Click. Channel 79, a news broadcast about gang violence in a nearby community. Click. Channel 80, a documentary about mass shootings within schools. Click. Channel 91, the TV show “Stalker,” showing a woman being burned alive within the first few minutes.
The advent of the television has been fueling discussions on violence in mass media since the 1960s. Since then, mass media has become a part of our everyday lives. At one point or another, we all engage in watching television shows, playing video games, reading newspaper or magazine articles, or listening to the radio throughout our everyday routine. With the advancements in technology, people all over the world have access to media content very readily. As such, it is important to consider the influence of the portrayal of violence in mass media on people, especially young children. Many people think this is the reason behind such aggression within our society; however, others believe there is no direct correlation.
With the dominance of mass media in our lives, we often are explicitly exposed to acts of violence such as war, murder, terrorist attacks, as well as a host of other things. Quite frequently, the daily news broadcasts horrific reports and shows scenes from these events. Violence is also openly portrayed in popular films such as “Deadpool” and television series such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” The Internet, magazines, and newspapers also depict similar images and as such, it is evident that violence is more pervasive now than it was 60 years ago.
In an interview with the Psychiatric Times, retired clinical professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University Emanuel Tanay, MD, remarked, “Violence in the media has been increasing and reaching proportions that are dangerous.” In his perspective, reality becomes distorted, and if one is living in the fictional world, then that becomes their reality. Unfortunately, this has a negative impact on viewers and studies suggest that this may increase levels of aggression in those exposed to violence in mass media.
“I definitely think the two are related. Children from an early age are often exposed to so many different video games and TV shows which are so violent. I actually think children are more attracted to these video games and shows than regular non-violent ones. This undoubtedly plays a role in how they view violent acts in society, because I actually think they believe it’s ordinary,” stated sophomore Cynnique Johnson.
The violence portrayed in mass media also has the ability to desensitize viewers from the harshness of violent acts. Children in particular are more prone to imitate aggressive acts of violence and are less likely to be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy, therefore assuming that such violent acts are a normal occurrence.
This is the same for people in society who are mentally ill and more likely to misinterpret what is being viewed. Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza suffered from psychiatric ailments and physical disorders such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In an interview with the New York Times, Chief Psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living Dr. Harold Schwartz stated, “It was his untreated mental illness that was a predisposing factor.” Additionally, according to U.S. News, he also was obsessed with mass shootings, particularly the one in Columbine, Colorado in 1999 which was covered extensively by various media outlets.
Despite the links between violence in mass media and aggression in society, there are counterarguments that challenge this sentiment. “Media violence is only one of many risk factors for later aggressive and violent behavior. Furthermore, extremely violent behavior never occurs when there is only one risk factor present. Thus, a healthy, well-adjusted person with few risk factors is not going to become a school-shooter just because they start playing a lot of violent video games or watching a lot of violent movies,” stated Craig Anderson, PhD in an interview with the Psychiatric Times. Anderson is the Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University.
From this, it is evident that a variety of risk factors are involved when trying to link violence in mass media with aggression. These may include parental involvement (in children’s lives), level of hostility, possibility of any physical victimization, as well as engagement in prior fights. Being aware of such risk factors may help with determining the impact violence in mass media may have on individuals.
It is particularly interesting to note that regardless of popular discussion and debates about violence being portrayed in mass media, there is little being done to change the problem. Games such as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty” have never flourished more than they do in today’s day and age. It has been reported that “Grand Theft Auto V” broke industry sale records by becoming the fastest-selling entertainment product in history, earning $800 million in its first day and selling over 60 million copies to date. Similarly, gruesomely violent television shows such as “The Walking Dead” manage to entice the most 18 to 49-year-old viewers of any cable or broadcast television show to date.
Though violence in mass media is highly criticized, it tends to flourish without any significant trouble. According to the Media Education Foundation, research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity, but it has also become more graphic, sexual, and sadistic. This is seen in today’s most popular forms of entertainment which include a host of horrific films, television shows, and video games. Violence has slowly crept its way into mass media, taking over our lives without us even realizing. However, it is our ultimate decision to stay informed about the effects and to ensure that the seemingly negative effects of violence in mass media do not wreak havoc on our day-to-day lives.