Thursday, March 5, 2009

What the Experts Say...

Prosecutor in Lee Malvo shooting trial, dealt with crime constantly: "What about the millions and millions of young American males who play video games and don't go out and kill random people on the street?"

Surgeon General (2001): "[Studies] suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence... the impact of video games on violent behavior remains to be determined."

Jonathan L. Freedman, Psychologist at University of Toronto: "In some studies, if the people in the violent game condition have more thoughts of aggression than those playing the non-violent game, this is considered an indication that violent games cause aggression. This interpretation is not justified. After eating a huge meal, you probably are thinking about food -- but you are less rather than more likely to want to eat."

Senate committee investigating crime comics: "A competent job of self-policing within the industry will achieve much."

Jeff Kass, author of Columbine: A True Crime Story, extensively researched the Columbine killers: "...Eric and Dylan were not the only ones exposed to the joysticks... The video games did not cause their anger. That came from elsewhere."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Notable Cases

For every instance of bloodshed in entertainment, there has been a naysayer around to criticize it. While this high sensitivity to media violence may seem like an entirely modern invention, this phenomenon has been around for ages. While "ultra-realistic" violent video games and rap music are recent targets, moral panic against controversial arts and entertainment is well-documented. Books, films, and rock-and-roll have all been blamed for corruption of the youth, but one major movement in the past that sticks out is the one against comic books in the 1940s.

The name "Frederic Wertham" is one still infamous to comic book fans. A seemingly reputable psychologist, Wertham was able to change the entire comic industry for decades with his book Seduction of the Innocent. By linking comic books to juvenile delinquency, communism, homosexuality, and other unsavory activities, the book led to massive comic book burnings and the creation of the "Comics Code Authority", which effectively killed the then-popular genre of horror comics. While Wertham's research was flawed (he studied delinquents, but did not contrast them with average comic readers) and his demographics were misjudged (horror comics were primarilly read by soldiers to kill time during the war, not by children), his book forced the entire industry to shift away from the violent tone of the comic book "Golden Age" to the more wholesome, family friendly, and explicitly anti-communist "Silver Age".

And, of course, one cannot bring up the impact of media violence on society without mentioning "Doom", the video game that supposedly inspired the tragic Columbine massacre. Since the perpetrators were both active players of the game (one of them even "modded" the game by coding his own custom levels), the media instantly sought to link these senseless killings to the popular shooting game. Of course, this fails to take into account that one of the killers admitted to using "Doom" to re-enact scenarios that he had already imagined himself, and used it more as an outlet for his "creativity" as opposed to a source of inspiration. And, like all reports blaming media violence for society's ills, this theory fails to take into account the clear mental and emotional issues that the two boys had, which ultimately led to the unfortunate incident.

Blaming the media is nothing new. But nowadays, comic books seem harmless. Batman, the alleged homosexual pedophile and menace to society, is now an iconic fictional character, and the massive panic over crime and horror comics seems silly now. Comics were read by the vast majority of children during the 1940s who grew up just fine. Theories like Dr. Wertham's were ridiculous then and are ridiculous now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pro or Con?

The question at the heart of this topic is: "Does media violence lead to real-world violence?" In this case, the "pro" side believes that violent entertainment causes violent behavior, while the "con" side believes that it does not.


The "pro" side believes that studies have irrefutably proven a link between aggression in children and violence in the media. They claim that violent media glorifies and justifies morally questionable acts, and may teach children not to solve problems through peaceful means. In the case of video games, critics go so far as to claim that the games "program" children to kill by allowing them to simulate their crimes over and over again in the virtual world before taking the violence into the real world. Overall, violent media is said to give children unrealistic views of the world, and make them more fearful than they should be by giving them the impression that the world is a dangerous place full of murder and mayhem. They highly recommend that parents pay close attention to what their children are exposed to and regulate it to prevent any negative impact.


The "con" side, however, believes that other factors contribute to violent behavior much more than fictional scenarios. They frequently cite that millions of people enjoy this kind of entertainment on a daily basis and yet exhibit no violent behavior in the real world. Also, they feel that experimental studies on the effects of media violence have been too flawed to draw accurate data from, since many fail to take into account critical variables and are concentrated mainly on younger children, not adolescents and teenagers. They also feel that the "con" side overlooks outside factors like pre-existing mental health problems, depression, dysfunctional families, and relationships with peers.


For this paper, I will be arguing in favor of the "con" side. The evidence for the "pro" side is somewhat shaky, as many studies only measure short term aggression, and not long-term criminal behavior (although some studies do). The "con" side presents a better argument--one which encompasses many different variables that contribute to situations as difficult to fathom or explain as school shootings and killing sprees. The "pro" side over-simplifies it by placing all the blame on the films, books, television programs, and games that millions of average people are exposed to every day.

Attempts to demonize violent media are not a new trend, and yet media violence is still prevalent. If the public didn't want it around, they would have stopped paying for it a long time ago. In addition to violating the first amendment, censorship of violent media would be illogical. Millions of people see these "corrupting" images every day and haven't gone out and killed their neighbors. Other factors have to be to blame, which is what I seek to prove with my paper.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Almost every form of media has attracted criticism for allegedly glorifying violence. From comic books, which underwent strict regulation in the 1950s after the book Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Frederic Wertham linked them to juvenile delinquency, to violent video games, which have been under fire for possibly contributing to certain infamous school shootings, almost every form of entertainment popular with young people has been deemed a corrupting influence by detractors.

But is this truly the case? In a word where the latest Grand Theft Auto sells millions of copies worldwide, can one truly link highly prevalent media to extremely rare instances of murder? Does the continuing presence of violence in the media truly diminish people's abilities to distinguish fantasy from reality?

Hopefully, through this research, I will be able to come to a conclusion as to whether or not the claims of the media corrupting youth have any merit to them.