TV heroes endorse tanks of noxious,flesh-eating gas The complex age of elaborate laptops, portable color televisions in every room, and pocket radios the size of a basic calculator have all taken their toll on American society. In a furious outburst reflecting the contemporary society in which we live, television has come to represent all that is evil and wicked for our children. Through gruesome, explicit, and often unrealistic portrayals of death and violence, the impressionable clay of our children’s minds are being molded into vicious statues incapable of comprehending the gap between what is real and what is injurious. What you see is what you get has taken on an all too terrifying reality. It’s not just an escapist ideal, denial, or unavailable evidence that define why people equate violence on TV with the violence in their lives and in other Americans lives. It’s a founded and plausible justification. Over 1,000 detailed studies confirm this link. Advanced scientific research illustrates the horrific results we hate to hear: television is bad for kids. Our electronic babysitter has reached the end of her employment – she shoots out too many intensely violent acts in a surprisingly perfunctory way. Leonard Eron, PhD at the University of Illinois, conducted a close study of television viewing from age 5 to age 30. The results hurt our television-loving brains: the more hours of television violence viewed, the more the tendency for aggressive behavior in teenage years becomes as does the likelihood of criminal acts and arrest in later years. Brandon Centerwell, professor at the University of Washington, depicted the doubling of the homicide rate after the introduction of television. Imitation, an austere reality which we are forced to accept, can be seen everywhere. The gory bloodbath at Luby’s Cafeteria, which left 21 dead, was rooted in the killer’s passion for the movie The Fischer King as was the impact of Stephen King’s works that gave inspiration for a 17-year-old boy to shoot his teacher and hold the class hostage. Even the colossal resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s can be associated with media. Children in an ambience of intensive violent media become desensitized to violent acts, clearing a path towards an apathetic stance towards violence as an adult. Also, this milieu of gargantuan helpings of fevered violence leads to profoundly aggressive behavior as an adult and the ghastly fear of the world around them. And unfortunately, it’s an indisputable fact that violence sells in the 90’s. turn on the television during prime time and right away a throng of gruesome programs amasses you from Extreme Wrestling to CNN news. When’s the last time you heard something positive on the news as opposed to civil war in Europe, the death of an inner-city youth by a rival gang, or the brutal rape and murder of a child by their parent? Perhaps the news contributes more than just an insightful knowledge of events. Perhaps Columbine copycats and school bomb threats may never have arisen if the entire world hadn’t witnessed the blood-soaked terrors via cable television. An early study performed by Liebert and Baron in 1972 concedes that the willingness of a child to harm another child is increased by the intake of violence-charged television programming. Cartoon superhero contributors of this belligerent behavior include the seemingly unlikely Superman and Batman. Differentiating between fantasy and reality remains especially perplexing for children under the age of 8. Like sponges, they absorb but don’t distinguish. We wonder why there exists this bellicose disposition among Americans, a characteristic prevalent more so here than in any other country. Could it be that media violence has evolved into an intricate art where the more money and computer graphics spent on the mind-blowing action exhibitions makes all the difference in profit? Could it be that the artificial death spectacles and mass slaughter of insignificant characters desensitizes us to the finality and reality of what death is actually like? Or could it be that the ultimate human demise in the movies is now more like a choreographed dance number with intricate moves and creative turns than a dramatic conclusiveness of life? When will Americans do something about this horrid and grotesque tragedy and take steps towards curing this vicious social plague? Each person who monitors the inlet of violent television his or her child watches or who stands up against the flourishing climate of extravagant violence makes a difference. A starting point may only be a little beginning, but all great reforms found their origin here.
UNESCO’S GLOBAL MEDIA VIOLENCE SURVEY
The range of media to which children have access has grown rapidly in this generation. Take the books, newspapers,
magazines, films, radio, tapes, records, and broadcast television familiar to children of the previous generation, then add
dozens of cable t.v. channels, thousands of videos and video games, and millions of Internet sites. The result is a dense
electronic bath in which children are immersed daily. This is true not only in the industrialized countries but increasingly in
all societies of the world.
What is the impact of this new environment on children, and what is the particular effect of images of violence in the media?
To address this question, in i996 and i997 UNESCO conducted the Global Media Violence Survey. More than 5,000
12-year-old students in 93 countries participated, representing all regions of the world and a broad variety of cultural, social,
and economic conditions, from countries like Canada andjapan to high-crime neighbourhoods in Brazil and war-ravaged
countries like Angola and Tajikistan. Under the supervision of Drjo Groebel of Utrecht University, the study aimed to
understand the role of media in the lives of children and the relationship between media violence and aggressive behaviour
among children in different settings.
The study found that 93% of students who live in electrified urban or rural areas have regular access to television and watch
it for an average of three hours a day. This is at least So% more than the time spent on any other out-of-school activity,
including homework, being with friends, or reading. There is little doubt that television is the most important medium in the
lives of children almost everywhere in the world.
Television, videos, and video games expose children to high levels of violent images on a daily basis. In many countries,
there is an average of five to ten aggressive acts per hour of television. Does this violence affect children’s behaviour? The
study found evidence for a hypothesis called the “compass theory.” Depending on a child’s existing experiences, values, and
the cultural environment, media content offers an orientation, a frame of reference which determines the direction of the
child’s own behaviour. The child does not necessarily adopt the behaviour portrayed, but the media images provide a
model, a standard for what may be considered normal and acceptable.
The study found that aggressive male heroes fascinated boys in all cultures. Arnold Schwarznegger’s “Terminator” is known
by 88% of the world’s i2-year-olds, whether in India, Brazil, or Japan. Boys chose action heroes as their role models more
frequently than any other category of media image. The trend was especially strong among boys in high-crime
neighbourhoods and war zones. Girls, by contrast, tended to choose pop stars as their role models.
The study found evidence that media images reinforce the experiences of children in their real-life environments. Almost
half (44%) of both boys and girls reported a strong overlap between what they perceive as reality and what they see on the
screen. Many children experience both real and media environments in which violence appears to be natural and the most
effective solution to life’s problems. Where violence is not a feature of daily life, media portrayals may make it appear to be
thrilling, especially when presented out of context.
ATTEMPTS TO REGULATE THE MEDIA
The UNESCO study is a major contribution to the growing body of evidence that violence in the media does have a harmful
impact on children, recognizing that this effect can vary by gender and by the kind of surroundings in which children are
living. Many countries of the world have taken steps to introduce regulations, or to pressure the media to adopt forms of
self-regulation, to curb the level and amount of violence to which children are exposed on television. The United States has
made it mandatory that V-chips be included in all new television sets sold in the country. These allow parents to program
their television sets to screen out broadcasts rated above a certain level for violent or erotic material. Canada has introduced
a code of ethics for broadcasters that is now a condition of licensing by the Canadian Ratio-Television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
There are problems with these approaches, however. Government regulations raise concerns about state censorship, and
voluntary codes of ethics are unsatisfactory in a medium driven by ratings and fierce competition for advertising revenue.
Moreover, the V-chip is unlikely to defeat any determined 12-year-old intent on watching a t.v. program when parents are
absent. Among experts, a new consensus has been emerging that emphasizes media education, at home and in school, to
promote critical thinking by youth in relation to all information and images they receive through the media.
AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH: FOSTERING CRITICAL USE OF THE MEDIA
Canada’s Media Awareness Network provides resources to parents, teachers, community leaders, and students themselves
to promote critical analysis of media content. Teachers can go to its Web site for curriculum materials and lesson plans.
Parents can get advice on teaching their children about media messages and establishing good media entertainment habits.
The site also provides information on classification systems and guidelines for movies, television, video games and the
Internet. There is also a wealth of information about reports, articles, parenting books, pamphlets and handouts to support
media awareness in the home and community.
In May, 1999, the CRTC released a milestone report in which it rejected a strategy of attempting to regulate content on the
Internet and endorsed the approach of the Media Awareness Network to foster critical use of all media. The CRTC
recognized that, in the hands of new media users, “awareness and knowledge can be a powerful tool.” Its report cites the
Media Awareness Network as an organization that is “dedicated to media education and media issues affecting children and
youth,” and directs users to its Internet site at www.media-awareness.ca.
UNESCO has established the International Clearing House on Children and Violence on the Screen at the University of
Gothenburg in Sweden. Its main task is to provide data of every kind on children and media violence to people who need it:
researchers, decision-makers, media professionals, academics, voluntary agencies, and interested individuals. It gathers and
distributes research findings, teaching materials, positive alternatives to media violence, and information on measures taken
in different countries to limit violence on television, in films, and in the interactive media.
ABUSE OF CHILDREN ON THE INTERNET
A similar network is now taking shape around the issue of sexual abuse of children, child pornography, and paedophilia on
the Internet. It is made up of specialists in child care and child protection, Internet specialists and service providers, media
practitioners, law enforcement agencies, and government representatives. Like the network on children and media violence,
it aims to promote the exchange of information and co-operation among groups concerned with child rights. It plans to
broaden its membership to include parents associations, teachers, and other civic groups.
THE AIM OF EDUCATION IS to make people active and critical thinkers. Are you critical enough in relation to the media surrounding your daily
life? Ultimately, this is the only way that a young person can grow up to be an informed and active citizen in a democratic society.
Children educated to analyze media content learn to recognize the contradiction between their taste for violence on television and their rejection of it in
real life. Media education also allows children to become active producers of media content, to learn the methods and language of the media, and to use
it in a healthy way as a vehicle way as a vehicle for their own self-expression.
The Web site of the UNESCO International Clearing House on Children and Violence on the Screen is
The killings in the Littleton, Colorado high school have sparked a wave of soul-searching over whether the
entertainment industry is partly responsible for creating a “culture of violence.” Predictably, there are also
questions about the meaning of the First Amendment. Can there be too much of a good thing? Does the First
Amendment really protect all the blood and gore that is splattered on our TV and movie screens?
The simple answer is “Yes.” Of course the First Amendment protects violent imagery. Otherwise, think of all
the things that would be vulnerable to censorship: the Bible, the Iliad; Agamemnon, Faulkner’s Light in
August, and James Dickey’s Deliverance; films such as Schindler’s List, Paths of Glory, and Apocalypse
Now; art like The Rape of the Sabine Women, Picasso’s Guernica, and most religious art graphically
depicting the Crucifixion; theatre, ranging from Shakespeare (MacBeth, Henry V, Titus Andronicus) to the
Punch and Judy Show. And we haven’t even gotten around to the evening news.
Violence has been a feature of high and low-brow entertainment throughout recorded history. From the Roman
Circus to the wrestling match, humans have shown a fascination with violence and a desire to observe it,
sometimes in safely simulated versions, and sometimes confronting the real thing—as with public executions,
which have been a “spectator sport” at various times and places. Perhaps this should not be surprising, given
that violence, pain, and suffering is a familiar, if terrifying, part of everyday life. No wonder artists and
ordinary people struggle with it, and dwell on it in art, entertainment, and fantasies.
Some people draw a distinction between “gratuitous” violence and violence which is used to convey a
message. They might approve of Saving Private Ryan or Clockwork Orange, but balk at the Texas Chain
Saw Massacre or Natural Born Killers. These movies may receive the same rating, but as everyone knows,
ratings can’t distinguish between “good” and “bad” violence. Often, that judgment is in the eye of the
beholder. Even if it weren’t, who would decide for all?
H.L. Mencken once observed that for every complex problem there’s a simple solution, and it’s always
wrong. That pretty well sums up the problem with the current attack on violence in the media. Which isn’t to
say that the industry couldn’t improve its product in ways that would make these attacks less frequent and less
credible. Having a right to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it. The First Amendment allows
entertainment pitched to the lowest common denominator, but certainly doesn’t require it.
Which came first? The chicken or the egg? This has been the central issue concerning violence in the media for years
and years. Does violence in life imitate violence in art? Or, does violence in art derive from violence in life? Also, how
do we curtail the random acts of violence within our society? Does the answer lie in the cessation of violence in art?
Are the violent acts depicted on TV responsible for our violent behavior? The answer is an emphatic “NO”. The
escalation of belligerent activity in American society is a symptom of deteriorated value systems and poor parental
Even a cursory survey of history will reveal that violence definitively preceded the modern day media. Emperor Nero
found it amusing to light his garden parties with the burning corpses of Christians.1 AD 37 marked the emergence of
Gaius Caesar Caligula as the ruler of Rome. He brutally crucified hundreds of people, murdered members of the
aristocracy to acquire their funds, and reveled in torturing sons while their fathers watched.2 The 16th century czar of
Russia, Ivan Grozny, sadistically decimated 30,000 of his own subjects at the siege of NovGorod.3 At the battle of
Verdun, beginning on February 21,1916, the world witnessed, for ten long months, a constant rain of shooting, shelling,
and clouds of poison gas. After one million French and German casualties, the battle lines were essentially unchanged.4
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no
new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
Since violence is not a novelty and TV, relatively, is, TV cannot be responsible for the creation of violence. What,
then, are the origins of violence? Our use and affinity for violence derives from its necessity. The survival instinct, the
intense desire for self-preservation, leads, ultimately to greed for power. After all, power is, in essence, a state of very
comfortable survival. Also, power serves to ensure survival for the future. Violence is exercised as the most common
mechanism for attaining power. Anytime one can cripple his competition, or even eliminate his competitor, he gains
more power. Thus, stemming from the oldest and most central instinct of man, violence is fundamental. In Heart of
Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a journey along the rivers of Africa, the birthplace of all life, leads to a journey of the
soul as well. The main character comes to the realization that the intrinsic nature of man is, indeed, a heart of
Whether we admit it to ourselves consciously or not, violence is entertaining. In football, it’s the elated cry, “Did you
see that ‘bone-crushing’ hit?” In boxing, we enjoy watching two men fist-fight until one of them no longer stands.
Many pay a premium to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championships, a no-holds barred competition, where the winner
is determined by either knockout or submission. The participants engage in bloody, bone breaking, full contact combat,
with no protective equipment. The fact that there have been nearly seven of these competitions speaks to its growing
popularity and appeal to our deeper desires. Finally, the primary example of our pleasure in violence is professional
wrestling. What other reason is there for its popularity? If not for violence, why would one watch a “sport” which is so
obviously rehearsed and prearranged?
Television is a business. They earn their paychecks on advertisement revenue. Advertisers want to reach as large an
audience as possible. Therefore, they shell out the big bucks to the station that can achieve that goal for them. Thus,
television stations are obligated to their shareholders to maximize their profits. They do not air violence because they
want to. They air it because that is what sells. The blame is upon ourselves for the large volume of violence, since they
are merely responding to what we want. TV is a mirror. It reflects the belligerence permeating throughout our society.
Our society teems with random acts of violence. Why? Is the media to blame? No, violence is a symptom of the more
pungent disease of crumbling value systems. It emanates from a motion towards the emulation of the lower class. Ask
anyone where they’re from, and either they will answer with tremendous pride that they hail from Compton, Brooklyn,
Queens, etc., or they will sheepishly answer in a covered voice that they are from Beverly Hills, Palos Verdes, Aspen,
etc. Why are the rich vilified and the poor honored? The music our generation listens to speaks of murder, abuse of
drugs, apathy, and helplessness. These are essentially the values of the ghetto, where it’s kill or be killed, where it’s
unlikely you will get out, where drug deals and drug abuse abound. The “victim” syndrome evolves from these values.
Affirmative action, quota systems in business, and frivolous law suits abound in this environment of the “I’m a victim”
The devastating riots during the spring of 1992, which ravaged the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto
were actually condoned and even praised by the journalistic media. They viewed the damage as a just recompense for
the economic deprivation of the lower class. The perpetrators in the riots learned an important lesson. They were
taught that, if one is a victim, it is not only permissible to steal and vandalize, but it is even considered laudable
behavior. In a more subtle fashion, Washington has raised the upper income tax bracket so high, that many people,
close to entering it, purposely decline the raise that would put them over the line. They no longer seek to rise higher,
because they would be earning less money if they did. This creates a negative incentive, a reward for mediocrity and
unfulfilled potentials. Society has quietly been promoting aspirations of victimhood and indolence.
One ramification of the ghetto mentality is the prevalence of random acts of violence. When escapism abounds, when
hope is lost, when there is nothing you can do, the long term future is forgotten. Why invest now in a future you might
never see? The long term penalties for violent behavior are forgotten. Furthermore, the “victim”, in the tradition of
Robin Hood, rationalizes their crimes. Short term gratification becomes the primary focus of life. What greater
intrinsic joy is there than the imposition of power? Violence is the easiest tool to achieve that power. According to the
second law of thermodynamics, all things tend to traverse from order to disorder. Therefore, great energy and effort
must be put into creating an object of complex order. To destroy someone else’s creation requires very little energy
and almost no effort. Thus, violent acts are an extremely expedient and rewarding method of exercising power.
These deleterious values have engendered disturbing trends in our modern society. From 1960-1992, this country has
witnessed a 41% population increase. However, also during this time frame, the number of violent crimes has
increased by more than 550%.5 During the two year stretch from 1990-1992, more than 90,000 people were murdered,
this is twice the number of American casualties during the entire Vietnam conflict.5 The murder rate of juveniles (ages
10-17) more than doubled from 1976 to 1992.5 Clearly, the escalation of violence on American soil has only worsened
since 1992. Terrifying statistics and stories pour in daily. Hope remains however. “The rate of violent crime in the
United States is worse than in any industrialized country. The United States’ homicide rate is more than five times
that of Europe, and four times that of Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. In addition, the rate at which rapes occur in
the United States is nearly seven times higher than it is in Europe.”5
This quotation suggests that we, Americans, could learn something from the other nations in the world. For example,
the “anime” cartoons of Japan far exceed the violence in American media. “Anime” depicts graphic, life-like
decapitations, executions at gun point, violent fist-fighting, and all types of explosive related death. However, their
problems with violence in their society are also much understated, compared with the situation here, in America.
Similarly, the Hong Kong director John Woo produces films which glorify violence in aesthetic choreography. In his
movies, hundreds of people are killed. The copy in an advertisement promoting his film, The Killer, summarizes the
movie as: “One bad hitman. One good cop. Ten thousand bullets.” Likewise, Hong Kong’s violence problem remains
far undersized in relation to our own. These facts cogently reinforce the reality that violence in media does not
produce violence in society. Then, why does this disparity exist between ourselves and Asia?
“Punches and kicks are tools to kill the ego. The tools represent the force of intuitive or instinctive directness which,
unlike the intellect or the complicated ego, does not divide itself, blocking its own freedom. The tools move onward
without looking back or to the side. Because of the pure-heartedness and empty-mindedness inherent in man, his tools
partake of these qualities and play their role with the utmost degree of freedom. The tools stand as symbols of the
invisible spirit, keeping the mind, body and limbs in full activity.”6
Common to all the countries of the Pacific rim, martial arts have been deeply entrenched into the culture. Asians view
violence as something which needs to be controlled and ultimately mastered. Through years of self-discipline, through
exercising violence in a regulated environment, the long term effects of violence are realized. This translates into a
deeper understanding of the ramifications involved in violent acts.
In terms of society, martial arts bring violence to the surface. Instead of the taboos which we hold in our country,
violence is discussed and, more importantly, taught to the young. How can we possibly fix a problem, when it is not
even seen? To repair the violence problem in the US, we must cease hiding the issue from our eyes.
Once the disease has been identified and diagnosed, its cure does not lie in a treatment of its symptoms. A doctor
cannot cure a patient of chicken pox by merely scraping the offending marks from the skin. This superficial solution
would be laughed at amongst the medical community. Successful treatment begins with attacking and ultimately
eliminating the virus itself. Then, the body will be able to heal itself. The same is true in society. TV is merely a
symptom of violence in life. Once our value systems, akin to a virus, are reevaluated and altered, only then can society
begin to improve.
Violence is everywhere. It is an impossibility to avoid it. Refusal to address the issue will not solve it. The parents must
stop allowing TV to be the baby-sitter and sole educator of their children. TV is a medium for entertainment, not
instruction. The parents must seize responsibility of properly raising their children. Herein lies the solution. Do not
look to TV land for salvation, because it stands like a mirror, reflecting your image. Just as one cannot complain to a
mirror that one is too fat or too ugly, one cannot impugn TV for our own evils.
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