Violence in society is the source of much controversy over the publication of violent media. The ultimate question to be answered by decades of research is whether or not exposure to violent media will encourage children to embrace violence as a positive attribute in their lives. Though it is clear there is no definitive answer to this important question. This sample research paper explores the idea of limiting and supervising children’s exposure to violent media.
Masking the violence in American pop-culture
Although the debate concerning the effects of media violence exposure and aggressive behavior in children once sided with the strong positive correlation between the two, in the past 50 years, many entertainment organizations have strived to cast a shadow of doubt over it. A recent study to understand the causes of attachment during childhood and determine the causes of delinquency among children revealed that children might learn or encode violent behavior as they view violence in the media.
This paper applies this theory to a specific example from popular culture and attempts to reinforce the negative effect that media violence exposure has on children and adolescents. This paper further offers steps that parents and religious leaders can take to minimize the consequences that come from exposure to violent media in a religious context. In synthesizing the analysis from a specific movie, the results of sociological studies, and a real life testimonial, this paper argues children’s exposure to violent media should be limited and supervised.
Although the relationship between media violence and aggressive behavior in children and adolescents has been thoroughly documented and corroborated by various sociological studies, this form of media has not only continued to become more prevalent, but violence has also continued to assume new forms. Consequently, the varied effects of these forms of violence must be accounted for and considered as young people are consistently exposed to them.
Spread of violent media in American society
As violence in society evolves and modern technology advances, different forms of media have progressively become more available and violent media has become pervasive. The media bombards children, adolescents, and teenagers with violent images, implicitly creating an atmosphere of permissiveness. One psychologist, Jana Bufkin (2000), has observed:
“Individuals, particularly young males who lack alternative role models, may use media images as a resource for constructing gender and the accomplished product may be violent and criminal. The ‘good’ characters, who successfully accomplish masculinity and the ‘bad’ ones who challenge their dominators repeatedly resort to violence and crime in the situational construction of their gender identities”
The ‘good’ characters, who successfully accomplish masculinity and the ‘bad’ ones who challenge their dominators repeatedly resort to violence and crime in the situational construction of their gender identities” (p.156).
Society’s concept of gender teaches young boys to view masculinity and violence as synonymous, but studies suggest that the process actually occurs on a physiological level. In a study conducted by Douglas Gentile, Lindsay Mathieson, and Nicki Crick (2011), they discuss the psychological encoding or “scripts”(p.215), that are learned when a single violent or aggressive event is watched, and they posit that, as children and teenagers have recurring exposure to these scenes, certain specific and general behaviors are learned and reinforced. Furthermore, as scenes of aggression are repeatedly viewed, adolescents can more easily retrieve these scripts and react in an analogous manner along with the encoded script.
Negative impact of violence on children
Applying this theory into popular movies further illustrates the damaging effects that various forms of violence can have on young children, especially boys. Christopher Nolan’s popular film, The Dark Knight, is demonstrative of this idea. The mixed messages this film communicates about violence and gender roles underscore the effect violence in the media may have on young children.
Furthermore, the convoluted themes of this movie function as a micro chasm of the forms of violent media that pervade popular culture. If the theory of Gentile et al. is correct, then the frequency with which children are bombarded by violence may translate into a generation that is “hardwired” to not only act aggressively but also value that behavior.
The Dark Knight’s influence on children’s development
Cultural influence of The Dark Knight Rises and other films in the Batman franchise have influenced American culture to some extent. It sends mixed messages concerning violence, correlating violent acts with social and financial rewards. The juxtaposition of two particular scenes in the Batman film encapsulates this notion. In one particular scene, Bruce Wayne entertains the gorgeous ladies of the Russian ballet on his yacht. Under the backdrop of an exotic island and a luxurious yacht, Bruce Wayne sunbathes while surrounded by super mode.
In the subsequent scene, Batman is depicted brutally kidnapping a criminal.The negative impact of this scene is two-fold. First, it suggests that violent behavior doesn’t merely go unpunished but rewarded with women and money. Secondly, it reinforces the notion that masculinity is defined by a man’s ability to attract women, which not only subjugates women but also constructs a false idea for children. Jana Bufkin’s analysis (2001) reinforces this argument.
Frequently these characters both endorse and use physical intimidation and violence as a means to accomplish their goals. While the resulting goal in the ‘fantasy’ of the action adventure film is the triumph of good over evil, a subtle message legitimizing violence may be in place. (662)
From this perspective, Batman personifies the idea that violence has its rewards; Rewards which present a counterfeit definition of masculinity. Consequently, young boys may look upon this scene only to conclude in order to attract women they must act violently and aggressively.
Psychological aspects of the hero/villain Batman
Rather than performing acts that promote the moral virtue of the hero, Batman simply engages in activities that are marginally more acceptable than the conduct of other criminals. Both Batman and the villains throughout the film engage in reprehensible acts of violence, which draws a nearly invincible line between violence that is permissible or forbidden. Viewers accept this violence as it is better than the true villain’s behavior, and it typically possesses an underlying purpose.
An adult can view such acts and separate the real villain and identify heroic qualities within the degrading behavior. Adults are capable of overlooking violence and discovering a deeper message. They may even dismiss violent behavior as unimportant or unrealistic. The brain development in children is different, and they cannot make this distinction so easily. Children formulate their ideas toward masculinity from their heroes, who acts as harbingers of virtue.
When heroes such as Batman actions are nearly congruent with villains, children are likely to conjugate violence and heroism.
Jana Bufkin (2000) further claims, “masculinity may be reinforced by media depictions of masculine characters using violence to solve conflicts” (Bufkin 659).
Certainly, Batman utilizes violence as the sole mode to ensure his own brand of justice, soliciting a violent form of manhood.
Behavioral impact of violent movies
Gentile’s et al. theory of the process of encoding scripts further elucidates the potential consequences that may result from children and adolescents viewing films like The Dark Knight. Children who view these violent depictions don’t simply act aggressive as a result of watching them. They rather view the reactions of these alleged “superheroes” and synthesize them with their own experience. For example, a child who feels frustrated or embarrassed will encode the aggressive behavior and react in a similar manner.
Furthermore, the results of Gentile’s et al. (2000) study points the spontaneity of these reactions, claiming that acts of physical violence in children are often spontaneous and involuntary reactions, such as punching the hand and fist together or punching a wall. Consequently, a child who has learned a behavior, or encoded behavior, from these violent forms of media may react in an analogous manner when confronted with stimuli that engender aggressive behavior.
Determining whether impact is concrete or coincidence
When determining whether video games and movies play a role in childhood development, the argument of nurture versus nature comes up. Opponents suggest children are either predisposed to violence through genetics or are influenced by their parents and mentors. These experts believe the correlation between violent movies and violence are just coincidences.
The relationship between media violence exposure and aggressive behavior isn’t perfect, “correlations between the amount of media violence viewed and levels of aggressive behavior are in the small-to-moderate range… establishing an association between the two factors does not demonstrate that media violence causes the aggressive behavior” (Grace, 2007, para.9).
However, many critics of these psychologists and sociologists who promote this correlation neglect the overwhelming evidence that media violence does have a corrosive effect on children and adolescents. University of Iowa professors Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman suggest that the news media contributes to the gridlock that occurs amongst child advocates and the entertainment industry.
Anderson and Bushman (2001) explain “Over the past 50 years, the average news report has changed from claims of a weak link to a moderate link and then back to a weak link between media violence and aggression. However, since 1975, the scientific confidence and statistical magnitude of this link has been clearly positive and has consistently increased over time” (p. 482).
It seems that the competing interests of the entertainment industry and different child advocacy groups loom behind this discussion and convolute any definitive line between the effect of media violence exposure and aggression.
Evidence of the negative impact of violent media
Although these refutations against these studies may be plausible, a real life example may augment the plausibility of the correlation between media violence exposure and aggressive behavior. Jake Evans, a 17-year-old, shot and killed his older sister and mother, and, in a written confession, Evans discusses the impact violent media had on his decision to kill his family members. In his written confession, Evans describes watching Rob Zombie’s horror film, Halloween:
It was the third time this week that I watched it. While watching it, I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterwards.
I was thinking to myself it would be the same for me when I kill someone. After I watched the movie and put it in the case and threw it in the trashcan so that people wouldn’t think that in influenced me” (Personal Communication, October 4, 2012).
After reading Jakes entire statement, the role violent media played in his decision to commit such a violent crime is hard to overlook. Furthermore, this statement may reflect the idea that media violence does not directly cause violent behavior but is one factor in many that contribute to the problem. Given this, it would seem imperative that parent, educators, and community leaders take any necessary action to mitigate the influence of violent media in children.
Role of community leaders and parents
Religious leaders and parents can take several steps to assist children and adolescents learn alternative strategies to deal with their anger. First, parents can provide children with an environment without violent or aggressive behavior. In conjunction with this, parents and religious leaders can teach and reinforce Christian ethics found in this Bible passage.
“But whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39, King James Version).
If children and adolescents can learn this behavior through the example of their parents and leaders, then perhaps the same type of encoding that Gentile et al. discuss may occur but with more positive results.
Parents and leaders can secondly minimize the amount of violence that children are exposed to. Jesus further taught that his disciples should not fear that which could destroy the body but the soul (Matthew 10:28). Surely murder and violence corrode one’s spiritual well-being and has everlasting effects in the eternities. As result, parents and leaders must proactively monitor the type of media their children are viewing and ensure that they do not view anything that might entice them to forfeit the blessings that follow from following the counsel of Jesus Christ.
Surely violent forms of media will persist as long as the consumer demands them, and, although some may suggest that media violence exposure and aggression are merely correlations, studies have consistently shown this to be a strong positive correlation. Consequently, Christian parents who wish to protect their children from the harmful effects of violent media must make every effort to provide their children with an environment in which they learn or encode positive mechanisms to deal with violence. Furthermore, through the teachings of the Bible, parents, and leaders can make sure children respond to violence in a way that is congruent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Anderson, C., & Bushman, B. (2001). Media violence and the American public: Scientific facts versus media . American Psychologist, 56(7), 477-489. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2001-17729-001
In this article, University of Iowa Professors, Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson, argue that the media has reneged on its commitment to reporting accurately in regards to the effects of media violence and aggressive behavior in children. This article points to a significant ulterior motive the entertainment industry may have in denying the correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior. It offers a counterargument for the thesis of this paper.
Bufkin, J. (2000). Bias Crime as Gendered Behavior. Social Justice, 26(1), 155-162.
Jana Bufkin explores how violence in the media influences young children, especially boys, in shaping the perspectives of gender identity and masculinity. Bufkin suggests that violent behavior in children is learned, valued, and reinforced through violent forms of media.
Bufkin, J. (2001). Crime in the Movies: Investigating the Efficacy of Measures of Both Sex and Gender for Predicting Victimization and Offending in Film. Sociological Forum, 16(4), 655-676. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from the Gale database.
In this article, Jana Bufkin analyzes the ways in which violent media sends confusing messages to small children, which contribute to the ways in which children construct their views of femininity and masculinity. Her argument reinforces the studies that suggest young males associate violence and masculinity with one another.
Gentile, D., Mathieson, L., & Crick, N. (2011). Media Violence Associations with the Form and Function of Aggression among Elementary School Children. Social Development, 20(2), 213-232. Retrieved February 16, 2013, from the Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.
The three authors of this study hypothesize that children learn or encode violent behavior as they view violent media. Furthermore this study suggests that children react analogously to the learned behavior in their real life situation. The theory of this article serves as the basis for the thesis of this behavior.
Grace, D. (2007). Aggression, Movies, And. Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, 1, 82-84. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from the SAGE database.
This encyclopedia article takes a comprehensive look at the ongoing debate between proponents and critics of the correlation media violence and aggressive behavior. It highlights the deficiencies of both sides of the arguments. This article functions in this paper to offer more counterarguments against the thesis.