TV Violence Essay, Research Paper
“The relationship between violence on the screen and violence in real life is extremely complicated. But while the relationship may not be that of direct cause and effect, we must bear it in mind. Violent programmes may depress some people, shock others, de-sensitise some and encourage imitation by a few.”
(BBC Handbook-Guidelines for T.V Producers Regarding Violence and Censorship)
The media is all around us and for this reason I feel it is inevitable that it will have some sort of effect on us. Television is the most popular and accessible form of media; everybody has at least one television set in their home. It is also said to be the most vivid portrayer of the world. Screen violence is a term given to violence seen in television programmes, videos and cinema; basically any violence viewed on a screen. What causes a problem when debating screen violence is how we define and measure violence, as different people have different interpretations of what is violent. Some kinds of ‘violent’ activity are labelled as ‘violent’ others as ‘war heroism’.
Everybody interprets and responds to the media in different ways. The ‘hypodermic syringe’ or ‘effects’ model is a theory, which concentrates on the negative effects of the media i.e. what the media ‘does to us’. The power is believed to lie with the media and terms such as ‘the mass media’ or ‘mass communications’ are often used to emphasise the size and scale of media operations. It believes in a passive audience and highlights certain groups of people as being more vulnerable than others are. Children, people who are mentally ill, women, and the working class are the named groups because they are either obviously vulnerable (i.e. children and the mentally ill), or exposed to the media much more than other groups of people (i.e. women and the working class). I agree with this as far as children and the mentally ill are concerned because they have little control over what they are exposed to and are not selective viewers. However, the other groups mentioned are not as vulnerable, as they are able to decide for themselves what they watch and can create their own opinions about it. There are two key effects that this theory believes can be induced in an audience:
Inactivity- the couch potato
Manic activity- where the audience imitates what they have seen, i.e. copycat crime (often related to violence)
There are of course problems with this theory. It over-simplifies and assumes that everybody is passive and vulnerable to the media, which obviously is a generalisation, and isn’t true. Many experiments have been set up over the years, to try and prove or disprove such theories of audience engagement. One such experiment (which is now a much-criticised piece of research) was called the ‘Bobo doll experiment’, conducted by Bandura and Walters in 1963. It involved showing a group of children a film of adults acting violently towards a doll, and then leaving the children alone with the doll. The children were recorded acting in a similar way to what they had seen, which was said to prove that children copy what they see. The research was flawed in many ways. People (especially children) are often willing to please those conducting the experiments, and have a sense of what behaviour is expected of them. Also, a laboratory is a very different environment to the one in which we usually interact with the media.
The ‘uses and gratification’ model was founded in the USA in the 1940’s. It is one that disregards the pessimistic approach of the ‘hypodermic syringe’ theory, and instead focuses on the ‘active’ audience, an audience who is able to ‘use’ the media to its own advantage. The power here lies with the individual consumer, who is imagined as using the media to gratify certain needs and interests. In his book Media Analysis Techniques, Arthur Asa Berger provides a list of twenty-four things that the media may offer to do and what we as audiences may take from media products. The uses that I feel are relevant to this essay include:
1. To be amused
7. To find distraction and diversion
9. To experience, in a guilt-free and controlled situation, extreme conditions such as love and hate, the horrible and the terrible, and similar phenomena.
10. To find models to imitate
I feel that the last ‘use’ on the list above could have both positive and negative implications. Role models are useful as long as they are shown behaving in a positive manner. However, if a child saw Brad Pitt as a role model, and then watched a film such as Fight Club that contains very physical and violent scenes, he/she would think that if Brad Pitt is allowed to do it then it must be alright for them to do. Young children are not able to distinguish fiction from reality in the way that adults can. The problems with the ‘uses and gratifications’ theory is it suggests that everybody is capable of understanding what they watch, which is flattering to an audience; we are more likely to want to identify ourselves as active readers. However it ‘pigeonholes’ everyone into one group and totally ignores the obviously vulnerable groups such as children. It seems to forget that people come from different backgrounds, have different amounts of knowledge about things and live in very different social contexts.
“what we understand and believe about the television message is ‘influenced by our own personal history, political culture and class experience” (Philo)
The ‘uses and gratifications’ theory and the ‘hypodermic syringe’ theory represent the two extremes of audience engagement with the media. What is needed is a theory that takes a middle ground between the two.
One of the greatest concerns associated with screen violence is the idea that there is a connection between violent scenes in the media and ‘real’ crimes. The term given to this idea is ‘copy-cat crime’. ‘Copy-cat crime’ is an idea associated with the ‘hypodermic syringe’ theory and the particular effect described as ‘manic activity’. This is when someone who has committed a serious crime is said to have been influenced and inspired by a media product such as a film. An example of this is the murder of James Bulger by two young boys. After the killing it ‘emerged’ that they had watched Child’s Play 3 prior to their crime, and therefore the film was felt to be partly to blame.
“The unthinkable sub-text to the murder of little James Bulger is?Kthe concern that we have created a generation of anti-social young people who have grown up with a television set as their best friend?Kwith video nasties, violence and sensational sex as the stuff of everyday life, in a world which offers little explicit moral guidance”
(Mary Whitehouse- The Telegraph)
A Clockwork Orange is another example of a film that has been linked to a crime. When it first came out, a group of men gang raped a woman in an apparent copy of a scene in the film. The films maker, Stanley Kubrick, subsequently withdrew the film because he was annoyed at the critical reception it had received. This copycat effect is not just associated with serious crimes such as the ones I have mentioned. When the ‘You’ve been Tangoed’ advertising campaign was launched, one of the adverts in particular caused major concern. It showed men in orange suits running around slapping eachother around the ears and laughing about it. This was an advert aimed at children to make them buy Tango, however the effect that it had was to cause children to copy what they had seen (because it was shown as being funny and harmless), and slap other children around the ears. This became a problem as it caused children to suffer perforated eardrums as a result. This emphasises the idea that children are particularly vulnerable, and therefore products aimed at children should be very carefully considered.
S. Cohen carried out the first sociological analysis of a moral panic in 1972, about the Mods and Rockers; a panic about what was happening to British youths in the 1960’s. A moral panic is when everything is blamed on the media and society worries about people’s behaviour due to media exposure. I feel that people panic and blame the media in order to find some way of justifying the behaviour of such people. People find it far less frightening to think that someone in society has committed a crime because of the influence of a ‘video nasty’, than to think that they did it because of the sort of person they are.
“the moral panic about television violence may deflect attention away from other possible causes of social unrest?K” (pg14, The Media Studies Book- A Guide for Teachers)
I feel that the above quote is very true, and I feel that it is important not to blame the media but to look at other contributing issues and factors. When a moral panic occurs, people think that it must be a general social effect when it is more likely to be a deviant minority. Moral panics often lead to tightening up of film classification by the British Board of Film Classification (B.B.F.C.)
Watersheds and film classifications play a big role in the effect of the media, as they are there to govern what is suitable for people to watch. If it wasn’t for these controls, I feel that the media would have a much wider social effect. The watershed is the 9pm pivotal point of evening television. The programmes before the watershed must always be suitable for viewing by children and the earlier they are, the more suitable they must be. This means that programme makers should always take into account the time that their programme is being transmitted when considering the content. Scenes of violence may well make a programme unsuitable for pre- 9pm placing. Often the voice that introduces the next programme will alert viewers if it contains content that is violent, sexual or distressing. As the following quote says:
“Forewarned is forearmed, and with clear information, viewers can and do exercise their choice” (Will Wyatt)
The BBFC is a private company, set up by the film industry because of fears of government control. The board was once very secretive about their operations but now they conduct a lot of market research to find out what audiences think and publish the reasons for their actions regarding film controls, on their web-site. They have also become a lot more relaxed, and films that have been previously banned such as A Clockwork Orange and Natural Born Killers, have now had their bans lifted. Controls over films often depend on what is happening at the time, and this is also true of television programmes. An example of this is the recent restrictions on films showing acts of terrorism, due to the tragic events in America. Sensitivity is very important at such times. Concern over young people’s access to violent videos rose in the early 1990’s. A number of highly publicised crimes of aggression in which a violent film was implicated (most notably the linking of the James Bulger murder with a video, Child’s Play 3) resulted in further restrictions being enacted in 1994. The BBFC now has to take into account the psychological impact of videos on children and the possibility that they will present inappropriate role models. As I have already mentioned, inappropriate role models can be very damaging for children.
I feel that violence in computer games is becoming a lot more of a problem than it once was. Due to the increase in technology, computer games are now more like films, with very realistic looking characters and settings. An example of such a game is Grand Theft Auto 3 for the Playstation 2. It is a controversial game in which you ‘become’ the man who is able to run people over, shoot people and become involved in police chases. It is very graphic, as when you run over somebody it shows blood and plays a realistic sound. The game was banned in Australia as it was deemed too violent. In Britain it has been given an 18 certificate, but I feel that this won’t prevent children from being able to play it. They will just borrow it from someone older. I don??t feel that certificates on games are as restrictive as they are on films.
The news can be regarded as the most violent programme in the television schedule, and the reality of what is being shown can make it particularly disturbing for an audience. On September 11th, the terrorist attacks in America and their aftermath were broadcast live on the news all day, and on every channel. This meant that people were witnessing the most violent act the world has ever seen, at first hand. I feel that this sort of viewing is bound to have an effect on an audience, but I feel that the effects can be both positive and negative. On the one hand, the news should shock viewers. The violence that everyone witnessed could have the effect of educating people about how awful terrorism and violence is and how many lives can be devastated by it. It can also help us to empathise with the people involved. On the other hand there is the risk that too much violence being shown could either cause people to become more fearful of the world they live in or desensitised to violence. Both of these effects could damage peoples’ quality of life. It must be considered that the more viewers are shocked the more it will take to shock them.
I will now discuss the possible positive and negative effects of the film The Terminator. The Terminator was made in the eighties, at a time where people were afraid of advances in technology. The cyborg in the film is a machine that looks human, which could also reflect the fear about developments in medical science. I feel that The Terminator could have the effect of making people feel that they have a reason to be afraid of technology, and could therefore make them more fearful of the world they live in. I feel that the film goes a long way to prevent imitation because it makes it clear that he is a machine by showing him removing his eye. This will prevent people identifying with his character and therefore reduce the chance of copycat crime. Violence is presented as futile in the film, which is a positive thing. The machine is finally defeated by the intelligence of the female protagonist, Sarah, who would provide a positive role model for females. The cathartic element is also worth considering, as the film would release aggression within the audience and give them a chance to experience violence in a safe environment.
To conclude this essay, I feel it is virtually impossible to measure the effects of violence in the media, as the media cannot be isolated from all other potential influences in society. I agree that children and the mentally ill are vulnerable and should always be protected by film classifications and watersheds, so that they do not view unsuitable material. Parents should also be responsible enough to make sure their children do not view unsuitable material on the television. I don’t think that it is the content of the media that causes people to commit crimes, but more to do with the unstable or vulnerable individual who is not able to distinguish fiction from reality. The media doesn’t tell people to go out and commit crimes but it could trigger psychological problems within a person or generate mixed messages which people wrongly interpret. Most responsible adults are able to distinguish fiction from reality and adapt what they are viewing with their own beliefs and personal experience. Most people take a ‘middle way’, and only ‘take in’ what they agree with, disregarding the rest. I feel that the media is always going to be connected with negativity and regarded as powerful, but for most people it only as powerful as we allow it to be.
BibliographyArticles:Wyatt, Will, ‘The Problem of Violence’, BBC Handbook- Guidelines for T.V Producers Regarding Violence and Censorship
Books:BBC Handbook- Guidelines for T.V Producers Regarding Violence and Censorship
Lusted, David, The Media Studies Book- A Guide for Teachers (London: Routledge, 1991)
Asa Berger, Arthur, Media Analysis Techniques (CA: Sage, 1999, 2nd Ed.)
FilmographyChild’s Play 3 – Universal Pictures, 1991
Clockwork Orange, A – Warner Bros., 1971
Natural Born Killers
Terminator, The – MGM, 1984