Violence In Entertainment And Its Effect On Society
Does entertainment influence society’s attitude towards violent behavior? In order to fully answer this question we must first understand what violence is. Violence is the use of one’s powers to inflict mental or physical injury upon another, examples of this would be rape or murder. Violence in entertainment reaches the public by way of television, movies, plays, and novels. Through the course of this essay it will be proven that violence in entertainment is a major factor in the escalation of violence in society, once this is proven we will take all of the evidence that has been shown throughout this paper and come to a conclusion as to whether or not violence in entertainment is justified and whether or not it should be censored.
Television with its far reaching influence spreads across the globe. Its most important role is that of reporting the news and maintaining communication between people around the world. Television’s most influential, yet most serious aspect is its shows for entertainment. Violent children’s shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and adult shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide almost always fail to show human beings being able to resolve their differences in a non-violent manner, instead they show a reckless attitude that promotes violent action first with reflection on the consequences later. In one episode of NYPD Blue three people were murdered in the span of an hour. “Contemporary television creates a seemingly insatiable appetite for amusement of all kinds without regard for social or moral benefits” (Schultze 41). Findings over the past twenty years by three Surgeon Generals, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Family Violence, the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical authorities indicate that televised violence is harmful to all of us, but particularly to the mental health of children (Medved 70-71). In 1989 the results of a five year study by the American Psychological Association indicated that the average child has witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on television by the time he or she has completed sixth grade. In further studies it was determined that by the time that same child graduates from high school he or she will have spent 22,000 hours watching television, twice as many hours as he or she has spent in school (Bruno 124).
In a study by the Centers for Disease Control, published by the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), it was shown that homicide rates had doubled between the introduction of television in the 1950’s and the end of the study in 1994. In that same study other possible causes for the vast increases in violence were studied, “the ‘baby boom’ effect, trends in urbanization, economic trends, trends in alcohol abuse, the role of capital punishment, civil unrest, the availability of guns, and exposure to television”(Lamson 32). Each of these purported causes was tested in a variety of ways to see whether it could be eliminated as a credible contributor to doubling the crime rate in the United States, and one by each of them was invalidated, except for television. Children average four hours of television per day, and in the inner city that increases to as much as eleven hours a day, with an average of eight to twelve violent incidents per hour. It is also interesting to note that violence occurs some fifty-five times more often on television than it does in the real world (Medved 156). FBI and census data show the homicide arrest rate for seventeen-year-olds more than doubled between 1985 and 1991, and the rates for fifteen-and sixteen-year-olds increased even faster. Movies also add their fair share to the problem of violence in society. “Researchers have established that copycat events are not an anomaly. Statistically-speaking, they are rare, but predictable, occurences. Television shows, novels, but especially movies-all can trigger copycat violence” (Medved 72). As recently as November of 1995, New York City officials believed that the burning of a toll-booth clerk was a result of copycat violence, resulting from a similar scene in the movie Money Train. In 1994, Nathan Martinez shot and killed his stepmother and half sister after watching the movie Natural Born Killers at least six times. “Later, Martinez, who had shaved his head and wore granny sun glasses like Natural Born Killer’s main character Mickey Knox, reportedly told a friend, “It’s nothing like the movies”(Purtell 57). In a 1993 film, The Program, there was a scene showing college football players lying in the center of a highway in an attempt to show their courage and dedication to their sport. This movie was later blamed for inspiring real-life imitators; (one of whom died). In numorous experiments based at pre-schools, researchers have observed children playing before and after seeing violent movies and television shows. “Following the violent program the children’s play is invaribly more aggressive. They are much more likely to hit, punch, kick, and grab to get their way. In other words, violent entertainment teaches children how to use aggression for personal gain” (Medved 75). It is also hard to believe that movies like Rambo III with one hundred and six killings and Terminator 2 which showed countless killings plus a nuclear holocaust have at one time had their own line of children’s action figures even though both movies are rated R. One must seriously consider the idea that the movie studios are targeting a younger and easily influenced main audience. The ancient Greeks believed that violence should never be shown on stage, because people imitated what they saw. Because of this they would only show the results of violence in order to deter any violent activity. The Greeks slowly but surely moved away from this idea as did other playwrights, and by the late 1500’s a new writer with a new view on violence was beginning to write plays. His name was William Shakespeare. Many critics were bothered by Shakespeare’s failure to follow the rules of the ancient Greeks, especially the rules concerning violence, but they also objected to Shakespeare’s comic sexual passages, which they considered vulgar. Shakespeare was a writer during what has historically been called the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare’s plays reflect the shift from optimism to pessimism in Elizabethan society. “Elizabethans were keenly aware of death and the brevity of life” (Info Find), but death and violence fascinated the Elizabethans. “They flocked to the beheadings of traitors whose heads were exhibited on poles and watched as criminals were hanged, and they saw the rotting corpses dangle from the gallows for days” (The Student Handbook 2: 591). Elizabethans, literature and lives were very violent. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet all the main characters die through murder or suicide, all of which is shown on stage. Those critics who say excessive violence has only become a common occurence in today’s entertainment, should watch Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus with its’ stage direction, “Enter a messenger with two heads and a hand” (Klavan 98), or they should watch as quarts of stage blood are poured all over the “victims” in that same play.
Novels, just like television, movies, and plays can cause violence. Throughout history novels have been the cause of violent behavior. Those who say people can’t be influenced by books, should really look into the influence that a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin had ten years prior to the Civil War. In 1851 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe was published. The novel told of the hardships and cruelties faced by African-American slaves in the south. The novel popularlized the abolitionist movement and is believed to have been a major cause for the Civil War, which even though a noble cause, resulted in over 500,000 deaths (The Student Handbook 2: 592). In 1980 Mark Chapman, a former mental patient, shot and killed John Lennon. When asked why he did it, he indicated that he got the idea to kill Lennon from J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye (590). He felt that he and the main character in the story, Holden Caufield, were very similar because they were both angry social outcasts, who were recovering from a mental breakdown (590). Violence is prominent in children’s novels too. R.L. Stine’s novel The Babysitter III, tells of decapitating a baby and in Christopher Pike’s novel, Monster, there is a graphic description of the effects of a shotgun being fired at a person’s head at close range. Roderick McGillis, a professor of English at the University of Calgary and author of a book on children’s literature, has written that, “What disturbs me is that we’re developing in our culture, in our cities, a kind of siege mentality. A lot of thes books reinforce this, make it sort of normal to think that the world is a place in which violence can erupt at any moment” (Gray 54). With all of this evidence it is hard to ignore the fact that violence in entertainment can cause violence in society. This paper has now shown that there are copycat kilers who get the idea for their crimes from entertainment. It has also been shown that the more violent movies and television children watch the more likely thay are to become aggressive and violent. Violence in entertainment and society is not isolated to the present, it was also very prominent in the writings of Shakespeare. With the evidence showing that violence in entertainment causes real life violence, it is very hard to say that violence in entertainment is justifiable. When little children and adults alike, fall victim to entertainment’s violent influence it is not justifiable and it is especially not justifiable when violent entertainment creates real life victims.
Is censorship the answer to the problem of violent entertainment? Should we tell people what they can or can’t read or watch? The simple answer to this question is no, we can’t censor violent entertainment. The First Amendment clearly states that: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The instinct to censor is the tragic flaw of utopian minds. “Our first job,” said Plato in his classic attack on the democratic system , “is to oversee the work of the story writers, and to accept any good stories they write, but reject the others” (Klavan 96). If the government ever did censor violent entertainment who knows where they would stop, or even if they would. Perhaps they would try to censor violent speech or try to censor the speech of those who disagreed with the actions of the government. The simple message is don’t promote censorship, because it could easily get out of hand, and as the old saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There are then only two ways to get rid of the violent entertainment in our lives: we could shame those who make the violent movies, television shows, books, and plays, into having a social conscience, making them be less prone to creating violent entertainment; or we could simply solve the problem ourselves, with a push of a button, or the turn of a page.
Lamson, Susan R. “TV Violence: Does it cause real-life mayhem?”, American Rifleman July 1993: 32.
Leone, Bruno. Youth Violence. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1992.