Man is greatly inclined to negative aspects of life. And violence is one of them. Violence in the form of theft, robbery, harassment, bloodshed etc. is what made history so interesting. With media booming to its zenith, portrayal and projection of violence make history books appear dull and epic movies and violent content look more appealing. But it is not recently that media violence has been criticized. Plato complained about the effects of plays on youth. So we can understand media has been combating criticism since hundreds of years and unfortunately for it, the problem just got bigger and bigger.
Media violence is not confined to any one medium. Decades ago, violent content was as limited as the reach of media itself. Today, the audiences have increased by more than a triple-fold. With the advent of advanced technology, media violence creates even a greater risk of possible harm to the society, especially children.
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To understand media violence, or mediated violence, one needs to understand both its theoretical and practical approaches. Our main concern in this chapter will be the forms of media violence in the West and in Pakistan in particular.
Mediated violence has been in the limelight since a long, long time. The effect of such media content has been termed negative by a heavy majority. But there have been researchers who would think otherwise. Mediated violence, in their perspective, have both good and bad possible effects and ofcourse, it varies differently in different people.
Aristotle introduced catharsis theory in his play Poetics. He suggested that when people viewed tragedy in plays, it gave them an emotional release. Any negative feelings that they may feel such as fear or anger, were purged when they view characters in tragic events. VicariousÂ participationÂ inÂ others'Â aggressionsÂ helpsÂ releaseÂ those tensions. Aristotle taught that viewing tragic plays gave people emotional release (katharsis) from negative feelings such as pity, fear, and anger. By watching the characters in the play experience tragic events, the negative feelings of the viewer were presumably purged and cleansed. This emotional cleansing was believed to be beneficial to both the individual and society. This theory has been carried over into modern day mass media. It is used to justify the increase in the amount of violence we see in the media.
Is viewing violence cathartic? The large amount of violence in the mass media is often justified by the concept of catharsis. The word catharsis comes from the Greek word katharsis, which literally translated means "a cleansing or purging." The first recorded mention of catharsis occurred more than one thousand years ago, in the work Poetics by Aristotle.
The ancient notion of catharsis was revived by Sigmund Freud and his associates. For example, A. A. Brill, the psychiatrist who introduced the psychoanalytic techniques of Freud to the United States, prescribed that his patients watch a prize fight once a month to purge their angry, aggressive feelings into harmless channels. According toÂ psychoanalytic theory, this emotional release is linked to a need to release unconscious conflicts. For example, experiencing stress over a work-related situation may cause feelings of frustration and tension. Rather than vent these feelings inappropriately, the individual may instead release these feelings in another way, such as through physical activity or another stress relieving activity.
Catharsis theory did not die with Aristotle and Freud. Many directors and producers of violent media claim that their products are cathartic. For example, Alfred Hitchcock, director of the movie Psycho, said, "One of television's greatest contributions is that it brought murder back into the home where it belongs. Seeing a murder on television can be good therapy. It can help work off one's antagonism." More recently, in 1992, Paul Verhoeven, director of the movie Total Recall, said, "I think it's a kind of purifying experience to see violence."
The producers of violent computer games, like the producers of violent films, claim that their products are cathartic. For example, Sega Soft has created an online network containing violent games that claims to provide users an outlet for the "primal human urge to kill." In promotional materials for the fictional CyberDivision movement, the imaginary founder Dr. Bartha says, "We kill. It's OK. It's not our fault any more than breathing or urinating." Dr. Bartha claims that aggressive urges and impulses can be purged by playing violent video games. "It's a marketing campaign," said a SegaSoft spokesperson, "but there is some validity to the concept that you need an outlet for aggressive urges." Some people who play violent computer games, such as the following thirty-year-old video game player, agree: "When the world pisses you off and you need a place to vent, Quake [a violent video game] is a great place for it. You can kill somebody and watch the blood run down the walls, and it feels good. But when it's done, you're rid of it."
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The second aspect concerning media violence is that even if it provides catharsis to the viewer it also makes him indifferent to the violence in real. This is known as theory of desensitization. Desensitization theory states that individuals who watch large amounts of violence become less sensitive to future violent content than individuals who watch less violence (Comstock, 1989). Psychologists have demonstrated that people gradually become less physiologically and emotionally aroused as they view more violence. For example, Cline, Croft, and Courrier (1973) showed a violent television portrayal to children who were heavy television viewers and those who were not heavy viewers. Cline and colleagues found that children who watched a lot of television (arguably a violent medium) became less physiologically aroused when shown the violent clip compared to the children who were not heavy viewers.
In another study, Thomas, Horton, Lippincott, and Drabman (1977) showed different film clips to two groups of 8-10 year-old children. One clip was of a violent police drama. The other was of a volleyball game. Each group was then shown a television clip of real-life violence. Thomas et. al found that the children who had viewed the violent police drama were significantly less aroused by the subsequent violent clip compared to the children who had viewed the non-violent volleyball game. Thomas and her colleagues repeated this experiment with college students and obtained similar results.
The flourishing of hate speech in new media platforms, such as YouTube, can be explained using desensitization theory. This theory states that exposure to violence through media channels leads to a desensitization to violence in real life, as well as a decrease in feelings of empathy or sympathy towards actual victims (Encyclopedia of Communication, 2006). Exposure to violence on the Internet, in video games, and in other new media platforms potentially desensitizes users to violent acts, which could make them more likely to commit such acts, such as the cyberbullying evident in many YouTube comments.
Bushmen and Anderson (2008) used the theory of desensitization in order prove it reduces helping behavior. In Study 1, violent video games known to desensitize people caused decreases in helping-related behavior, perceptions, and cognitions. In Study 2, violent movies delayed helping in a wholly naturalistic setting. The person in need of help had an injured ankle in both studies. In Study 1, the injury resulted from interpersonal violence, whereas in Study 2, the cause of injury was unknown. The similar results across very different studies suggest that desensitization caused by media violence generalizes beyond failure to help victims of violence. Theoretically, we expect such generalization; one factor inï¬‚uencing helping behavior is judged severity of injury, and that judgment is inï¬‚uenced by one's own emotional and physiological reaction to the injury.
In the Figure 1, Bushmen and Anderson illustrated the process by which the urge to help people in pain and distress reduces. The level and degree of sensitization differs from person to person. The results, as stated, proved that media violence has a negative effect on audiences.
Then there is the opposite view, that violence does have an impact. Probably most prevalent of these theories is Berkowitz' Aggressive Cues Theory that has as its central assumption this: Exposure to aggressive stimuli will increase physiological and emotional arousal, which will increase the probability of violence.
In other words, all that violence gets the adrenaline juices in us flowing and makes us more edgy, increasing the chance that we'll be more aggressive or more violent. Aggressive Cues theorists are quick to point out that watching violence does not mean we'll always be more aggressive or violent, but it increases the chances. And the way in which the violence is presented will have an impact on us, too. If we can relate to the protagonist committing the violence, or if the violence is presented in a justifiable way, we can be led to aggressive behavior. If a bratty kid gets spanked in a media portrayal â€â€clearly an aggressive and violent actâ€â€ it sends a message that corporal punishment is acceptable under the right circumstances. If steelworkers see a show where steelworkers drink and brawl after work every day, they are more likely to accept that drinking and brawling are normal behavior.
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In the case of Phoebe Prince, media can be used to explain the aggressive behavior that occurred. In Massachusetts, nine teenagers (three males and six females) have been charged with involvement of bullying a 15 year old girl to death. Phoebe Prince was bullied for months by the teenagers and it eventually led her to commit suicide. This can be a real life example of how media influences aggression (cnn, 2010). One of the studies showed how even watching cartoons (no matter what rating it is) can influence verbal aggression in a school setting. It also found that those individuals that resort to aggression are aware of their actions, but not the effects it will have on the victim (Mitrofan et al., 2009). The teenagers' verbal aggression towards Phoebe can be said to be influenced by television such as cartoons. One can come to this conclusion based on the previous study mentioned that Mitrofan et al did where they found that watching cartoons can influence verbal aggression in a school setting. Although, it contradicted the study of how it could minimize physical aggression as some of the female teenager victimized Phoebe physically as well as verbally. Frequent exposure to violent media can be one explanation on why those girls were physically abusive. It probably led to increased irrational thinking in those girls, therefore causing them to behave more aggressively towards the victim (Richmond et al., 2008). Exposure to violent television shows can explain the behaviors of the boys involved in the bullying. It was found that violent shows have a stronger affect on boys than girls. This study can also show that since most of the teenagers were girls, and they used physical abuse as well as verbal, other mediating factors had to be involved. Some of the mediating factors that could be involved are the setting or the influence of bystanders (Marin et al., 2009). Also, the teenagers engaging in the bullying may have had more exposure to media where social models behaved in a similar manner as they did. They learned their behavior of verbally and physically aggression by observing those models presented by the media (Baron & Richardson, 34).
Vulnerable Audiences (Conceptualization)
Audiences for possible harm by media violence differ from age to age and culture to culture.
Television news is filled with violence and suffering. Local news, which is widely used by Pakistanis, is often found to overemphasize brutal crime and to rely heavily on sensational presentations of violence. In addition, analyses of the major network newscasts have shown that crime and violent world events are among the most frequently covered topics. Much of the major national and international news content of the past few years, such as the bomb blasts, national crisis, kidnappings of children, honor killings, terror in the Middle East and African countries, and Afghanistan War contained elements that could well affect children, either because they involved victims or situations that children could easily identify with or because they provided recurring and sometimes even glamorized images of weapons and war.
Although most television news programs are clearly not intended for a child audience, children depend heavily on television for their knowledge about news events and they watch more news broadcasts than many parents and other caregivers might think they do. Most children in the highest grades of elementary school watch the news at least several times a week and even many 3- to 8-year-olds regularly watch television news. Many older elementary school children claim that they watch the news because they find it important to stay informed, but even if children do not choose to watch the news themselves, they still are frequently confronted with it when they are looking for other programs or when their parents are watching. With the rise of television channels and Internet services that broadcast news around the clock and with the growing practice of interrupting other television programming to report on "breaking news stories," children of all ages thus may be regularly confronted with highly distressing and violent accounts of murders, catastrophic accidents, war, and other suffering.
VideoÂ gamesÂ areÂ aÂ 'movingÂ target'Â inÂ thatÂ theyÂ areÂ constantlyÂ changingÂ andÂ becomingÂ moreÂ advanced. Researchers from both sides of the debate have commented that VVG studies should use the most up-to-date games to ensure external validity. The violence in the 1976 game Death Race is far removed from the violence in the 2008 game Grand Theft Auto IV. This observation about differing violent content raises a related question: does realistic, graphic violence have a greater effect on aggression than the cartoonish, abstract violence commonly seen in older VVGs and contemporary games aimed at children?
There is little research into the differing effects of mildly violent games aimed at children and extremely violent games aimed at adults. The studies that do exist show mixed results. For instance,Â aÂ 2003Â studyÂ hadÂ childrenÂ playÂ aÂ children'sÂ VVGÂ orÂ aÂ non-violentÂ children'sÂ videoÂ game.
The children were then asked to respond to 10 scenarios, some of which were designed to produce aggressive responses, others empathetic responses. No correlation was found between playing the mildly violent game and aggressive or empathetic responses.
The authors speculate that the relatively benign games that were allocated to the children may not have been violent enough to produce a response, suggesting that mildly violent children's games are not harmful. The strength of this finding is limited because there was no group that played a more violent game, which would have allowed for comparison. A 2007 study was designed to test the question of whether mildly violent games aimed at children increase aggression and whether they do so in children and in university students.
The study used 161 young participants and 354 older participants. They were randomly assigned to violent or non-violent children's games. Some of the older participants were also randomly assigned to violent games aimed at teenagers. Participants played one of the games for 20 minutes and then played a "noise blast" game. The study found that brief exposure to children's violent games increased the risk of aggressive behavior in both children and young adults. Among the older players, there was no significant difference in effects between the violent children's games and the violent teen's games.
The authors note that these findings suggest that it doesn't matter how graphic, gory, or realistic the violence portrayed is, the effects are the same no matter the age of the participant.
Arguably, Pacman ought to have a similar impact as Grand Theft Auto. Problems with game selection reduce the reliability of the results however. Some of the games were made as early as 1991. Also, the Macintosh computers that were used aren't popular gaming platforms. Other VVG researchers have argued that to ensure results are externally valid, the games and gaming equipment being used should be both current and popular.
Christopher Barlett and colleagues investigated how effects differ when the use of a 'lightgun' controller, amount of blood, and realism of the violence are controlled by the experimenter. The authors found that the use of a light gun controller, higher amounts of blood, and more 'real world' violence tended to make players more aggressive. These studies support the view that if VVGs do have a negative impact, the severity of the violence increases that impact. The measures of aggressions used in these studies are somewhat problematic, however. In the 'light gun' study for instance, there was no measure of aggressive behaviour.
Instead,Â BarlettÂ etÂ alÂ usedÂ responsesÂ toÂ 'storyÂ stems'Â involvingÂ judgesÂ sentencing criminals and parents punishing children to measure aggressive thoughts. Other causationist researchers have noted that these sorts of questions may be measuring stable, long-termÂ beliefsÂ andÂ attitudesÂ whichÂ shouldÂ notÂ beÂ 'influencedÂ byÂ playingÂ aÂ videoÂ game for a fewÂ minutes'.