. Who allowed for the tragic events on Sept 11 to be carried out? Children? No. Who let the war in Iraq start and drag on for so many years? Children? No. The older generations preach about the strides they have made (and they have made numerous contributions, no doubt about that), but they are not completely void of blood on their hands. They are not the top echelon of morality and equality for all humanity. No one is. Yet there is this prevailing message that because they come from a time where viewing television was not widespread (mostly because it did not exist or it was limited), they are so much more stable than the young of today. This is pure fantasy. Despite not having viewed as much television, many of the older generations committed horrific crimes. Many more did not. Shouldn’t the younger generation be given the same respect and allowed to choice for themselves? Isn’t true democracy built upon expanding viewpoints and ideas instead of restricting individuals in how to see, hear, smell, taste and think? Are all young nothing but mindless animals that must be washed and fed, but never allowed to run loose?

I would like to end this article by quoting a scene from the Simpsons (which itself has garnered some critique for its depiction of violence). The scene is from Season Two and is the episode entitled, “Itchy, Scratchy & Marge.”
Meyers: I did a little research and I discovered a startling thing...There was violence in the past, long before cartoons were invented.
Kent: I see. Fascinating.
Meyers: Yeah, and know something, Karl? The Crusades, for instance. Tremendous violence, many people killed, the darned thing went on for thirty years.
Kent: And this was before cartoons were invented?
Meyers: That's right, Kent.

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