I've already mentioned here that the violent crime in America is going down; however, it's still a serious problem, with crime rates (both violent and non violent) ranking higher in the US than in other industrialized nations. Often when there's a violent crime, newscasters and commentators are quick to blame the media, and from violent movies to rap lyrics to video games, pretend media violence is an easy whipping boy. (The NRA love to do this as a way to deflect any kind of new gun laws). Blaming the media is nothing new; in the 1930's the Catholic Legion of Decency was so outraged by Hollywood's "immorality" that a production code was put in place that dictated what could and could not be shown on screen. In the 1950's rock and roll music that seems tame today, shocked the nation with its wild beat. In the 80's and 90's heavy metal and rap music would also come under fire, and now video games that are "teaching violence" to children are the current vogue target.
It's easy to see why people want to blame the media for violence; the media is so big, so unavoidable and influential, that it provides an easy target. Add the fact that so few Americans have any control over the media as anything other than consumers, and attacking its effects on impressionable people, especially children, is an easy way to shift the blame for away from parents and onto something else. There have been numerous studies done over the years about the effects of media violence on children without any conclusive proof. While it may appear that people with a violent nature may enjoy violent based entertainment more than others, it's really impossible to say whether the media creates the violent behavior, or if violent people are just drawn to media that suits their nature. But the lack of proof hasn't stopped many concerned parents and media watchdog groups from pointing fingers.
This kind of thinking really reached a head in 1989 when the heavy metal rock band Judas Priest were sued by a family who claimed that a hidden subliminal message in one of their songs pushed their son and another young man into committing suicide. Although the case was thankfully dismissed, it shows the absurd level that some people will go to to blame a personal tragedy on something outside of themselves and their families.
|They were, however, found guilty of having horrible fashion sense|
People who attack the media are forgetting an important truth: sex and violence (or, put more gently, romance and adventure) have been a part of storytelling since the beginning of storytelling itself; they are universal and dramatic parts of the human experience. Nearly every story, movie or song ever written has an element of one of them. Some of the most enduring works of art ever are filled with violent elements , from the play HAMLET, (often considered the best writing in the English language), ending with a stage full of dead bodies, to the huge wars described in the Iliad.
The inevitable question that arises is, if violent media causes violence in America, why doesn't it in other first world nations? For good or for bad, America has the dominant media in the world; go to any European country and you'll see Hollywood movies playing in the theaters and America shows on their TVs. So, they are absorbing the same horrible media that we are, but they have lower violent crime rates.
Still not convinced? Consider Japan; back in the 1960's the Japanese made cartoon shows SPEED RACER and GIGANTOR were brought over to the states for American kids to see. Along with being dubbed into English, many violent scenes from the shows were cut before they could air in America. So you had Japanese children growing up watching more violent TV shows than their American counterparts, and yet those Japanese kids were far less likely to grow up and commit acts of violence than the American kids. And it should be mentioned that Japanese media in general is more violent than American media; anyone who thinks America's media is too violent needs to watch some movies by Japanese film maker Takashi Miike (on second thought, don't!). And yet, again, Japan has less violent crime than America despite watching more make believe violence than we do.
|Don't say I didn't warn you....|
So why is America more violent than most first world countries? There is no easy answer to this; certainly some blame must go to our well entrenched gun culture that sees even the tiniest of gun control laws as an infringement on freedom. But America also has a problem with non gun related violent behavior, so guns can't be the only culprit. Perhaps part of it is our enormous economic inequality (we have the second highest child poverty rate in the first world, after Romania), combined with the competitive, capitalistic belief that getting ahead and fighting for every dollar is the American way. It's difficult to say, but blaming our violent society on the media is foolish at best and tantamount to censorship at worst. Are there some things in the media that children shouldn't see? Of course, but the responsibility of controlling access to those things is up to the parents and guardians of those children and not society at large.