Dec. 13, 1996
One Saturday morning many years ago, I was watching an episode of the
Roadrunner’ on television. As Wile E. Coyote was pushed off of a cliff by the
Roadrunner for the fourth or fifth time, I started laughing uncontrollably. I
then watched a Bugs Bunny’ show and started laughing whenever I saw Elmer Fudd
shoot Daffy Duck and his bill went twirling around his head. The next day, I
pushed my brother off of a cliff and shot my dog to see if its head would twirl
Obviously, that last sentence is not true. Some people believe that
violence on the tube is one of the main factors that leads to real-life violence,
but in my opinion, television is just a minor factor that leads to real-life
violence and that it is the parents responsibility to teach kids the difference.
According to Rathus in Psychology in the New Millennium, observational
learning may account for most human learning (239). Observational learning
extends to observing parents and peers, classroom learning, reading books, and
learning from media such as television and films. Nearly all of us have been
exposed to television, videotapes, and films in the classroom. Children in day-
care centers often watch Sesame Street. There are filmed and videotaped
versions of great works of literature such as Orson Welles’ Macbeth.Nearly
every school shows films of laboratory experiments.
But what of our viewing outside of the classroom? Television is also
one of our major sources of informal observational learning. According to Sweet
and Singh, viewing habits range from the child who watches no television at all
to the child who is in front of the television nearly all waking hours. They
say that on average, children aged 2 to 11 watch about 23 hours of television
per week, and teenagers watch about 22 hours per week (2). According to these
figures, children spend less time in the classroom than they do watching
television. During these hours of
viewing, children are constantly being shown acts of violence.
Why? Simple: violence sells.
People are drawn to violence in films, television dramas, books,
professional wrestling and boxing, and reports of crime and warfare. Does
violence do more than sell, however? Do media portrayals of violence beget
violence in the streets and in the home?
It seems clear enough that there are connections between violence in the
media and real violence. In the 1990’s, for example, audiences at films about
violent urban youth such as Colors, Boyz N the Hood, and Juice have gotten into
fights, shot one another, and gone on rampages after the showings. The MTV
cartoon characters, Beavis and Butt-head, who comment on rock videos and burn
and destroy things, may have been connected with the death of a 2-year-old and a
burned room in Ohio.The victims 5-year-old brother, who set the blaze that
killed the 2-year-old, had begun playing with fire after he observed Beavis and
Butt-head to say that fire is fun. A few more examples are shown on the picture
to the left (Leland 47). Obviously, these are just a few isolated incidents.
If everyone acted this way after watching violence then we would really have a
Children are routinely exposed to murders, beatings, and sexual assaults
just by turning on the television set. The public is wary of it, of course.
Psychologists, educators, and parent groups have raised many questions about the
effects of media violence. For example, does media violence cause real
violence? If there are causal connections between media violence and real
violence, what can parents and educators do to prevent the fictional from
spilling over into the real world?
Media violence affects children through observational learning,
disinhibition, increasing arousal and priming aggressive thoughts, and
desensitization. The Mean World Syndrome, which suggests that children who
watch a lot of violence on television may begin to believe that the world is as
mean and dangerous in real life as it appears on television, and hence, they
begin to view the world as a much more mean and dangerous place, is another way
in which media violence affects children (Murray 9).
Children learn from observing the behavior of their parents and other
adults. Television violence supplies models of aggressive skills.
Acquisition of these skills, in turn, enhances children’s aggressive
competencies. In fact, children are more likely to imitate what their parents
do than heed what they say. If adults say they disapprove of aggression but
smash furniture or slap each other when frustrated, children are likely to
develop the notion that aggression is the way to handle frustration. Classic
experiments have shown that children tend to imitate the aggressive behavior
they see on television, whether the models are cartoons or real people. In one
such experiment, a child watches a film where an adult beats up on a life-size
doll. The child is then put in a room with the same doll and is observed. The
child almost always beats up on the doll in the same ways as seen in the film.
The expression of skills may be inhibited by punishment or by the
expectation of punishment. Conversely, media violence may disinhibit the
expression of aggressive impulses that would otherwise have been controlled,
especially when media characters get away with violence or are rewarded for it.
73% of violent acts in programs went unpunished (Telecommunications: Clinton
Backs Antiviolence Chip 536).
Media violence and aggressive video games increase viewers’ levels of
arousal. In the vernacular, television works them up. We are more likely to
engage in dominant forms of behavior, including aggressive behavior, under high
levels of arousal. Media violence has cognitive effects that also prime
aggressive ideas and memories. Media violence provides scripts , or ideas on
how to behave in situations that seem to parallel those they have observed.
Desensitization suggests that children who watch a lot of violence on
television may become less sensitive to violence in the real world around them,
less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and more willing to tolerate
ever-increasing levels of violence in our society. We become used to, or
habituated to, many stimuli that impinge on us repeatedly. Repeated exposure to
television violence may therefore decrease viewers’ emotional response to real
violence. If children come to perceive violence as the norm, their own
attitudes toward violence may become less condemnatory and they may place less
value on constraining aggressive urges.
The question repeatedly arises as to whether media violence should be
curtailed in an effort to stem community violence. Because of constitutional
guarantees of free expression, current restraints on media depictions of
violence are voluntary. Films, perhaps, are more violent than they have ever
been, but television stations now and then attempt to tone down the violence in
shows intended for children.
Still, our children are going to be exposed to a great deal of media
violence. If not in Saturday morning cartoon shows, then in evening dramas and
in the news. Or they’ll hear about violence from friends, watch children get
into fights, or read about violence in the newspapers. Even if all those
sources of violence were somehow hidden from view, they would learn of violence
in Hamlet, Macbeth, and even in the Bible. Thus, the notion of preventing
children from being exposed to violent models is impractical. We might also
want our children to learn some aggressive skills so that they can defend
themselves against bullies and rapists.
What, then, should be done? First of all, consider whether we are
overestimating the threat. Although media violence contributes to aggressive
behavior, it does not automatically trigger aggressive behavior. Many other
factors, including the quality of the home environment, are involved. A loving,
comfortable home life is not likely to feed into aggressive tendencies.
In conclusion, it is parents’ and educators’ responsibility to inform
children that the violent behavior they observe in the media does not represent
the behavior of most people. Also, the apparently aggressive behaviors they
watch are not real. They reflect camera tricks, special effects, and stunts.
Another important thing to tell children is that most people resolve conflicts
by nonviolent means. Since it is impossible to censor television because of
first amendment rights and television is a small contributor to real-life
violence, parents should concert their efforts towards spending time with their
children and actually watching a violent show with their children and discussing
in depth what is being shown. If children consider violence inappropriate, they
will probably not act aggressively, even if they have acquired aggressive skills.
For in the words of Andrew Greeley, Music, film, and television reflect
behavior rather than cause it. (C2)
If I had known all this years before, maybe my brother wouldn’t have a
headache all the time and my dog’s head wouldn’t be facing the wrong way.
Category: Music and Movies