Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Essay on Media Violence

Essay on Media Violence

In recent years we have witnessed an alarming increase in the crime rate, especially among young people. We have been left shocked and at a loss to find explanations for why teenagers rob and blackmail, why young people commit physical violence, why children become murderers.

Some people place the blame on the way violence is represented in the media and, as a consequence, demand that there should be stricter controls, or even censorship, put in place.

However, this way of dealing with the problem is not undisputed. It is necessary to take a closer look at whether or not violence in the media really is responsible for this development and then to examine what censorship may entail before taking such a far-reaching decision.


Many concerned people, ranging from worried parents through to reputable psychologists, deplore the ever-present nature of violence in the media, claiming that this is the reason why people are increasingly prepared to commit violent acts. They argue that violence is being propagated as normal or even entertaining. Violence is in the newspapers, on the news, in film plots and in cartoons. Violence is a source of laughter in children's programmes; films present it as staple fare; it is served as pseudo-information in sensation-hungry newspapers and on reality TV; and it is even glorified by some musicians in their lyrics and performances. In fact in the public domain, it is difficult to find material that is not linked to violence in some form.

Those who are worried by this development also point out that the negative examples provided by the media are not balanced by a positive view. Criminals are often seen as daredevil and debonair or are presented so as to arouse sympathy. The so-called 'heroes' in TV series and films, be they Dirty Harry, the Power Rangers, Butch Cassidy or the Mighty Ducks, are frequently violent and tend to take the law into their own hands. Not only this, the situations are often so contrived that the hero apparently has no other choice but to turn to violence to solve his problem. Thus, success in media terms means achieving a goal by means of violence and crime, so people naturally see this means as an acceptable alternative for achieving what they want too.

Since the media depicts violence as a normal state of affairs and an acceptable problem-solving option, this is seen as inevitably leading to a lowering of the threshold to committing violence and crime. It does not stop here, for film, television and the popular press even offer ideas for ways to commit crime and violent acts. Indeed, the detail given and emotional involvement evoked in film in particular even provide ideas as to how to carry out certain crimes. A prime example is the recent report of a the high school massacre in Littleton in the United States, where the teenage killers wore trench coats and mowed down their victims in a manner reminiscent of scenes from a popular film. The teenagers and children of today are immersed in the media, and children above all are particularly susceptible to its influence, as they are not yet in a position to be able to distinguish adequately between reality and fantasy. They grow up experiencing violent acts being committed daily in cartoons, in films and on the news, so it is not surprising if they believe that violent behaviour is normal behaviour. They copy this dangerous and unacceptable behaviour and assimilate dangerous and unacceptable values.

Nevertheless, there are voices which challenge the assumption that violence in the media is the cause of increased violence in society. They would say that society itself was to blame as a result of the social pressure and social change people must face. Modern society subjects individuals to an array of pressures such as the lack of perspective for young people, the threat of unemployment or homelessness, as well as the necessity to succeed in economic terms and terms of status. Furthermore, there is a lacking sense of responsibility and a tendency to pass the blame. Individualism and materialism leave little room for the fulfilment of emotional needs.

This situation is coupled with the inability of the individuals themselves to cope with new social and economic situations such as divorce or the changing demands of the workplace. Once caught up in a cycle of strife, people frequently find themselves unable to seek or find help. They are trapped in an anonymous and seemingly uncaring world. As a result, feelings of frustration, despair or aggression build up until they can no longer be contained and are then suddenly, horrifically and vicariously released.

There is also the suggestion that the society 'outside' is not the only source of concern, that in fact a great deal of blame lies at the feet of thoughtless or irresponsible parents. Parental guidance is said to be lacking because parents do not supervise their children enough to guide their emotional and moral development. Very often the much-berated media is employed as a babysitter: TV and video games keep the children and teenagers occupied and out of the way.

What is missing is the shared experience, the guidance in viewing habits and taste in entertainment, and the critical discussion and explanation of what the children have encountered in the media. Parents must teach their children to question what they see and hear and be there for them.

So in all of this, is there a need for censorship in the media? The question of censorship raises a number of problems. Decisions would need to be made as to just who would be responsible for carrying out the task and in what form. Would it be the task of one person or a committee? Who would have the right - or the privilege - to be represented on a committee of this nature? The range of groups who would wish for a say extends from parents through church groups to the media representatives themselves, and this would clearly present a tug-o-war on many levels of interest: moral, educational, economic, aesthetic, and exploitative, to name a few. In addition, there is no guarantee that the criteria for determining the suitability of content nominated by this committee would better protect viewers than the arbitrarily functioning dynamics currently operating. In fact, there may be a need to set up controls to regulate what will happen if censors overstep their responsibilities and interpret their task too strictly or even irrationally. Indeed, this raises a further question: who would be the one to censor the censors?

There are certain alternatives to the extreme of censorship. Rather than rigidly setting up regulations to be strictly enforced, media groups could be encouraged to establish a code of practice. In addition to this, programmers need to define the content appropriate for particular broadcasting times, which would, for example, ease the difficulties that parents may have in supervising their children's viewing habits. This is already in practice to some degree in many places, but the difficulty is to ensure that the guidelines are followed. Further to this, script-writers need to be encouraged to offer more balanced content. There is a belief, whether well-founded or not, that violence sells and this can only be overcome if producers and programmers are prepared to move in other directions, accepting more variety in content, and viewers are prepared to show that the belief has little basis.

Viewers, readers and listeners need to become more aware of their power and learn to be selective and critical of what the media offers for consumption. The TV viewer's programming desires can be demonstrated by switching off the television or changing channels if the programmes meet his disapproval. The reader can take active steps by not purchasing papers or magazines that glorify or sensationalise violent content. The listener can also switch stations or call in on that talk-back programme to state his opinion. Audiences can boycott products that are advertised during films or other programmes that show inappropriate content or are shown at inappropriate times. Thus, individuals must be aware that they are to some extent also responsible for the content since the signals they give to filmmakers and advertisers suggest that violence is indeed what they want.

This brings us back to the point of what role violence in the media has to play in influencing society's behaviour. The discussion has shown that while violence appears almost ubiquitously in the media providing a lopsided view of acceptable behaviour and how to deal with problems, thus certainly having at least the potential to influence those exposed to it, it need not be the sole cause of the rising incidence of violence in the community. There are enough examples of the difficulties and complexities of society that people must face today to show that violence may stem from failure to cope with these pressures and lack of outlet for emotional problems. In other words, it may be that the media reflects life, rather than life reflecting the media.

Whatever the case, the role of parents and guardians in supervising and guiding the media consumption of those in their care cannot be underestimated. Censorship would only remove the responsibility out of the control of the people who are most directly affected by programming content, and is thus not a desirable alternative to the present situation. Measures such as responsible programming, incentives for more creative and well-balanced scripting and production, and encouraging reflection on the part of broadcasters and the press to the point of even establishing a code of practice would be preferable steps to take. But above all, people need to be taught to be selective and responsible in dealing with not only the media, but all aspects of everyday life, and to recognise that they as individuals must make decisions and take action themselves in order to influence not just the media, but the fabric of the whole of our community.

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