Good media discernment is about guarding our eyes and hearts before we watch or listen. And it's also about grappling with the entertainment we do see or hear. That's why the Plugged In Blog is devoted to guarding, discussing and grappling.
The unimaginable killing of 20 young children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last week has not only reinvigorated longstanding cultural conversations about gun control, it's also reignited the ongoing dialogue about the impact of violence in the media. At issue is the question of how—and how much—portrayals and depictions of violence in popular entertainment influence those who consume it.
In the wake of the tragedy, many entertainment outlets acknowledged that some fare scheduled to be televised or released shortly after the shooting could be deemed as insensitive. Cable channel Syfy, for instance, replaced an episode of Haven on Friday night because the one originally slated depicted scenes of violence in a high school. Paramount Pictures nixed the scheduled Pittsburgh premiere of Tom Cruise's violent new thriller Jack Reacher. The Weinstein Co. did the same with the Los Angeles premiere of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (which we'll return to momentarily). Meanwhile, Fox, HBO, Showtime and TLC all made lineup changes.
And though a clear link between the 20-year-old Sandy Hook shooter and video games has not yet been established, some were already speculating about the possibility of that connection. Well-known conservative Ben Stein wrote in The American Spectator:
I read that the killer was socially awkward (putting it mildly) and 'reserved.' I know what that often means. He spent much of his miserable life playing shoot 'em up video games on line or on machines. … In these games, the 'player' just spends his whole day attempting to exercise and exorcize his loneliness and low self-esteem by shooting imaginary creatures and creating damage all day long. At a certain point, just 'killing' on the console blurs into doing it in real life. 'Killing' is just what the kid does all his life. How much of a stretch is it for him to shoot into a movie theater or a political gathering or a kindergarten in 'real life' if his life is so pitiful that he does not know what's real and what is not?"
Commenting on the Connecticut gunman Adam Lanza, University of New Haven criminal justice professor James Cassidy told The Christian Science Monitor:
Clearly, this is a young man who was very, very angry and willing to express his anger in almost unthinkable ways. But I think we do also have to look at ourselves here. Yes, it's unclear … what factors were the most prevalent, but certainly the fact that we have a mental health system that is failing right now plays a role. We're also coming to understand that while violence on TV, in movies and in lyrics haven't led to more crime, it does appear that a certain faction of society is vulnerable to such violence, that it disinhibits them in some way.
Elsewhere in the culture, back-and-forth salvos attacking and defending violent imagery were heard in a variety of quarters. Just one day before the shooting, Parents Television Council president Tim Winter took AMC's The Walking Dead to task for its spectacularly gory depictions of violence, then asked how on earth such gruesome imagery earns a TV-14 rating. In a PTC press release, Winter said:
Throughout its run, the AMC program The Walking Dead has featured some of the most graphic and brutally intense violence and gore imaginable. In the current season alone the show has depicted hundreds of scenes of grisly murder both of living and 'undead,' but human, characters. The intensely violent content has included depictions of the cleaving of human skulls with a machete, extreme gun violence, including graphic depictions of blood and brains splattering after gunshot wounds, and the use of a sharpened human bone as a weapon to stab another character. … Clearly, this is content appropriate to an adult-only audience, but AMC has rated every single episode of The Walking Dead as suitable for a 14 year old child.
In an eerily haunting reply, Walking Dead executive producer Glen Mazarra seemed to scoff at Winter's concern via this Twitter response: "If little kids don't watch @WalkingDead_AMC, how will they learn what to do in a zombie apocalypse? #Educational#PublicService."
A similar conversation has emerged around Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained, slated for a Christmas Day release in theaters.
Writing about the film's gruesome violence—a Tarantino trademark—Entertainment Weekly movie reviewer Owen Gleiberman said:
Django Unchained, Tarantino's deliriously kicky and shameless (and also overly long and scattershot) racial-exploitation epic, is set in the slave days, and among other things, it's a low-down orgy of flamboyant cruelty and violence: whippings, a scene in which a man gets torn apart by dogs, plus the most promiscuous use of the N-word ever heard in a mainstream movie. Is Django attacking the cruelty or reveling in it? Maybe both. … The film achieves that QT hypnotic mood. But only for a while. In the gaudy-bloody last 30 minutes (think over-the-top and beyond), the mood vanishes. And Django Unchained becomes an almost sadistically literal example of exploitation at its most unironic.
Tarantino, however, is clearly weary of the suggestion that those who produce violent entertainment need to take responsibility for it. In an interview with the BBC after the Sandy Hook shooting, Tarantino said, "I just think you know there's violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers. It's a Western. Give me a break."
No way, says Nicole Clark, former model and director of the documentary Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation:
Quentin Tarantino seems to believe he is magically disconnected from the human race. Somehow everything he creates has no impact on us? He's not the only director or movie producer who denies any negative effect from their work. But ask any of these producers or directors if they think films can have a positive effect on society, and they will instantly say yes.
While directors and their detractors may never reach détente on this issue, some academic observers believe that the reality of media's influence cannot be denied—even if a strict cause-and-effect correlation can't always be absolutely established.
Iowa State University professor Douglas A. Gentile, who's researched and written extensively about the influence of video games in particular, told Fox News:
All artists, whether they work in visual, film, television, video games, or other media understand that they have the potential to affect viewers—in fact, they want it. All viewers want to be affected by media. In fact, if the media doesn't affect us, we call them boring. Humans are amazing learners, we can learn just from seeing something once. So it is no surprise that we can learn from the media, especially if the media are particularly exciting or interesting.
As our culture continues to grapple with such gut-wrenching violence against innocents, then, the question of what entertainment media is teaching those who consume it remains as urgent as ever.
While I agree that our media does influence us dramatically as a nation, I think both sides of the media are blowing things way out of proportion: namely guns, videogames, and movies of course. The fact is, that most Americans have been exposed to all three for quite some time, and most Americans don't go attacking schools with rifles. The only thing that could have prevented this tragedy is common sense - not legislation on guns, movies or video games. All of them should only be used by those who will use them responsibly - that is no illusion to anyone. When you're dealing with someone who has a serious mental condition - regardless of whether or not they are violent - you need to be careful about what they're exposed to; NOT on a legislative level, but on an individual level.
I do agree that rating systems must be used appropriately though - The Walking Dead has no excuse for showing R-rated material as TV-14. Again though, people need to be more responsible about the material they let their children watch. It's perfectly normal nowadays to see 5- and 10-year olds walking into R-rated films with their parents, and in my experience these are usually the parents who don't even talk to their children about the movie's significance, as if that could even make it justifiable.
I have absolutely no objection to re-examining the role of violent video games in society and the part they play (if any) in fostering the type of violence we see in America today.
However, we have to bear in mind that these ultra-violent video games are also just as popular (and sometimes more so) in other countries, like Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and so on. Take a look at any Top Ten sales list for video games in any of these countries and you will see titles like Halo, Call of Duty, Saint's Row, Grand Theft Auto, right up there with the rest. Sales figures confirm that the US is not the only mass consumer of these games.
That begs the question -- if video games are the conduit for real-world violence that results in murders and mass slayings, then why isn't it happening in other parts of the world where these games are just as popular?
In the UK, there have been only two mass shootings in the last 25 years -- there have been three major mass shootings in 2012 alone here in the US, and many more multiple shootings. Also, gun violence is nothing new in the US. it was even more prevalent back in the 1970s and 1980s when the most violent video games around were Space Invaders and Asteroids.
That's not to say violent video games don't have any effect, but it's abundantly clear that this is not even close to being the major factor in the profusion of shootings in this country, and academic research into behavior of children after playing these games tends reinforce the idea that such a link is tenuous at best.
The biggest problem with focusing on violent entertainment is that it deflects from what is clearly a much greater proximate cause of these shootings--the easy availability of deadly weapons. The US is alone in the developed world in being a heavily armed society with virtually no effective control over gun ownership or use. Countries like Israel, Sweden, and Switzerland are quite heavily armed too (though still only at a fraction of the US rate), but they have tough and effective laws controlling the use of weapons, how they're stored, and access to ammunition, etc. America is pretty much a free-for-all, given the gun show loophole you could drive a truck through.
Already gun advocates are putting a full court press on to deflect responsibility for Sandy Hook away from lack of effective gun laws onto anything else they can, like violent video games and lack of mental health care, and the religious among them decry the break up of the family, divorce, gay marriage, working moms, absentee fathers, abortion, gay marriage as the cause.
But, again, these problems are not unique to the US -- they all happen just as often (and sometimes more) in places like Australia, the UK, France, Germany, etc, and yet their murder rates and mass shooting frequencies are still far lower than in the US. One can only maintain the fiction that the US problems are to do with these things if you deliberately ignore what's happening in the rest of the world.
Gun control works. Australia banned semi-automatic weapons in 1997 after a spate of mass shootings and hasn't had one since. The murder rate in the UK is five times lower than in the US, and criminals are having to resort to making their own ammo because it's so hard to obtain on the streets.
I'm not naive enough to claim that we can get to where the UK or Australia is from here -- the US will probably always be a gun owning society, but Americans have to face up to their responsibilities of living in an armed society if they want things to change for the better. Effective gun safety laws, gun security laws, gun registration laws, and bans on assault weapons and large clips, can and do prevent gun violence in other countries without impinging on a person's right to bear arms (i.e. not the right to arm yourself as if you're about to go to war), and there is no excuse for everyone not to work together to make the same thing happen here.
<blockquote>The only thing that could have prevented this tragedy is common sense - not legislation on guns, movies or video games. All of them should only be used by those who will use them responsibly - that is no illusion to anyone. </blockquote>
Incorrect. Common sense goes out the window when tempers flare. A large majority of killings in domestic disputes are from gunshot wounds, and people with a gun in the house are more than twice as likely to be killed at home than those with no gun in the house because the majority of those killed at home knew their murderer personally.
An old colleague of mine was a model gun owner--always extremely concerned about gun safety--right up until the moment he caught his wife in bed with his best friend. He served five years in prison for attempted murder after shooting him. Another acquaintance of mine--a loving husband and father of four children, got into a blazing row with his wife, pulled his gun and killed her then turned the gun on himself, leaving four young children orphaned. The teenage niece of a friend of mine got a hold of her grandfather's gun while staying over and killed herself with it.
These were all people who had common sense, until they didn't. But if they didn't have easy access to a gun, then it's likely that none of them would have been killed or even physically harmed. Guns make it easy to kill. They are the problem that sets America aside from every other modern democratic nation on the planet in terms of murders and mass shootings, and they need to be a major part of any solution that actually has a chance of working.
Those were excellent, well-informed posts, tyke. Thanks.
I agreed with your first post until you said "Gun control works."
<blockquote>Incorrect. Common sense goes out the window when tempers flare. A large majority of killings in domestic disputes are from gunshot wounds, </blockquote>
It depends entirely on what kind of temper you have. That being said, someone with common sense would go exceptional lengths to learn how to control his or her temper - I know how to control mine. Bear in mind that although America has seen a lot of gun-related crimes, the purveyors of those crimes don't even account for a fraction of the population. I would go further to say the same thing specifically about gun owners, but I cannot find any related statistics, other than that we have, as an average, about 88 firearms per 100 citizens. At very least, we are a well-armed nation.
<blockquote>and people with a gun in the house are more than twice as likely to be killed at home than those with no gun in the house because the majority of those killed at home knew their murderer personally.</blockquote>
That is most likely because we have a ton of gun owners and killing with a gun is much easier than by other means - I won't pull any strings there. A large problem though is that we often let the wrong people have guns - not that we can always make that call correctly, or that it will stop gun violence completely, but it's a very relevant factor. All the guys who went on mass-shootings shouldn't have had access to weaponry, period. All of them, to my knowledge, have been proven to be mentally ill in general, were exposed to extremely violent entertainment in massive doses, and had access to firearms. As stated in my post - bad combination.
<blockquote>An old colleague of mine was a model gun owner--always extremely concerned about gun safety--right up until the moment he caught his wife in bed with his best friend. He served five years in prison for attempted murder after shooting him. Another acquaintance of mine--a loving husband and father of four children, got into a blazing row with his wife, pulled his gun and killed her then turned the gun on himself, leaving four young children orphaned. The teenage niece of a friend of mine got a hold of her grandfather's gun while staying over and killed herself with it.</blockquote>
I'm sorry about your losses - and that said sorrow seems disingenuous in a debate setting. :(
With respect though, this does not prove that guns are the guilty party. The only relevant argument that can be made against firearms is their "quick and easy" nature. If a person is going to gather up the rage or despair to do it, that's still their personal prerogative, even if they only decided to do it because it was a gun. If you aren't mentally fit to own and operate a gun responsibly then you shouldn't have one - but that should be determined locally, not by the government.
<blockquote>These were all people who had common sense, until they didn't. But if they didn't have easy access to a gun, then it's likely that none of them would have been killed or even physically harmed. Guns make it easy to kill. They are the problem that sets America aside from every other modern democratic nation on the planet in terms of murders and mass shootings, and they need to be a major part of any solution that actually has a chance of working.</blockquote>
Guns do make it easier to kill, but that is the very reason we have the second amendment. It is our right to defend ourselves with the means necessary to do so, not just from criminals but from the threat of an oppressive government and/or military force. It's the biggest threat to any oppressive body that would challenge us as individuals or as a nation. That is why we must have guns, but at the same time be observant of who we give them to. I don't want gun violence, but I don't want an insecure nation either - regardless of whatever foreign relations we have. In the end, and in my opinion, national security takes precedence over an easier means of committing crime.
In regards to The Walking Dead having a TV14 rating, I suppose the series just reflects reality: the massive influence this show has impacted. This series has become a major international phenomenon, even here in Hong Kong. I went to the 2012 San Diego Comic Con (the "Mecca" for all things graphic novel, comics, Japanese anime, and now even upcoming Hollywood films) and attended The Walking Dead Panel. The number of attendees was MASSIVE: at least 1600 in the tight conference hall! But what really surprised and disturbed me was the amount of young CHILDREN willingly participating in this Panel. Even more shocking was one girl, who was selected to ask a question to the actors and producers, was 12 YEARS OLD!! Don't forget, The Walking Dead is undoubtedly one of the most violent shows on any tv channel...and here these little girls were so excited about this show!
You would think that the people who watch TWD consists of guys in their 20s or late teens. But clearly, the TWD phenomenon is so powerful, it has hooked women and girls as young as 12. I'm also a female who watches the show and find the show very thought-provoking, unless if there wasn't any red stuff spilling everywhere. So this concern about a TV14 rating for The Walking Dead isn't surprising, because it has already got this age group watching, even BEFORE the rating change. How TWD was able to lure and hook in such a wide demographic is still astonishing to me.
Well, at that time this panel took place, TWD Season 2 finally ended. I would say the violence of the show, at that time, was quite "mellow". But now in Season 3, the violence took a huge leap forward. I'm not so sure if this has gotten any of the youngest fans or viewers out of the show, but the ratings and viewership proves otherwise.
After reading about the horrific tragedy at Newtown (just 15mins by car from Fairfield, where I used to live), it really clicked in about how media can influence behaviour as well. We may never know what triggered this young man to commit such a mass homicide, but the reports of the mother's murder (gunshot to the head), instantly reminded me of the shocking scene where the boy Carl killed his mother. It really makes me wonder....
All these recent shootings have revealed the problem may lie more so with the lack of proper mental health care than with violent media. Of course, PluggedIn has failed to mention all the OTHER potential contributors to the numerous shooting rampages that has been discussed in the news. Let's not tell half the story. The true 'cause' of the shooting is far more complex than y'all make it out to be.
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