One of the biggest debates in today’s society is whether Violent Media can be accused for Human Misconduct. Violent Media can be defined as visual portrayals of acts of physical aggression by one human or human-like character against another (Huesmann, 2007) but this isn’t exclusive to solely visuals, as its been noted that even violent lyrics in Music can lead to aggressive acts (Fischer, 2006). In fact, this can be through any source of media that consumers can consume any information that depicts violence. Violent Media dates back to the 1600s, around the time where Newspapers came into fruition during the Medieval Days (Stephens, 2012). A few hundred years later, it became the main source of violent propaganda during both World War 1 and 2. Violent Media is still used today, and it can be argued that it’s one of the main contributors for Human Misconduct.
Violent Media saw a huge increase, particularly in the 20th Century. In the 1920s, Movies were becoming popular. However, there was a rise in concern for content in some Films. There were worries over the effect that Movie Depictions of Sex & Violence had on Children. Members of the Public put it to the Film Industry to act on this. Organizations had carried out studies amongst Children and Young Prominent Scholars from the late 1920s to the early 1930s to delve into the impact that these Movie Scenes have on them. In many of these Studies, People had been reported as having imitated Movie Characters and having fused Scenarios from Movies as part of their play behavior and everyday lives as Children. A perfect example of the results of these Studies can be taken from The Payne Fund. The Payne Fund is a privately funded foundation in the US and provided needed funding that the US Government wasn’t funding at the time. The Studies carried out by The Payne Fund showed that more than an overwhelming “75 Percent – of the fifteen hundred films that were studied could be categorized as dealing with crime, sex or love.” Most of the respondents in the Study also displayed a huge influence of the Crime Scenes on their everyday lives (Blumer, 1933). In the early 20th Century, the Viewership of this sort of content throughout Film & TV was very new and possibly exciting for Viewers so the impact this had on Viewers would’ve made for it to influence society to act in certain ways in Public. To add to this, there was very little censorship on Content.
The 1950s saw a significant rise in youth crime and juvenile delinquency. Governments started to discuss violence in Radio & Television, and it’s influence on Children & Youth. By this time, Television Licenses were granted to just over 2 Million Members of the British Public (Vahimagi, 2014). This shows that very few had access to a Television, and Youths particularly could have shown an interest in taking inspiration from what they had seen on TV. This issue with Youth Crime continued through both the 1960s and the 1970s. In 1969, the Report of National Commission on the Causes mid-Prevention of Violence declared TV Violence as one of the contributors to Society’s Violence Problem. In the 70s, Court Cases investigated the liability of TV in cases of real Violence. Domestic Violence became an increasing concern in this decade. This was the time where “words like ‘domestic violence’ and ‘battered women’ were coined, illustrating the fact that this was a social, not just a private, problem (Ashcraft, 2000: 3; Loseke & Cahill, 1984: 296; Yllö, 1990: 39). From this, Domestic Violence entered the Media and the number of reports of these incidents peaked heading into the 1980s. However, early into the rise of Domestic Violence, there were inaccurate reports or reports in an unrepresentative way (Dobash & Dobash, 1992) (McManus & Dorfman, 2003).
The 1980s saw the real rise in Media Violence. Moral Panics were high due to the new Violent Video Game releases. Examples include ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ released in 1983 which received many complaints from the Public as being very distasteful and gory, and setting poor examples for the Children that inevitably ended up playing the Game. The Video Game and Film Industry also coincided with each other when it came to Violent Content. One of the biggest instances of this came with both ‘Halloween’ the Horror/Thriller Movie that came with a Video Game based on such. Both Games contained enough Adult Themes and Violent Scenes to have it removed from Store Shelves. Some businesses even “refused to stock it completely, or in some cases, hidden the Games behind the Counter” (Lamble, 2013). There was an eruption of Protests for such Games to be completely banned set up by Parents and Family Members concerned for the Content that their Children were viewing and indulging themselves in to, particularly in 1983, for the Games mentioned and in particular, ‘Custer’s Revenge’.
One of the most Violent Games ever to have been reported is the 1993 Game, ‘Night Trap’ was one of the most talked-about issues in the December of that Year. It was cited as ‘shameful, ‘ultra-violent, ‘sick’ and ‘disgusting’. It was also described as “encouraging an effort to trap and kill Women.” Officials in the Government found disgust at scenes involving one of the leading Female Characters, ‘Lisa’. They felt this was very insensitive and distasteful and provided an awful outlook on how Women in Society should be treated. Another game focusing on in the 1993 Discussions between Parliaments was ‘Mortal Kombat’, described as the first Video Game to feature lifelike, realistic Violence. However, unlike the previously mentioned Games, this Game managed to stay in Stores as around this time, there was the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Broad (ESRB) in 1994. They overturned the potential government regulation, and instead assigned age and content ratings to Game Releases.
Towards the latter half of the 90s, Violent Games & Media started to be treated as much more of a legal issue. Jack Thompson, an Anti-Video Games Activist and Attorney, filed the first of what was soon to be a huge number of Lawsuits claiming that Video Games were largely responsible for violence perpetrated by Teenagers. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Parents of 3 Children that were killed in the Shootings at the Heath High School in the US in 1997. The Investigations carried on the Perpetrator showed that they had regularly played various Computer Games that depicted Violence and accessed pornographic websites and owned a Videotape of “The Basketball Diaries” which depicts a High School Student thinking about shooting his Teacher and Classmates. The Lawsuit claimed that the Producers of all this Content were ignorant to how distributing this content to a Minor would desensitize them and make them more prone to Violent Behaviour. Violent Media in Video Games has also been a huge catalyst in conversations for tragic events such as the Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. A common occurrence in these Events were that the Suspects were exposed to Violent Media at Home through Films and Games (National Coalition Against Censorship, 2012). In 2003, both Ofcom (The Office of Communications) and PEGI (Pan European Game Information) were set up to regulate TV & Radio and Gaming respectively.
There are a few Theories that had been set up to find a common correlation between Violent Media and Human Misconduct. The Social Learning Theory, set up by Albert Bandura, set out to prove that Children could possibly become aggressive from seeing others do the same (Bryant, 2008). Bandura showed Children a Video of an Aggressive Model and the Model messed around with tinker toys but then changed their focus to a Bobo Doll and became violent towards it. They punched, tossed it and kicked it. Verbal Comments were also made. They then left the Children in a room with a Bobo Doll to see if they too will act in the same way they had seen from the Model. It was found that the Children involved in the experiment acted exactly how they witnessed in the Video. However, with this came criticism as it is difficult to generalize from aggression to a Bobo Doll, which is intended to be hit, to person-on-person Violence. Because of this, another Theory built on Social Learning Theory. This is known as the Social Cognitive Theory and suggests that aggression could possibly be caused by learning and equipping aggressive scripts. It is believed in this Theory that repeated exposure to Media Violence can cause emotional adjustment so that anxiety and disgust levels weaken or completely diminish. An example of this could be from a 2016 Study where a group of College Students were randomly assigned to either a Non-Violent or a Violent Video Game for 20 Minutes, and then were shown a 10 Minute Video of Real-Life Violence. The results of this shown that the Students that played the Violent Video Game were less affected and less sensitive to the viewing, as opposed to those who played the Non-Violent Game. Social Cognitive Theory has been argued to be the most powerful example of Media Violence Effects for many Years, despite criticism (Freedman, 2002; Savage, 2004) on how these Theories are outdated and should therefore be retired (Ferguson, 2012).
Another Theory to make note of relating to the possible link between Media Violence and Human Misconduct is the Moral Panic Theory. This suggests that concerns about new media are outdated and recurrent. It’s believed through this Theory that a society predetermines a negative view on a new medium that most typically is not used by the elder generations and the most powerful members of society (Gauntlett, 2005). Studies and Research Positions by Intellectuals and Politicians mostly confirm the pre-existing belief, as opposed to dispassionately observing and evaluating the issue. Eventually, the panic thins out over several years or decades, but they resurface when another new medium is introduced. From my findings, I can tell that Violent Media is most definitely a huge catalyst in the rise of everyday Human Misconduct, both in small levels and in extreme cases. However, my research into the Theories involved in Violent Media can show that it’s loose to say that all real-life violence can be stemmed from what suspects have seen through TV, Film or Video Games. This last decade particularly has seen a rise in crime, particularly involving youths that have been exposed to Violence in the Media and that has been a common finding in most cases involving Youth. Research conducted in 2017 had shown that Social Media is also a big cause in promoting and inciting gang culture and violence (Peterson, 2017). With the rise in toxic politics and culture particularly today with issues such as the Brexit debate, this evidence can be linked to much of the left-wing and right-wing members of society having toxic disagreements, particularly in an online world. This is also in my opinion, a direct result from Television Propaganda.
In conclusion, I have found that there is a huge correlation between Media Violence and real-life Human Misconduct. I also, however, don’t think that the Media is the sole cause for Violence. The People we surround ourselves with can also be impactful on the way we act in society. Also, Violent Media cannot excuse any wrongdoings. We all individually choose to be influenced by different things and if we have chosen to be influenced by Violence we’ve seen through the Media or People we surround ourselves with, that’s very much on our own selves and is not a way to justify our ill actions. A huge part of our mental health is what we consume and I think we have to determine what is right for us and what we need to let go of before we become affected by those particular sources, and become much more dangerous to be around, and become a bad influence on others.