Media and Violence
In today's society, murder, rape, suicide, gang warfare, riots, drive-by shootings and other graphic depictions of violence are no further away than the nearest remote control. All of these images and more can be viewed from the comfort of one's own home on television. Can media violence lead to aggressive behaviour? The answer is yes! Over 1000 studies confirm this link.
While most people may not view the media as a cause for alarm, many scientists agree that the graphic depictions of violence in the media can have a negative effect on people. Although numerous studies fail to show a causal relationship between media violence and acts of aggression, a correlational relationship has been established. This is to say, "exposure to graphic violence does bear an important and consistent relationship to aggression."
Two of the most prestigious papers in the world, the New York Times and the London Times, have both recognised that the thousands of studies on the impact of violence on children are now irrefutable, as has the United States Senate, the American Medical Association and many other prestigious professional associations. When the FBI analysed the hundreds of stories of children killing, maiming, raping and mutilating other children, the FBI found that in 93% of the cases, violent media had influenced them. As US Senator Joseph Lieberman has noted, the issue is no longer debatable, the question now is "how do you deal with the problem?"
Blueprint For Murder
One method by which violent entertainment may promote criminal violence is simply imitation. Children in particular are very susceptible to mimicking what they see in the media. Surveys of young American male violent felons found that many had imitated crime techniques they watched on television programmes. For example:
• In England in 1993, two-year old James Bulger was murdered by a pair of eleven-year olds. The last video rented by one murderer was Child's Play 3. In the film, a baby doll comes alive and his face is splashed with blue paint. The murderers put blue paint on James Bulger's face. The Child's Play 3 film includes a kidnapping, and Bulger was abducted before being killed. The climax of the film shows two boys killing the doll on a train while mutilating the doll. James Bulger was mutilated, bludgeoned and left on a railway track to be run over.
• In France in 1993, a seventeen year-old boy died from an explosion caused by a home-made bomb which he made in imitation of a technique shown on the action serial McGyver. The year before in France, some boys accidentally set their school on fire, again in imitation of McGyver.
• Nathan Martinez allegedly fatally shot his stepmother and half sister after watching Natural Born Killers six times.
• While singing Singing in the Rain a group of young men in Britain raped a woman, as in a scene from A Clockwork Orange.
• Claiming inspiration from Magnum Force, two hold-up men forced their victims to drink Drano and then shot them, killing three.
Imitation includes more than simply applying a crime technique the criminal learned by watching television. Fictional treatments of crime can inspire and empower potential criminals. John Hinckley drew inspiration and encouragement in his attempt to shoot President Reagan from the dozens of times he watched Taxi Driver, a movie about an assassin who stalks a presidential candidate and wins a young woman's affection. The man who murdered twenty-two people in Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, in October 1991 was found with a ticket to the film The Fisher King in his pocket... the link between media and violence becomes more than theory when you consider the overwhelming correlation cases.
The number of assassins and mass murderers who perpetrated their crimes because they knew they would become famous is legion. Arthur Bremer, whose assassination attempt put George Wallace in a wheelchair, was motivated by the publicity that would result. John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, decided to end his status as "Mr. Nobody" by garnering the fame that would come when he "killed the biggest Somebody on earth."
James A. Fox and Jack Levin of Northeastern University studied mass murders in public places during the last three decades. They concluded that the number of such murders has increased in part because the fame that one murderer achieves as a result of media coverage inspires other potential murderers to seek similar notoriety.
Of course, not everyone who watches a Rambo movie or its television equivalent becomes a criminal. The "glorification" of violence on television has little effect on most folks, but it has a powerful effect on those who are social misfits or... it dehumanises them and becomes a self-fulfilling process. Repeated exposure to violence may, through a process of disinhibition, make violence seem acceptable, even desirable.
Conditioning Children To Kill
If you have ever spent any time in a video arcade you'd witness scenes similar to what might be found in defence force training camps. Children of all ages are using video "games" to practise killing. These electronic exercises help them become conditioned killers as they fire very realistic weapons at very realistic people. Both the military and law enforcement use similar exercises to train their personnel... but they train them to not always shoot but use discretion. Money is put into a video game for the sole purpose of shooting to kill. It's the objective.
It is not natural for man or animal to kill one of their own... that's the way God has created us. Military and law enforcement trainers recognise that this must be overcome so they condition their recruits to the desired response... to kill. Lt. Col. David Grossman is a military psychologist who wrote an article Trained to Kill that answers the question of why children are shooting their classmates. His research has determined that children who play interactive point-and-shoot video games are indeed learning the exact same conditioning reflex and motors skills taught by the military. "The military and law enforcement community have made killing a conditioned response. This has substantially raised the firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry training in World War II used bull's-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The trainees have only a split second to engage the target. The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response_ soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions. Later, when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police officer is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training."
The number of assassins and mass murderers who perpetrated their crimes because they knew they would become famous is legion.
There are thousands of these point-and-shoot video "games" available today. And you do not need to visit an arcade or game centre. Children are using these realistic killing simulators on their home computers. They are being conditioned to kill in the comfort of home. This actually makes matters worse as they watch graphic images of violence, death and destruction while sipping a cool drink and eating a snack. Associating violence with pleasure.
Lt. Col. Grossman calls the outbreak of children killing children the "Virus of Violence." Most of his article Trained to Kill deals with the reasons behind the killings, but he also says it's important to first understand the magnitude of the problem. A good indicator of the problem is the rate people are attempting to kill one another_ the rate of aggravated assaults. As the graph to the right illustrates, so called "civilised nations" are actually becoming quite barbaric. "As bad as this is," states Grossman, "it would be much worse were it not for two major factors.
"First is the increase in the imprisonment rate of violent offenders. The prison population in America nearly quadrupled between 1975 and 1992. According to criminologist John J. DiIulio, `dozens of credible empirical analyses... leave no doubt that the increased use of prisons averted millions of serious crimes."' Aggravated assault rates and murder rates would undoubtedly be much higher if it were not for the increase in imprisonments.
"The second factor keeping the murder rate from being any worse is medical technology. According to the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps, a wound that would have killed nine out of ten soldiers in World War II, nine out of ten could have survived in Vietnam. Thus, by a very conservative estimate, if we had 1940-level medical technology today, the murder rate would be ten times higher than it is. The magnitude of the problem has been held down by the development of sophisticated life-saving skills and techniques, such as helicopter medevacs, emergency telephone operators, paramedics, CPR, trauma centres and medicines.
"However, the crime rate is still at a phenomenally high level, and this is true worldwide. In Canada, according to their Centre for Justice, per capita assaults increased almost five-fold between 1964 and 1993, attempted murders increased nearly sevenfold, and murders doubled. Similar trends can be seen in other countries in the per capita violent crime rates reported in Interpol between 1977 and 1993 (see above).
"This Virus of Violence is occurring worldwide. The explanation for it has to be some new factor that is occurring in all these countries. There are many factors involved, and none should be discounted. And though we should never downplay child abuse, poverty or racism, there is only one new variable present in each of these countries, bearing the exact same fruit: media violence presented as entertainment for children."
South Africa isn't alone, all Western nations have experienced a significant increase in aggravated assault rate between 1977 and 1993.
Too Much Technology... Not Enough Intelligence
Media can be a great source of information when needed. It can also be a tremendous resource for teaching children. It can even provide a wholesome source of family entertainment. The television does not harm the children, on the contrary, it can expand their world and play a significant role in the education process, besides being used as entertainment alongside books, games and toys. The television can play a positive role in the family house... however statistically the odds are against it. Television has acquired a demanding place in Western homes_ and so has its offspring, the video cassette recorder. In practical terms, even if everything watched was worthwhile, the average family is spending too much time watching and not enough time doing.
Technology must not take the place of intelligence. As the Y2K millennium bug problem illustrates far too well, we have become too dependent on computers and the conveniences they provide. The internet has opened up a whole new arena for abuse of time, intellect and interpersonal relationships. But it doesn't have to be so. The internet, just like the television, is a marketplace that offers a variety of options. You are responsible for your own actions, but parents have a privilege and a responsibility... to bring up their children according to some idea of how they would like them to behave. Our responsibility is to be clear and good examples to those whose young lives we influence. If we are Christian parents, we must model Jesus to them. And it is precisely at this point of awesome responsibility and privilege that television's demands upon a child's loyalty become apparent. For the presenters of most television programmes have quite a different agenda.
Manipulation By The News Media
Media is communication with the masses... it is vitally important that the truth be communicated. To millions of people worldwide, Hollywood no longer represents family entertainment. An Associated Press MediaGeneral poll showed that 80% of Americans objected to the amount of foul language in motion pictures; 82% objected to the amount of violence; 72% objected to the amount of sexuality in films; and 75% felt that movies are worse than ever before. The reason for this spreading disenchantment was described by film critic Michael Medved: "Hollywood no longer reflects_ or even respects_ the values that most Americans cherish... it suffers from a sickness of the soul."
There is a need for truth in all areas of the media... too many times, it seems, the news reports, whether newspaper or television, focus on the "outward circumstances" of a tragedy without getting to the underlying "inward moral causes." The availability of a gun is the culprit and not parental neglect. The details of a rape might be printed but not the fact that the rapist had an addiction to pornography. More attention might be given to the technique of how a crime was committed instead of the consequences of that crime! I have seen numerous articles that seem to be giving instructions on how someone else could commit the same crime. Crime shouldn't be sensationalised... the perpetrators have done something terribly wrong and they need not only to provide restitution to the victims, but they need to be punished... and their punishment should be reported to serve as a deterrent. Will criminals being released early from prison decrease violence? No! I am positive that it will actually increase crime and violence.
One news item that has been receiving a lot of attention lately has been US President Clinton and his latest affair. An example of how the media can manipulate is with the headlines... "White House states Report gives no cause for impeachment"... In actuality it means "Clinton states Report gives no cause for impeachment" A friend of mine in the States e-mailed me with a vintage quote where Clinton states: "No question that an admission of making false statements to government officials and interfering with the FBI is an impeachable offence." Bill Clinton on President Richard Nixon, ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT GAZETTE, August 6, 1974.
Over the last two decades a large number of studies have linked exposure to violent television with increased physical aggressiveness among children and violent criminal behaviour. One such study was conducted by University of Washington epidemiologist Brandon Centerwall. He found that homicide rates in the United States, Canada and South Africa rose steeply about ten to fifteen years after the introduction of television in each nation. Centerwall noted that after television was introduced in Canada, the homicide rate nearly doubled, even though per capita firearms ownership rates remained stable. In the United States, the rise in firearms homicide paralleled an equally large rise in homicides with knives and clubs.
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The data, therefore, implies that the underlying cause of the homicide increases was not a sudden surge in availability of firearms, because there was no surge in availability of knives and clubs, and homicides with knives and clubs rose as sharply as firearms homicide. Christian Action Network is involved in informing South Africans about the truth regarding the current demand for a "Gun Free South Africa." Many in the media have given very favourable coverage to the organisation trying to eliminate all guns... including the licensed weapons owned by law abiding citizens for their personal protection. The media has been promoting the "Gun Free" agenda without balanced representation of the facts. For instance, many of the countries that have gone "gun free" (such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Red China, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc.) suffered terribly from their own governments once they were disarmed. Not to mention the fact that if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. Would rational people accept the message that violence will decrease when no one can protect themselves?
South Africa first introduced television many years after its introduction in Canada and the United States because the government feared that television would be destablising. In South Africa, too, the homicide rate rose sharply after the first generation of television children grew up. The relationship is there... graphic media violence brings an increase in aggression.
The media in South Africa, particularly television, is very biased, often it is almost pure propaganda. It's really frightening when any government can try to abolish community radio stations. That would give an overwhelming monopoly on the media to propagate their agenda unchallenged. SABC has an agenda... and it is not remotely Christian. Having grown up in the United States where we had a variety of programmes to choose from, including Christian, I was appalled at the lack of choice in South Africa. Our family does not regularly watch any of the programmes, including the SABC news. Television is known for distorting reality... it's particularly distorted in South Africa because SABC is mostly airing the unsuccessful, lower quality programmes that viewers in the United States have rejected. The newspapers in South Africa are also very biased... one column in the 11 October Sunday Times attacked Zambia's Christian president, Frederick Chiluba, for attempting to eliminate immoral programming from ZNBC.
Proving cause and effect in the social sciences is never easy, however, and there are a good number of researchers who believe that the relationship between television and violence may be more complex than is generally acknowledged. For example, although heavy television viewing is definitely associated with violence, it may merely be a symptom of other problems such as parental neglect.
The Solution Begins in the Heart and Home
The correlational relationship between the media and violence can be made into an advantage with proper family values. How do we define violence? How do we define integrity, honesty or truth for that matter. If someone can cheat and lie and not do anything wrong... there is no problem. In South Africa, the Truth
and Reconciliation Committee has been redefining violence for you... and the mass media, for the most part, has been giving it the stamp of approval. Granting amnesty for cold blooded murderers who walked into a church service and shot , blew up and crippled innocent people, is wrong... even if Mandela, Tutu or even the Pope agrees... it's wrong. When the media takes the "politically correct" stand with an issue like this it undermines family values... and increases violence. There is a connection... bad media reporting can increase violence.
Adults have an obligation to help children. Parents have an even greater responsibility to train and correct their
children as they move into adulthood. Children are very impressionable... that's why advertisers pour millions of Rands into commercials targeting them. Parents and preschools must realise that television shows and videos do not replace human interaction. We must never allow technology to train our children... we must train our children to use technology. Just as discernment must be taught to children as they cross streets, knowing that someday they will cross streets by themselves, we must teach our children to discern for themselves how and when to use technology.
Eliminating all these "technology tyrants" from your home isn't necessarily the best answer either. They are a reality in this world that can't be ignored. I have some friends whose three-year old has been having regular nightmares because the daycare centre showed him the movie Casper. Parents must guard their young children from anyone who might unsuspectingly abuse the minds of their children and cause permanent damage. Unlike computers, the human memory cannot be erased or reformated. It is vitally important that parents not only teach their children how to turn off technology, but how to turn it on and use it with discernment. Just because your children are not allowed to watch programmes at your home doesn't mean they won't be tempted to watch them at a neighbours. Even the public schools allow the showing of questionable videos and films. Christian parents must teach their children a Biblical worldview that will enable them to reject the humanistic teachings of a godless nation.
The foundational fact that God created man will not be found in the secular media. Children today are being conditioned to accept evolution over creation through cartoons, movies, videos, music, textbooks... the list is endless. If parents are not preparing their children to reject these attacks on their faith, then they will succumb to them. Teaching your children the truth is important... but you must also teach them how to recognise a lie so they can make moral decisions on their own. Christian Action Network has a wide range of educational materials that will help parents teach their children a Biblical worldview that will equip them for the real world. The solution begins in the heart and home as we learn how to be the "Salt and Light" in a world that has decay and darkness.
Media Versus the Truth of History
The Apostle Paul knew about the struggles of going against the powers in control: "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world..." (Ephesians 6:12). It's a sad commentary that so few Christians are currently utilising the media, but that trend is reversing. As William Shakespeare said: "The pen is mightier than the sword." There is power in the word... if it is truthful. We have so much to learn from the past... if we understand it. As few people read history books and most depend entirely on Hollywood films for their understanding of history the potential for exploitation is enormous. It was Karl Marx who declared that the first battlefield was the writing of history. As a philosophy student and journalist, Marx believed that he could use philosophy to change the world. To control a country or culture, the first goal was to control the writing (or rewriting) of history. If you can wrench from people their understanding of how events interconnect_ then you can steal from them their heritage and deprive them of freedom. For most of Western history, the study of the past was connected to an ethical understanding of the causes and characters behind events. People studied history primarily to discern eternal values, practical wisdom and insights as to the individual moral character needed to produce a more positive future.
A world leader that's been shown favourably in the South African media lately is Fidel Castro. Why do so many of our movers and shakers embrace such a brutal dictator? Since Castro seized power in 1959 at least 5 000 Cubans have been known to be executed; at least 15 000 more have perished trying to flee. Cuban human rights organizations estimate that up to 200 000 Cubans are currently in some form of detention. I read an article in Reader's Digest that included information on what his own daughter thinks about him. She says "There is not a single Cuban family that has not been victimised by Castro's dictatorship."... She declared. "I regret that I inherited his blood."
Sections of the media bravely charged the ANC with "putting old comrades above the nation's real needs." "Not so," maintains Dr. Greg Mills, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs, "It merely reflects South Africa's new will and follows world trends," he says. "We're finding our own feet, without the burden of moral or ideological debt." Those are two powerful statements... not only are they two opinions but they are also two facts... both sides of the story. Given the truth I am sure most South Africans would agree that we should learn not only from our own mistakes... but the mistakes of people like Castro. "Finding your feet without the burden of moral or ideological debt" sounds like a stupid thing to do.
We must never allow technology to train our children... we must train our children to use technology.
The Role of Media
The debate over mass media's impact on violence among youths has continued for a very long time. In the 19th century, novelist George Meredith complained that the Punch and Judy puppet show (a much more violent version than its tamer 20th century incarnation) "inspires our street urchins to instant recourse to their fists in a dispute." Fictional comic books have been around for a long time... and parents don't see anything wrong with it because they're addicted themselves to precisely the same violence in reality, from the daily accident or atrocity smeared over the front page of their breakfast newspaper or TV news. I know that American football can seem violent... South African rugby displays even more aggression.
I have a five year old son... I told myself when he was very young that I was not going to let him play with toy guns... I told myself it wasn't necessary. Now I am not a pacifist, but I tried to shelter my son from guns and violent television and thought he wouldn't have a strong desire to play with them. I was wrong... he loves to play with all types of weapons. I have now committed myself to teaching him proper gun safety. Similarly, I think the entertainment industry should comply with the same gun laws that law-abiding citizens must adhere to. Applying an "assault weapon" ban to Hollywood could save lives.
Nearly everyone loves a good story... with a good theme and plot. I learned something last week that applies here. Did you know that after the Walt Disney movie "Bambi" came out on the big screen the hunting of trophy bucks decreased significantly. When people saw the consequences of shooting a defenceless animal on the big screen many changed their attitude and actions.
Journalists must be held accountable for their actions. Just because it's sensational and it sells doesn't make it sensible. The public doesn't need to know how a pipe bomb is made. People don't need to know the sordid details
of violent and sexual crimes. Criminals don't need to be made famous... they need to pay for their behaviour. All actions have consequences and just because someone is famous doesn't make them beyond reproach. I believe President Clinton will pay for his immoral behaviour... but it took brave journalists to document and publish their findings. The media was successful in bringing to light his improper, immoral and proven illegal behaviour. Cockroaches scurry when you turn on the light.
The pen is mightier than the sword. One of the mission organisations I am involved with, Frontline Fellowship, is working in Sudan helping the persecuted Christians. The director of Frontline Fellowship, Peter Hammond, wrote a book Faith Under Fire In Sudan... describing how the Muslim Arab North has been attacking the Christian Black South. This book lifted the virtual news blackout on this colossal conflict and exposed the scorched earth tactics, the systematic terror bombing of civilian targets, and the resurgence of the slave trade in Sudan. This book was instrumental in spreading the truth and getting people involved... now the new edition is continuing to help save lives.
We can learn from the lessons of history... we must learn from them. Another book missionary Peter Hammond just published, In the Killing Fields of Mozambique, details the suffering of Christians in that marxist state in the 1980's. He discovered a very systematic campaign of terror and persecution. The shocking, yet unreported true stories inside the book document the atrocities committed and shares inspiring testimonies of Christians who faced the cruelty and carnage. The book concludes with the vital historic facts and important lessons that should be learned from the scorched earth campaign, man-made famine and abuse of relief aid caused by the communist forces. It also includes a positive programme of action for the future.
These informative books on persecution, along with a book entitled Holocaust in Rwanda are available from Christian Action Network.
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The media must not think that because it utilises superior technology it can do no harm... quite the opposite is true... it has been said that "A drop of ink can make a million think." The question is: "What do we make them think about?" Are we going to help them down the wide road to destruction or towards the narrow path that leads to truth, true freedom and the abundant life? Let me state the important facts that you should know about the relationship between media and violence:
• Media violence can lead to aggressive behaviour in children. Over 1 000 studies confirm this link.
• By age 18, the average child will have viewed about 200 000 acts of violence on television.
• Media violence is especially damaging to young children (under age 8) because they cannot easily tell the difference between real life and fantasy. Violent images on television and in movies may seem real to young children. They can be traumatized by viewing these images.
• Media violence affects children by:
- Increasing aggressiveness and anti-social behaviour
- Increasing their fear of becoming victims
- Making them less sensitive to violence and to victims of violence
- Increasing their appetite for more violence
• Media violence often fails to show the consequences of violence. This is especially true of cartoons, toy commercials and music videos.
The Bible has a great code of conduct for the media: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable_ if anything is excellent or praiseworthy_ think about such things." The mass media shouldn't have such a bad reputation... it has a grand calling, a noble purpose, a tremendous opportunity to aid and inspire people all over the world to a better life.
As we come to a new millennium, with even more technological advances, we will literally have the world at our fingertips. We have the power to change lives and make them better. A drop of ink can make a million think... what will you do with yours?
- Charles C. Boyle II
About the author: Charles, his wife Tracey and their three children are missionaries from America called to help the persecuted church in Africa. Charles has worked extensively in the advertising/communications realm and was the Communications Director at Grace Community Church in Tempe, Arizona. Charles is currently the Office Manager for Frontline Fellowship and an executive member of Christian Action Network.
Permission to quote from or reproduce any UCANEWS is encouraged, provided that due acknowledgement is given.