I suppose it’s always good to ask a question of a question, so here goes: Is societies violence any fault of the media? But that question doesn’t necessarily relate to the essay title does it? Many feel that crimes exist simply because the media have exaggerated similar crimes in the first place. Of course there are the different types of media today ranging from newspapers, to on-line reports to television and radio. Each of these will run stories on sex and violence everyday of the week. There have been arguments upon arguments regarding this issue, and hence over 3,000 studies conducted (O’Sullivan et al. 1998 ). Unfortunately it seems to many as if there isn’t one single result; just an array of supposed answers to this undying question.
I plan to look at how the media amplifies (increase the strength of) crimes of sex and violence.
First we must agree that the main media source that we as humans are open to is television. Unlike other sources (apart from the Internet) we can both see and hear the subject. In 1950, only 10% of American homes had a television and by 1960 the percentage had grown to 90%. Today 99% of homes in America have a television. In fact, more families own a television than a phone. (O’Sullivan et al. 1998) That means that people are more than likely to become aware of crimes of sex and violence through television. The average American child will witness over 200,000 acts of violence on television including 16,000 murders before age 18, surely we must find this type of statistic rather alarming.
Known side effects of excessive exposure to violence in television include: increased violent behaviour; increased sexual activity and use of tobacco and alcohol- which in many cases can lead to drug abuse and subsequently crime.
Whether violence increases aggression in the audience remains to be seen. Even if it could be proven (as it has not yet been) it will be hard to prove. If it were proved, it would not allow us to conclude that television violence has a “bad” effect on people. The famous Bandura experiments involve children watching TV tapes of adults knocking around a plastic “Bobo” doll, and then the children copied this behaviour. (O’Sullivan et al. 1998)
Because we are protective of our children, and because it is children who watch the most television and (presumably) the most of the violent cartoons, most related studies have been focused on children. But Aronson points out similar effects are reported amongst young adults. He looks at the American movie The Program (1993), in which college students lay down in the middle of a highway to prove their courage, and then two actual students got killed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania doing the same thing. Although it must be understood that this is not a crime, it shows that if people were prepared to kill themselves after watching a film, then some would be prepared to kill others.
The research of David Phillips regarding the significant increase in the number of incidents following publicised boxing matches, is rather interesting. The greater the publicity, the greater the increase in subsequent homicides. After white boxers lost, more white men but not black men were murdered; after black boxers lost, there were more murders of black men but not white men. This research was regarding publicity in general; it would therefore be unfair to solely blame television, but radio and newspapers as well.
The Media can often provide criminal organisations with extra publicity (IRA and more recently the Taliban) but on the other hand the media can scare potential criminals by using the punishment of similar crimes as an example.
The Robert De Niro film, Taxi Driver is based on the story of a man who attempted to assassinate the president of the United States after watching a similar film on television. Crimes of sex and violence are conceived in two contrasting ways in our country. Firstly we have serial dramas such as ‘The Bill’ and then we have crime prevention programmes such as Crimewatch. There is a difference between the two though. Most people know what a crime is, the same as most people know the difference between wrong and right, even for those people that do know what an immoral act is-they commit the crime for the sake of it.
Children are arguably the most vulnerable when violence in the media is concerned, as when their parents are not around it is the media and other children that they learn from. Therefore if children from middle class backgrounds are over-exposed to visions of sex and violence on television, this can only be a bad thing for society because usually upper-class children are better educated and therefore not allowed to watch such material on television.
Some people see media violence as just harmless entertainment, escapist fare or cathartic diversion. Or that some people have a “taste for violence.” Other people have become used to witnessing thousands of acts of violence on TV, and just deny the problem. Of course people in the media industry deny at any talk of the media amplifying crimes of sex and violence, and reject the evidence of its harmful effects. Their views are self-serving and must be challenged.
It seems that there is no definite relationship between the types of crime shown on television and actual criminal behaviour in society. Many believe that the media as a whole actually helps us become more aware of criminal acts, this subsequently allows us to possibly prevent crimes (Crimewatch). If crimes were not broadcasted in any size or form, then we could just accept them as mechanisms of everyday life- which would most probably be the downfall of modern day society.
Most would argue that the media does go some way to amplifying crimes of sex and violence, but is this necessarily a bad thing? I mean, a crime is a crime after all.