In 1993, Senator Joe Lieberman spoke out against the negative impact of violent video games on youth. However, the first public outcry surrounding violence in video games occurred some 17 years earlier, with the release of the Exidy-produced arcade game Death Race. This much maligned video game was an adaptation of the ultraviolent Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine movie Death Race 2000.
Singling out violent media because of similarities between real-life acts of violence and acts of violence portrayed in the media oversimplifies the problem of school shootings. Moreover, by focusing on media violence alone, attention is diverted away from issues that may be of greater importance, such as peer rejection, parent-child relationships, and mental illness.
In addition to the violence regularly seen in television dramas, sports, and Saturday morning cartoons, news coverage of war, terrorism, and crime has increased the sense of immediacy and realism in televisual violence. This has been amplified by the rise of reality-based programs and the generalized message that the world is becoming a more dangerous place.
Rather than blaming the entertainment industry for producing violent television, movies, and games, it is important to consider why demand is so strong for them. The answer is that violence works. Like racism and sexism, the desire for violent representations is not a deviation from a social norm. It is the norm.
Researchers have been examining the impact of the media on aggressive and violent behaviour for over 40 years. Several meta-analyses of studies on the impact of the media on aggression and violence have tended to conclude that media violence is positively related to aggression toward others. However, evidence to confirm its effect on serious forms of violence (such as assault and homicide), is lacking.
Apart from examining the extent to which media violence is a direct cause of serious physical violence, research is also required on the influence of the media on interpersonal relations and on individual traits such as hostility, callousness, indifference, lack of respect and the inability to identify with other people's feelings.
The most comprehensive analysis of violence on television has been conducted with the National Television Violence Study (NTVS, 19996), which analyzed the content of a total of 3,185 programs across 23 television channels for all day parts from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 days a week, over the course of a television season. NTVS researchers report that 57% of all programs analyzed had some violence and that one third of programs presented nine or more violent interactions.
Some portrayals are presented so often that we can no longer treat them with wonder or awe. Our tolerance has been increased so that those things that used to horrify or even upset us no longer do. This is especially important with the issue of violence. Viewing TV violence leads to lowered sensitivity to aggression and violence.
First, the sheer quantity of violence on television encourages the idea that aggressive behavior is normal. Viewers become desensitized. The mind, as Gerbner puts it, becomes "militarized." This leads to what Gerbner calls "the Mean World Syndrome." Because television depicts the world as worse than it is (at least for white suburbanites), we become fearful and anxious -- and more willing to depend on authorities, strong measures, gated communities, and other proto-police-state accouterments.
At present we know very little about the shooter James Holmes, and so we’re obsessively focusing on some of the more superficial details of this case. It’s worth noting that The Dark Knight Rises is playing in 4,404 out of 5,331 total theaters in the U.S. this weekend (and many of those theaters are showing the movie on multiple screens). Had the massacre occurred a couple of weekends ago, we might have been parsing The Amazing Spider-Man or The Avengers or even The Hunger Games for “clues” as to the shooter’s motivation. Summer blockbusters tend to be violent, which brings us to the next misconception, which is that violent entertainment leads to actual violence.