VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA


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
programs; 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 behavior
is normal behavior. They copy this dangerous and unacceptable behavior 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 fulfillment
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