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Media Violence is not the leading cause of Real life violence

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Violence in the 20th century has proven to be an increasing social problem. Younger and younger youths are expressing themselves by committing the most heinous crimes. With this rise in youth related violence, society as a whole has begun to point the finger. Everyone and everything under the sun has been placed under the proverbial spotlight. Our quickness to place the blame and resolve the problem promptly has resulted in blaming one major aspect of society in America. The Entertainment Industry has been singled out as the number one cause of violent behavior. By placing the blame solely on media, we are disregarding thousands of different social problems and regarding any “study” as true testament. In order to come to grips with this problem we must, as a whole, recognize and evaluate every aspect of what causes violence. In doing so, we will find that the media is not the leading cause of reality based violence, but a combination of many different factors.

With the introduction of media and with the introduction of television in 1945, the world has been united in a very beneficial way. As the years progressed, events of the world have been able to be broadcast around the globe. Last nights problems in China are now known around the world. Famine and disease in third world countries are affecting people half way around the globe. As televisions became increasingly more popular and were becoming much more prevalent in the common household, the increase of homicides in the United States increased. A study performed, showed that from 1945 to 1974, homicide rates increased 93% in the United States. The same survey proved almost the same in Canada as well. This new type of media had the same effect on society, as did the radio. Families would gather around their radios and listen to captivating programs. This family gathering brought unity to family life and brought to a close a long arduous day. Television had the same effect as well.

People could now put a face to what they heard. Bigger and better television programs caught the attention of many and thus brought about the problems we are facing as a nation today. Media certainly has had a profound effect on its viewers and listeners from day one. Before television, the radio mesmerized millions, and even before that, newspapers. One such radio program in the 1930’s proved astonishingly well, that it had a certain hold on its listening audience. On the evening of October 30th 1938 thousands of listeners tuned into an Orson Wells program entitled, “Mercury Theater on the air” in which an alien invasion was being broadcast. Unbeknownst to many of its audience members, this particular program was, in fact, fiction. Merely broadcast for entertainment value. Thousands of people took this as fact and chaos broke out nationwide. This particular situation proves that media, even in its infancy, had a very costly effect on its listeners.

People who believe that media violence is the number one source of society based violence can utilize many statistics and facts to back their stance. Certain violent movies have been blamed for “real life” violence. John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate the President in 1981 was inspired by the violent movie, “Taxi Driver”. Television is one of the first sources of media violence that children come across. It is both powerful and pervasive. Visual images on television or the big screen have a great impact on society. Millions of dollars are spent on advertisements, because the advertising industry knows the type of impact images have on the consumers. Movies and television are very similar. Movies and television sell the idea of violence instead of selling products. Movies and television bring a fantasy world into the homes of millions day in and day out. The programs often show behavior and actions that are inspirational to its audience. A common reason media violence affects minors the way it does is that children are great imitators.

Children often imitate television heroes and superstars who outsmart the “bad guy”. With fiery explosions and trail blazing car chases, children see this as the “good” thing to do. These so called heroes or “good guys” are imitated much more frequently than Martin Luther King, the President of the United States or Ghandi. Children are fascinated with the hero’s actions, usually violent, more than his appearance or catch phrase. As children develop and mature, they will have seen countless hours of television. The average person in the United States watches close to 4 hours of television a day. This constant bombardment of images over a course of many years will affect anyone in one way or another. But does it lead to high school massacres and other grisly crimes?

The American Psychological Association stated, “that by seventh grade the average child has seen seven thousand murders and one hundred thousand acts of violence on television”. After years of exposure, children’s level of sympathy decreases and they are increasingly more desensitized to the sight of blood, raw carnage and dead bodies. This level of desensitization can greatly affects society as these children step out into the real world. Military training involves desensitizing the common person. This desensitization is critical in the military because hesitation to kill your aggressor can result in your death. The military has stated that computer games such as Quake and Doom are used to help facilitate a soldier’s “killing attitude”. Thousands of studies related to this issue have stated that they can prove that media violence does have a direct correlation between real life violence in a very big way. Is it the leading cause of crime? A study in 1973, conducted in Canada, carefully observed first and second graders after wiring the town with television signals.

The result, after two years, showed that incidents of hitting, biting, and shoving, increased 160 percent. Studies similar to this one have been tested numerous times and show similar results. Aletha C. Huston, a professor at the University of Kansas and chairwoman of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Television and Society, stated that, “There is more published research on the topic of media violence and its effects on real life violence, than almost any other social issue of our time”. Unfortunately this does not show that it is all solid evidence. Not only is violence in prime time television and movies, but it is also in shows aimed towards younger children. Saturday morning cartoons are satiated with violent acts. A major concern with media violence and its affects on real life violence is that consequences for one’s actions are rarely seen.

Cartoons, programs aimed at younger audience members, rarely show consequences for any wrongdoing. Yosemite Sam is often shown shooting himself in the face by accident, but the over all result is nothing more than riotous laughter. The viewing audience does not see any real physical pain or emotional problems that go along with victims of violent crimes. As children see this time and time again, they begin to get the sense that being violent towards someone else will result in nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Perhaps it will even be amusing. So their natural response might be to react in a violent manner. Studies have shown that seeing aggressive responses to certain emotions, such as, anger, can cause people to act similarly when confronted by that same emotion in real life. It causes an effect called a “cueing effect”. When the “cued” person feels he or she is being threatened, he or she acts in a preprogrammed manner.

Often a violent outburst, such as physically hitting someone, or the very extreme response, which is to ultimately end that person’s life. Researchers have also stated that the human mind becomes “preprogrammed subconsciously” by what we see in our everyday lives. A child’s reaction to anger could be merely a subconscious response. Even after studies are released and are said to be proof of media violence being the number one impact on real life violence, after close examination they have yet to give sound evidence of this.

Since the beginning of the colonization of the United States, violence has been a major part of our history. In order to achieve order and to establish ourselves as a nation we felt the need to “flex our muscles”. Proving to the rest of the world that we would survive as a whole was a violent struggle. Now that we have emerged into a powerful nation, we are stepping back and evaluating our society. Violence is not being tolerated anymore. Even though television, movies, video games and music all play an extremely vital role in our society today, violence does not have to be. There is no longer any debate as to whether violence in the media is a serious problem. The debate lies in how much of an affect does it have and if it is the leading problem. Media greatly influences the minds of everyone. But the most influential are the adolescent consumers. Does a rousing game of Quake II, a first person computer game, in which the ultimate goal is destroy a murderous horde of alien monsters, spark a bloody rampage at a high school? Do violent depictions of carnage on screen create such monsters as Ted Bundy? In order to deal with our violent society we must discover everything associated with it.

Taken from a report by the Addressing Violence in Oklahoma Coalition they have taken many researchers views and opinions as to the main factors attributed to violent behavior. The main factors that came out were broken down into groups. Social risk factors, Community risk factors, Family based risk factors and Individual risk factors. The major Social risk factors established were poverty, racism, sex role socialization, inciting events (sports or political) and high levels of media violence. The Community risk factors that were mentioned were drugs, prostitution, youth gangs, lack of community involvement or support for youths, and witnessing violence in the community. The Family-Based risk factors were family dysfunction, which includes domestic violence, parental drug use or alcoholism, physical or sexual abuse of children, or chronic neglect of children.

And the Individual risk factors include, limited cognitive abilities, poor communication skills, low self esteem, traumatic brain injury, neglect as a child, drug use and strong “pent up” emotions. All of these factors are out there but no one will take them into consideration. Society wants the “quick fix” and it seems the “slowest moving target” is the media. For the Addressing Violence in Oklahoma Coalition to consider all these different problems in society, we are one step closer to coming to a rational conclusion as to what to do to curb violence. They stated that, “Effective prevention strategies require the understanding of how the potential for violent behavior develops. Violence encompasses a large array of acts and circumstances”.

In August 1993 in Los Angeles at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, a professor, a producer, a child psychologist and a network president stood in front of 600 industry executives and had a heated argument on the affects of media violence on real life violence. To the audience’s astonishment, these, supposedly very intelligent people, experts in the field, could not even agree on what type of violence was the worse: cartoon violence or graphically detailed violence? Is “Happy” violence worse or is “not-so-happy” violence worse. Better yet, they could not even agree on a formal definition of what violence really is. Allowing these types of people, with wishy-washy evidence, to try to dictate what should be done to society without significant research is a crime in itself.

From day one, a child’s development is characterized by structure, usually within a nuclear family. A child’s growth is usually watched carefully by very protective parents who will lead the child down the right path. This does not always ensure that the child will lead a productive life though. If media today is satiated with millions of violent acts a year; it is necessary for the parents of the maturing and developing child to be aware. The child should be made aware that the media’s portrayal of certain situations, violent or otherwise, should be merely ignored, understood or enjoyed. Media violence can not be singularly blamed for any one person’s actions. Millions of children are raised, viewing countless hours of fantasy violence, but still are able to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Society’s quick finger pointing has lead to a key fact going unnoticed; have we placed the blame on the individual themselves, family life or social surroundings? Research studies on the affects of television on children are a huge and complex social issue.

Extensive research and thousands of statistics do not ultimately prove that media is the number one cause of real life violence. For researchers to say that media violence is the leading cause of real life violence, they must truly believe every single action, every word and every character on television, the big screen or in music, is mimetic. After many years of research and thousands of studies, there still has not been a single research study that has been able to predict violent outbursts such as the Columbine High school massacre. In a controlled experiment there are many things researchers can do. Perhaps showing a subject filmed violence and then asking him if he would be more likely to commit that same aggression. Maybe you can even get a subject to beat up on a doll if you stimulate the subject long enough.

These types of experiments and tests show that children can be aggressive when put into a certain situation. Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D, a professor of Media Psychology, stated that, “researchers can not show a subject ten violent movies and then see if he or she will pick up a gun and shoot his aggressor”. This is why experiments done in laboratories cannot predict the more brutal crimes such as Columbine. Stuart also said it best; “to suggest otherwise is equivalent to marketing a drug for cancer which research has shown cures acne”.

Murderers, such as Ted Bundy, have been around for years but we do not blame media violence as the number one cause of their evil. We usually take into consideration their mental state and other facts as well. Ted Bundy was a very good Christian All-American boy growing up. He lived in a loving home. But why was media violence not suggested as the number one reason he went on a murderous rampage? Even when all this “evidence” proves that media violence is the leading cause. Is it because no one can prove that watching too much television will result in brutally killing and eating of a body? Religion plays a very important role in people’s lives, as does the media, yet both are filled with violence. Yet, religion has not been mentioned. Research has shown that television can lead to aggressive behavior on the “playground”, but it is still unable to pinpoint what sparks the more brutal killings.

If people did not want to see violence in the media, how has it become such an important part of our lives? The nightly news always has reports of some sort of violence in the world, why do we have to know about it? The reason we are told about it is because we want to know about it. Society as a whole, rubbernecks at a scene of an accident. We want to know what is going on. The entertainment industry merely shows us what we want to see. If we were not interested in violence we would not even think twice about going to see “Saving Private Ryan” or “Scream 3”. Blaming the entertainment industry as the leading cause of crime in the United States does not hold up.

In a study, it was shown that “the sophistication of children’s attitudes towards television content changes dramatically over time, 34% of children aged five to seven believe that commercials always tell the truth, but this drops to 5% by the age of eleven to twelve. Relative to the attention paid to programs, attention paid to commercials drops by 21% between the ages of five and seven and by 42% between the ages of eleven and twelve” (Ward, Reale, & Levinson, 1972). This shows that as children mature, they become aware of what’s true or what’s false. Or what is wrong or what is right. If children know that a commercial is not entirely true why would they believe that going out with a loaded shotgun and shooting there fellow classmates is right? Violence in poorer areas of society should be taken into affect as well. Can this be the leading cause of violence? Of course it’s not, but it can add to it. Violent behavior and criminal activity has always been associated with drug use, gangs, and urban life. Violence is everywhere, even where television and movies do not play a major role in every day life.

The living conditions and family life are key contributors to violence but they are not the leading cause of it either. Violence in places such as the South Bronx is not solely due to the media. It is a way of life for the inhabitants living there. The drug use, the prostitution and the gangs are all contributors of violence in poorer regions of the world. Poverty is most likely the dominant risk factor for violence in the South Bronx. It all depends on the situation. The structure in ones home can lead to aggressive behavior as well. If a child lives in a dysfunctional home, and also watches countless hours of television, these two factors might be the leading cause of violence. There have been no laboratory studies that combine many key factors together though. The home is where the child learns and develops. And it is also the most common site for violence to occur. Family members or friends commit two out of every five homicides.

A major problem with blaming one risk factor, as the leading cause to violence is that one cannot categorize the risk factors by magnitude. With the many risk factors out there, there are an equal number of factors that are considered “protective factors”. Protective factors being a sense of purpose, for example, a belief in the future, hopefulness, faith, educational aspirations. Other protective factors include problem solving skills, social competence and autonomy. The relationship between the two is obvious because the majority of the world is not outwardly violent. The risk factors and protective factors evenly distribute themselves within a society. If the protective factors were not present in a society, then the risk factors would disrupt the balance. Even when the balance is disrupted, blaming only one risk factor is inane. A combination of risk factors is a much more plausible conclusion.

The emphasis on blaming an outside force instead of holding the child accountable is a common occurrence among parents. In the 20th century it is common for both parents to be wage earners instead of only one. With both parents working, this results in less activity with a child. Children are then left to fend for themselves and are not actively looked after. A concern that should be addressed is the amount of activity a child is involved with. If a child is just plain bored, and his or her parents are not around, that child will look towards alternative ways to deal with boredom. Sometimes it is in the least effective way, be it running with the wrong crowd, getting involved with drugs or staying at home and watching hours of television.

With our society come all the ills of a typical society. As we improve our technology we will be improving the way we live as a unit. It is common for us all to be concerned about problems such as violence among younger children. In recognizing that there is a problem we must also recognize everything involved. Eliminating violence will not be an over night process. Blaming media violence and coming to the conclusion it is the number one cause of violence is a simple excuse. The easiest target in this case is not the answer. The problem will not be resolved if we curb television violence, even though it might help to some degree. The most important factor in this argument is taking a look at every aspect of society. Combining all the research on all the ills of society will help. We have got to stop blaming one another and take action against the problem of violence.

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