A child being hit in the face with a shovel, “I Kill Children,” and 194 acts of violence. Do you envision these as at the most violent end of the spectrum, things that occur in the worst examples of violent media productions? Think again. These three examples are taken directly from a popular prime time TV sitcom shown on a family channel, the title of a popular song sung by a popular band, and a recent children’s movie with a PG rating.
While parents will argue that kids are busier now than they have ever been in the past with school and extracurricular activities, the reality is that our children watch approximately 2 1/2 hours a day of television. By the time they are 18, they will have seen 250,000 acts of violence and 40,000 attempted murders on television alone. Children’s cartoons average 20-25 acts of violence per hour. This eventually results in children becoming desensitized to violence, leading to a feeling that it is a socially acceptable and credible way to respond to a frustration or as a way to retaliate. These same children who are lead to believe that violence is condoned through violence in television learn to: Solve arguments through violence, pretend people don’t suffer or die, make boys seem more important than girls. In 1972, our country’s first major study of the effects of TV violence by the U.S. Surgeon General states that “televised violence, indeed, does have an adverse effect on certain members of our society.”
Park Elliott Dietz, a University of Virginia Professor of Psychiatry, believes that “some violent films inspire imitation, but the cases, while persuasive, are small and limited.” Hard to believe when we are made aware that one out of every Hollywood film depicts a rape theme. Many experts believe that slasher films with their brutality towards women may play a contributing factor in date rape, one of the most common adolescent sexual crimes. But violence in movies seems to be supported by the public. In 1990’s biggest opening weekend box office draw, “Total Recall,” a violent action movie, grossed $25.5 million. Just five days later, “The Little Mermaid,” an animated movie, earned just $6.5 million. John Grisham, a popular and accomplished writer of international fame, feels that there are only two ways to rein in Hollywood and their making of violent films. One is for the public to ban together and boycott these violent films and the other is lawsuits, litigation that would hold filmmakers and their studios responsible for the material they produce. He would make them pay a high price for doing so (hitting them where it counts, in their wallets), and would therefore make them think twice about these violent films in the first place. Until that is successful, Hollywood will continue to satisfy its viewers’ violent appetites in response to such monetary support.
Not to be forgotten, the music scene also plays a role in infusing violence into our society. Thomas J. Jipping of the “Free Congress” reports that the average teenager listens to four to five hours of music a day. A recent study at the University of Florida found that “90% of young heavy metal fans know all or most of the words to their favorite songs and that 60% agree often or always with those words.” When you consider some of these songs have titles such as “Bodily Dismemberment,” “Kill For Pleasure,” and She Likes It Rough,” it is easy to see how violence can adversely affect our children. The National Education Association “links many of the annual teen suicides to depression fueled by fatalistic music and lyrics.”
So what effect does all this readily-available violence have on our society? Research shows that teens and young adults who watch more than an hour a day of television are four times more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than those who watch less or none at all. Researchers found that 29% of 14-year-olds who watched TV for more than three hours a day went on to commit violent acts in their late teens and 20s. A national survey of juveniles and young adults in long-term juvenile institutions show that nearly 40% are being held for violent crimes with more than 60% of that number ranging in age from 15 to 17 – our country’s youth.
So, should we, as a nation, bury our heads in the sand to the explosion of violence in all forms media as we have in the past and ultimately be prepared for the consequences or do we admit it is there and admit that there is a link between this violence and the escalating crime in our country? Some would say there is not enough evidence to prove there is a link. With these kinds of numbers to support this link and with the common knowledge that our children are exposed more and more to television and film and music and therefore learning from these types of media, I think we need to heed the statement by Dr. Arnold Goldstein, director for the Center for Research on Aggression at Syracuse University: “The evidence is very consistent that catharsis is a myth and that aggression is like other behavior. It is mostly learned.”