TOPIC GUIDE: Media Violence
"People need protecting from violent lyrics, films and video games"
PUBLISHED: 01 Apr 2008
AUTHOR: James Gledhill
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What impact does media violence have on the way people act? Does exposure to violent music lyrics, films and video games lead to aggressive and violent behaviour? It’s a debate that won’t go away, as the reaction [Ref: BBC News] to the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV shows. And it’s a particular concern of politicians, as in the wake of headlines about gun and knife crime both Gordon Brown [Ref: Sun] and David Cameron [Ref: Independent] referred to violent video games in calling for greater social responsibility. While it may be too simplistic to suggest a straightforward copycat effect linking what people see or hear to what they do, many scientific studies have raised concerns about the effects of media violence, particularly on vulnerable and impressionable young people. Such evidence forms the basis of arguments for censorship, with measures ranging from bans on violent material, to the cutting of scenes from films and the classification of films and video games by age limits. The game Manhunt 2 has been banned [Ref: BBC News] and the government’s Byron review recommended that more games be rated. Campaigners for freedom of expression oppose such restriction and dispute the claim that media has a direct effect on behaviour. They argue that it’s not the job of the authorities to decide what’s in people’s own good. Are some people susceptible to the influence of violent media and in need of protection? Or can we depend upon people being able to differentiate between fiction and reality, so that they should be left to decide for themselves what music they listen to, films they watch or video games they play?
DEBATE IN CONTEXT
This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.
Does media violence cause real violence?
New forms of media have always aroused concern. The arrival of video in the 1980s led to the ‘video nasties’ row and new censorship laws [Ref: Screen Online]. Such reactions have been seen as moral panics, but there have been prominent cases in which violent media have been blamed for tragic events. After the murder of James Bulger in 1993 it was pointed out in court that the ten-year-old killers had been watching violent videos such as Childs Play 3. After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in the US it was claimed that the teenage killers were influenced by the game Doom, and video games again came under scrutiny after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Grand Theft Auto previously caused a sex controversy [Ref: BBC News] and along with Manhunt has been linked with murders. In addition, rap music has been alleged to glamorise gun culture [Ref: Observer], and Jamaican dancehall music – dubbed ‘murder music’ by its critics – has been accused of inciting homophobic violence.
What does the science say?
This is hotly disputed. There is little consensus in the scientific literature about whether violent media leads to aggressive or violent behaviour. In those studies that claim there is a link, there is no agreement as to exactly how it works. Part of the problem is agreeing on a definition of what constitutes media violence. Then there’s the problem of disentangling the influence of media from that of other factors. Underlying the debate are different media effects theories that take different views on the way people engage with media. At one end of the scale, the so-called ‘hypodermic needle’ model portrays audiences as passive and easily influenced by the media. The media directly ‘injects’ its message into the audience. This has been challenged by new audience theories such as ‘reception analysis’, which focus on the way audiences construct their own meanings out of the media, rather than simply accepting the meanings they’re given.
Are video games like Grand Theft Auto a major threat to the moral health of society?
This was the charge levelled by Hillary Clinton in 2005, when she suggested that violence, and in particular the demeaning portrayal of women, has a desensitising effect [Ref: The Times]. Exposure to violence in the media, it is argued, makes people less able to empathise with the suffering of others, and therefore more likely to act violently towards them. This could be especially pronounced in the case of video games in which players take the role of an aggressor. But the authors of the book Grand Theft Childhood disagree, suggesting that many children use games to vent anger and relieve stress. Sceptics say blaming media violence is simplistic and ignores complicated social factors. The results of experiments should be treated with caution since people behave differently in the laboratory, freed from normal restrictions on behaviour, than in real life.
Can violent song lyrics increase aggression or even incite murder?
Some evidence has linked violent lyrics with aggressive behaviour [Ref: New Scientist]. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has led a campaign to stop ‘murder music’, arguing that some lyrics ‘encourage, reinforce and legitimate’ homophobic violence. He argues for a restriction on free expression in order to prevent the incitement of violence against lesbians and gay men. Opponents of restrictions argue that this stretches the definition of incitement beyond credible limits, as there is no clear causal link between listening to such music and acting violently. Much of the debate revolves around how we should treat things that some people find offensive: as a potential danger to society, or as something to be tolerated in the name of free expression.
It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.
Darren Waters BBC News 23 August 2006
Marc Saltzman 1Up 2 June 2005
BBC News 27 March 2008
Amanda Schaffer Slate 27 April 2007
mediawatch-uk 23 February 2007
Kristin Kalning MSNBC 8 December 2006
Peter Tatchell Guardian Unlimited comment is free 7 July 2006
Catherine Bennett Observer 4 May 2008
Adam LaMosca The Escapist 29 April 2008
Darren Waters BBC News dot.life 27 March 2008
Brendan O'Neill Guardian Unlimited comment is free 6 July 2006
Graham Barnfield spiked 17 January 2006
Andrew O'Hehir Salon 17 March 2005
Hillary Clinton The Free Radical 8 March 2005
American Academy of Paediatrics 1 November 2001
David Gauntlett NewMediaStudies.com 1 January 1999
Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.
Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.
Mark Macaskill inteviews Leslie Benzies The Sunday Times 27 April 2009
John Cornwell interviews Susan Greenfield The Sunday Times 27 April 2008
Keith Stuart Guardian 27 March 2008
Aleks Krotoski Guardian 27 March 2008
BBC News Have Your Say 27 March 2008
BBC News 27 March 2008
Tania Byron Department for Children, Schools and Families 27 March 2008
Chris Summers BBC News 13 November 2007
Margaret Robertson BBC News 13 August 2007
Iain Hollingshead Guardian 15 October 2005
Mark Kermode Observer 19 September 2004
Sean Clarke Guardian 13 March 2002
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 27 February 2002
Diana Zuckerman National Research Centre for Women and Families
Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson
The Free Expression Policy Project
Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.
IN THE NEWS
Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.
The Times 30 April 2008
BBC News 29 April 2008
Chicago Tribune 27 April 2008
BBC News 29 February 2008
BBC News 25 January 2008
The Sun 14 January 2008
The Independent 29 August 2007
The Guardian 23 July 2007
The Guardian 12 December 2006
Daily Mail 17 August 2006
BBC News 25 January 2006
BBC News 23 December 2005
NewScientist.com 12 December 2005
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 9 August 2005
BBC News 11 July 2005
The Sunday Times 27 March 2005
CBS News 6 March 2005
New Scientist 4 May 2003
Observer 5 January 2003
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