Violence in the Media
Violence in the media was the topic I’ve been churning during the past week. With a bowl game every night on ESPN, I’d have all of the other televisions on nightly programming. I don’t normally write about programming, but I was somewhat stunned by some of the images depicted in these crime shows.
I saw a brief but graphic scene of a victim impaled on what looked like playground equipment. That same show—I think it was Miami SVU or something—depicted the drowning of a man buried on the beach up to his neck waiting for the tide to come in. That show, or maybe it was another one (The all seem the same to me.) showed the charred remains of a woman in a beach bonfire.
People die before our eyes in the worst possible ways. I’ve had more guns pointed at me, the viewer, during the past week that I could ever imagine in real life.
Almost all of these “dramas” have something to do with forensic science. So, they always have macabre shots of corpses on cold, metal tables in the morgue.
None of the images would have been shown on broadcast TV not that many years ago. Something has changed, hasn’t it?
Vietnam has been called the first televised war. War coverage in other eras came from sanitized news reels in theaters, newspaper coverage in long gray columns, or perhaps pictures in Life Magazine. Those photos then came the closest to revealing the grisly elements of warfare. One could also sense the fear and horror of the bombing of London during World War II listening to Edward R. Murrow’s live witnessing from the rooftop. Vietnam, however, was a game-changer.
Repulsed by what they saw on TV, viewers became voters and protesters. I’ll never forget the film of the evacuating helicopter lifting off from the American embassy in Saigon. It was powerful and poignant. It changed our perceptions.
Now, we have endured a decade of continuous, retching, and disturbing video from Iraq and Afghanistan. The suicide bombers, the IEDs, the drones literally drone on and on, wearing away at our senses. The Fort Hood shootings shook and shocked the nation. The extremist Army captain’s horrific mass murder of unarmed fellow soldiers could be seen as an isolated case. Investigators, however, always fear copy-cat killers. The intensive news coverage of the savage event could result in undesired effects on those predisposed to violence or extremism. (Video Games, Television Violence, and Aggression in Teenagers, Joseph R. Dominick, Journal of Communication, June, 1984)
Remember Pacman? Not the football player, but the video game. Now, compare that with what’s available today. I admit that I haven’t played the games, but I’ve seen the ads, usually shown during football games.
I believe that we’ve become a nation inoculated by the powerful images and violent actions. There is research to back this up. “Exposure to violent video games is significantly linked to increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and cardiovascular arousal, and to decreases in helping behaviour. Experimental studies reveal this linkage to be causal. Correlational studies reveal a linkage to serious, real-world types of aggression.” (“An update on the effects of playing violent video games”, Craig Anderson, Iowa State University, October, 2003)
Generally, young people who are predisposed to violence are more likely to exhibit violence after significant exposure to violence from most any media—Television, film, and/or games.
Further, this desensitization is revealed in the language we use. Civility left the room long ago.
Congress member Gabrielle Giffords, whose district was targeted using a crosshairs graphic by a Sarah Palin political action, was disturbed by the depiction months ago.
“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Giffords said in March. “But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”
An apparently disturbed, 22-year-old gunman shot her in the head during a Tucson community meeting January 8, 2011. While she fights for her life, six others including an innocent nine-year-old girl and a federal judge died, and up to 14 others were wounded.
Investigators are still asking, “Why? What would trigger such unthinkable aggression?” I don’t know if he watched violent TV programs or news. I don’t know the effect of watching war for nearly half of his life. I don’t know if he played violent video games. I do know that he posted problematic screeds online.
Words do matter. "We're getting ready to celebrate this weekend the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., who admonished us that we are going to regret in this generation not just for the vitriolic words and deeds of bad people but for the appalling silence of good people," House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) told Fox News Sunday, January 09, 2011.
What are the answers? What actions are available to individuals? We can start by being polite. We can teach our children to say, “Yes, Sir”. And where the media is concerned, we can turn off the TV and unplug the video games. We can talk to our children about what they are seeing in the news.
It starts with each of us. It starts at home.
© Jim McNabb, 2011