A CURRENT ANXIETY THAT’S BEEN AROUND FOREVER; VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA – Media Texts

I put a kettle on, the water boils… So who is responsible, me or the kettle? For years people have been blaming media for their problems. The media says I’m too fat, the media says I’m too thin, the media made me more violent, the media makes us racist. But who controls the media? Is today’s society run by secret intelligent monkeys assigned to play some kind of sick trick on us? Or are we too in denial to admit that we, ourselves, in fact influence what we see and read, and the way we then act based on that? As new forms of media enter our worlds, it seems that individuals begin to blame them for the world’s violence issues.

In the 18th century, Gothic novels created immense anxieties; due to the way this media platform affected its audiences. Throughout these gothic texts, there was a recurring notion of terror or horror. Ann Radcliffe, suggests ‘terror’ in gothic novels, “does not show horrific things explicitly but only suggests them.” This, she thinks, “expands the soul” of the readers. In contrast, Radcliffe argues that horror “freezes and nearly annihilates” the senses of its readers, as it shows atrocious things too explicitly. She believes “this is morally dangerous and produces the wrong kind of excitement in the reader,” therefore creating an anxiety of violence in society.

In 1828, along with rapidly increasing literacy rates and greater availability of mass print news media, the broadcast of the Red Barn Murder famously whipped the public into hysteria. In the 1950’s Comic books came under fire for producing violent images to children and even Rock and Roll music was criticized for corrupting innocent individuals. This concern, that seeing violent and disruptive images will create violent and disruptive people, is based on the Bobo Doll Experiment, which explores the notion that, if somebody is exposed to something enough, they will learn it and then carry out that behaviour.

It is clear that with all new forms of media, aside from the circumstances, concerns about its effect or way in which it may influence audiences, will arise. Various media platforms, video games, movies and music videos are recurringly criticized in today’s society for having an immense negative effect on the audience. Audiences in the past were seen as passive. Individuals would simply receive messages and themes explored through films, video games and music videos through solely the images shown. Though now, with easy access to technologies like the Internet, audiences are able to view R-rated films, violent video games and explicit music videos and create images from these situations, then respond to and alter the information given. According to the APA (American Psychological Association) Taskforce there is a “consistent relationship between violent video game use and increases in an individual’s aggressive behaviour, cognition, and affect.” The task force also argues “no single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently, but rather it is an accumulation of various risk factors that leads to the aggressive or violent behaviour of individuals.”

In my opinion, myself watching hours on end of violent material would discourage me from acting brutally or violently, in oppose to going out and committing violence. Therefore, ‘Media Effects Model’ and other types of research and studies tend to lose sight of the fact that it is the individual interacting with the media, and based on their personality and existing psychological state, is how they will react to the media form. Ivan Milat, the Backpack Murderer, had a dirt-poor upbringing, growing up he was exposed to family death and dysfunction, domestic violence and neglect; therefore it wasn’t violent video games or movies that resulted in his actions, but his existing psychological state. So again, I put the kettle on, the water boils… Who is responsible, me or the kettle?

“Individuals use different media platforms to do ‘good’ things and to do ‘bad’ things… Maybe it’s not the media that we should be questioning… but the people.”

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6 comments

  1. Chris Jensen Romer · March 14, 2016

    As you linked to my post on Red Barn case thought I’d pop over. Good essay – what may occur is that individuals with a predisposition to extreme violence are attracted to violent video games – as you suggest in fact. Dunno – I have a strong distaste for watching extreme gun violence in real life but occasionally blow things up on my PC! 🙂

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  2. Stuart · March 17, 2016

    I’m not actually sure here, about the point you are making? Are you blaming the media, or; defending the media?
    Of course, if you put the kettle on; then you are responsible for it coming to the boil. However, a kettle cannot speak to you, (if you find one that does: I want it! ) The media, can,and does though. To deny that the media can have an influence on peoples behaviour is, frankly, ridiculous. Of course, people can exploit this to their own ends.Yet, even in these cases it could be argued that the media had a role; in setting an example.
    I have the distinct impression that you are; anti-social.

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    • tianahthibault · March 17, 2016

      And that is my point exactly… Yes, the media has an influence on an individual’s behaviour, but the media cannot be entirely to blame for an individual’s actions… It is both the individual’s upbringing and current psychological state, as well as minor media influence, that are the reasoning behind an individual’s actions.
      P.S, your distinct impression is; wrong.

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  3. Stuart · March 19, 2016

    I take the anti-social bit, back. Apologies.
    I think that the point that you are making, though, is somewhat an obvious one. If people think that the media are entirely responsible for all the ills in society, then they must live a very sheltered existence. Occasionally, someone of influence pops up, to state just that, (Mary Whitehouse comes to mind) yet they are, really, the exception that proves the rule.The rule being, of course, that most sane people can watch violence on tv etc without them being unduly influenced by such. Children though, especially without a good role model, can be influenced by such..
    The ‘Bolger’ case being one such example. It is incidents like that , that have parents concerned.
    Would you say that, they should not be concerned?

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  4. ochaseling · April 4, 2016

    Hi Tianah,
    I agree that trying to gauge media influence is a pretty murky area, so much of what’s broadcast/published is done so with a “typical” audience in mind, disregarding the atypical individuals who might be prone to be influenced in a way that they then might act out that influence in a harmful way. One of my favourite case studies of improper media influence (and it goes back a bit), would be the ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast in 1938. It’s a very famous case where a US radio station broadcast an adaptation of HG Wells’ novel, in the style of a news broadcast. If you have a listen to it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs0K4ApWl4g) you can see how it was positioned to make an audience imagine that the world was being invaded by martians, if they had happened to turn on a radio news broadcast at the time. What the maker of the program, Orson Welles, did not account for was the fact that people listening to it actually BELIEVED the broadcast, to the point where there were reports of people arming themselves and rushing into the street! It seems rather quaint to us now, but at the time (this was a year before WW2 broke out), media audiences were only just becoming acquainted with the immediacy of the radio news format, and in the case of ‘War of the Worlds’, were not familiar enough with that format to determine what was fact and what was fiction. It could be that contemporary audiences are only just starting to familiarise themselves with the online media landscape are susceptible to the same kind of misconceptions. Perhaps it’s not so much a case of an overt media “bad-guy” deliberately trying to mislead people, maybe it’s just that the content-makers have not yet fully come to terms with their platform’s power to influence, and their audiences have not yet come to terms with the fact that digital news in any platform is nonetheless created by humans, who make mistakes.

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  5. Stuart · April 4, 2016

    Oliver, please do not take this personally, but I have to suggest that the idea that the media is somehow unaware of the possible outcomes of what they produce, is a naive attitude to take. The media is well-steeped in the knowledge of how to mislead people. Politicians are aware of this influence too. One only has to observe how many spin-doctors are out there to see that this is true. Then, you have to take into account all the propaganda news-reels that were about, especially at and around the time of world-war II. In fact, I would suggest that the media is immersed in misrepresentation, hype and propaganda now: more than at any time in its history. They are not naive. However, the agenda of the media does seem to be; to keep the public in a general state of naivety. Hence, the overall coverage of news items has been subject of ‘dumbing-down’ exercises. The audience, in this respect are and always be susceptible to this. You and I included. It doesn’t matter how aware we are of this process. The fact is that, we are often asked to make choices and we make those choices from the differing opinions that we are presented with. It is difficult to establish what is spin and what is not spin. I believe that, this makes the public more unsure of itself. It would appear that there is a growing cross-over of this occurrence into mainstream entertainment. How many people believe what they read, on the internet, for example? Many now immerse themselves in all sorts of beliefs whether it be ‘Alien’ culture, witch-craft and zombies to name a few examples?

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