Research Paper: Violence in the Media TV Movies and Video Games

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Violence in the Media and Children

Violence in media has become a serious problem. Children are heavily exposed to violence in films, TV shows, and video games from their early ages. This heavy exposure to violence may lead to aggressive and violent behavior, encouraging children to see violence as normal. And because of the popularity of violence in media and the fact that children today represent a very lucrative market, the entertainment industry takes advantage of this situation by targeting children for their products that glorify violence. In essence, the producers of violent media content and video games are guilty of child exploitation. To address the problem, the public needs greater regulation of violence in media to protect children.

Violence in Media: Why Greater Regulation is Needed

In January 2011, a group of terrorists took Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport hostage, killing thirty five civilians in the process and wounding scores. In the aftermath of the tragedy and while law enforcement agencies were hunting for the perpetrators, Russia's English-language news channel Russia Today partly blamed the blockbuster video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for the terror attack. The game, the article suggested, urged players to go on a killing spree of civilians in a simulated Russian airport. "In the mission dubbed 'No Russian' the player goes on a terrorist rampage," the article said, "helping to massacre civilians in a fictitious Moscow airport. It may have seemed too gruesome and tragic ever to come true" (Moscow airport terror mirrors video game, 2011). The article also quoted media experts who argued that terrorists might have been inspired by playing such video games. The claim might be overly speculative, as the motivations for terrorism usually come from elsewhere, but the article nevertheless raised an important question. It pointed at the fact that video games have become ever more violent as to encourage and glorify violence. The consumer demand for greater amounts of violence in video games has increased as well. There is also a corresponding demand for violence in other forms of the media such as full-length movies and TV shows. Media producers and games manufacturers today eagerly respond to these demands by producing more violent imagery in their products. This is, however, a dangerous trend because violence in media has a harmful effect, especially on children. Constant exposure to violent imagery may make children more aggressive and violent, while the continuous advertising of products glorifying violence by media producers constitutes child exploitation. For these reasons, violence in media needs to be better regulated by the government and community organizations.

American society today, one might say, is addicted to violence. Whether in media, graphic novels, video games, music video clips and lyrics, or Hollywood films, violence has become virtually unavoidable. The constant selling of violent imagery may have a desensitizing effect on viewers but it is especially dangerous when the targets are children. Unable to comprehend the true message of violence on screen, children may try to imitate what they see and harm others. As early as 1982, Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC, had the following confession to make in a Playboy interview:

Television did have an effect on me right from the beginning. In first grade, I was a member of a four-kid gang that went around imitating TV Westerns. We'd disrupt class to play out scenes, picking up chairs and hitting people over the head with them -- except, unlike on TV, the chairs didn't break, the kids did. Finally, the teacher called my parents in and said, "Obviously, he's being influenced by these TV shows, and if he's to continue in this class, you've got to agree not to let him watch television anymore." So, from first to second grade there was a dark period during which I didn't watch TV at all. And I calmed down and the gang broke up (qtd. In Kiesbye, 2010, pp. 8-9).

It is clear from this confession that children watch violence in media and try to imitate it in real life. Children do not really understand that the violence depicted in films and TV shows is not necessary real and that in real-life situations the use of violent methods that they see in films may be far more painful and dangerous. Heavy exposure to violence and the glorification of it, however, is likely to encourage children to imitate what they see on a big screen.

Even if children do not try to imitate violent scenarios in movies and TV shows they see, there is abundant evidence demonstrating that continuous exposure to violence increases the likelihood of aggression and violent behavior among children. An average American child sees 8,000 acts of murder and 100,000 acts of various kinds of violence by the time he or she completes elementary school (Simmons, 2010, p. 12). These images may instill an idea in the minds of children that violence is "normal" and even "noble" when used for good purposes, that heroes are allowed to kill and torture the villains, and that one's ability to "kick ass" is such a cool thing that every child should aspire for it. Viewing violence on a big screen over and over also makes them desensitized to actual events such as murder, torture, and rape. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an activist against violence in media and an expert in so-called "killology," explains why violence in media has become such a big problem:

Children are bombarded with thousands of violent acts on television at a young, vulnerable age when they literally cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. As violence is played for laughs and cheers on TV and in the movies, our kids eat their favorite snacks and giggle as the body count rises. We are raising generations of children who learn at a very early age to associate horrific violence with pleasure and excitement -- a dangerous association for a civilized society (Grossman, 1999, p. 3).

The causal relationship between violent imagery in media and aggression in children has been proven in numerous scholarly studies. In July 2000, the nation's top six professional associations -- American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association -- signed a joint statement: "At this time, well over 1,000 studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children" (Simmons, 2010, p. 12). In other words, the evidence linking violence in media and aggressive behavior among children is overwhelming.

While violence in movies and TV shows may negatively affect children, prevalence of violence in video games may be even more dangerous. With violent video games, the players are not simply "passive" receivers of violent imagery but are active participants in it. Latest developments in computer technology allow players to immerse themselves in real-like simulated environments where the line between the virtual world and reality is blurred even further. As Hoerrner and Hoerrner (2010) explain, "[j]ust as children can improve their phonics with Learn to Read with Winnie the Pooh, they can learn to shoot with deadly accuracy playing Doom, Splinter Cell, Hitman, and other first-person shooter games" (p. 41). And this is not just a theory. Numerous cases have proven this to be true. For example, in a tragic incident in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1997, a fourteen-year-old kid managed to do on his first try something law enforcement agents would consider an almost impossible task: he got eight hits in eight shots and five of them were head shots, the other three hitting upper torsos, from a distance of around seven yards. The teenager was able to do that thanks to having "practiced killing literally thousands of people. His simulators were point-and-shoot video games he played for hundreds of hours in video arcades and in the comfort of his own home" (Grossman, 1999, p. 4). The implications of such cases cannot be ignored or downplayed. Violent video games have a capacity to encourage aggression and violent behavior among children and adolescents.

Given this overwhelming evidence that violence in media negatively affects the youth, the pertinent question is why the entertainment industry is allowed to produce violent movies, TV shows, and video games directed at children? The simple answer is money. The problem with such formulation, however, is that slavery once existed because it was also hugely profitable. Just because something is profitable does not mean it is OK. The actions of the entertainment industry must be condemned as "child exploitation" because that is the most accurate characterization of what they do today. Media and games producers know that children are at a vulnerable age where they cannot truly distinguish the right from the wrong and make rational and moral choices. Nevertheless, recent movies such as Spider-Man and video games like Grand Theft Auto III, although not really for kids, were marketed to attract kids as well as adolescents (Kumar, 2003, p. 34). The entertainment industry… [END OF PREVIEW]

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