Youth violence is problem that is very apparent in society today and too often the media is blamed as the source of that problem. Whether it is in schools, playgrounds, or living rooms across America children are displaying violent tendencies while interacting with their peers. In some cases the violence reaches extreme levels of tragedy and destruction. Senseless tragedies, such as the Columbine High School shooting, as well as many other school shootings that have occurred across the nation have been said to be the result of over-exposure to violent media. Many believe that these recent horrific displays of violence have been a result of the increasing amount of hostility that the media portrays to children through television, movies, music, and video games. It would be a mistake not to believe that outlets such as these do have an effect on children, but it would be a greater mistake to lay the blame for child violence on the media alone. The blame should not fall on the media when it is society itself that is portrayed through its outlets. When the emphasis lies heavily on one aspect of a larger problem, other contributing aspects are ignored. The motivation for violence by youth in society does not stem primarily from media but from the environment the children grow up in. American society must take a strong look at the problem of youth violence and truly see that the problem is not the television in the living room, but possibly the environment of that living room.
Over the last decade the effects of media violence have been scrutinized and numerous case studies have been done to pinpoint these effects. However, no concrete evidence has been concluded from these scores of studies that have been able to do so. Author Richard Rhodes examined studies done by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Mental Health only to find that, “[…] no direct, casual link between exposure to mock violence has ever been demonstrated, and the few claims of modest correlation have been contradicted by other findings, sometimes in the same studies” (181). Rhodes is not alone in his deductions. The problem with the research studies done is the approach the researchers take in their studies. Many researchers attempt to take on a biological approach towards a psychological problem. This weakens the validity of any findings because the human subjects involved are susceptible and are already the result of to too many variables. Race, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds are just a few of these variables. Girls for example watch an equivalent amount of television as young boys, but they are not nearly as aggressive as young boys (Males). Too many of the case studies done do not give evidence of a connection or pinpoint the effects, long or short term, of the impact of media violence on youth.
It appears that the environments that children grow up in today are conducive for violence to become prevalent in their lives. The media is a reflection of society, and for some that reflection is not as pretty as one could hope for. The atmosphere in which many children grow up in, force them to suppress a lot of hardships and angry feelings, which will linger in them. Alexandra Marks describes what could and does happen to these feelings, “There’s a huge correlation between the levels of violence that we tolerate as a society within a family, and how it spills out to the rest of the community” (Marks). Children grow up in places that have real life violence all across the country. It is not just in the inner cities or low income areas either. Physical and mental abuses take place in homes and schools everyday and compel children with fragile minds to react. Mark Males also brings to light a 1993 report done by Childhelp USA stating, “Eighty-four percent of prison inmates were abused as children” (Males 2). Such prevalent social problems deserve much more attention than an episode of Power Rangers or the new Spiderman movie.
Sadly people in position to make a difference overlook such issues. Instead of passing legislatives laws to improve social conditions politicians rally for censorship of the media and go about various ways of brushing aside the issues at hand. Mike Males sums it up, “[…] media and legislative attention are rare, irreplaceable sources. Every minute devoted to thrashing over issues like violence in the media is one lost to addressing the accumulating social problems that are much more crucial contributors to violence in the real world” (3). The pro-censorship argument is deeply embedded in the idea that the media and the youth violence are connected in a fashion such that the latter is a result of the former. The connection between the two is complex because the media is not fully responsible for social violence. It is not likely that a man who is a law-abiding citizen will wake up and become killer after watching a horror movie. Critics of the media will make the argument that even though the media does not directly influence violence it does add fuel to the on going fire that is the problem of aggression in our society.
The legal action being taken by the government in regards to censorship are borderline unethical. For example, in Chicago the public libraries were required to install software that banned the public from accessing certain web sites because they portrayed violence. Richard Boire describes the way in which censoring the media in this situation violates the Constitution,
Banning access to certain information in public libraries violates the Constitution in at least two ways. First, restricting expression based on its content is a glaring violation of the First Amendment. The ban violates the First Amendment right to expression of those people whose Websites are barred from such important venues as the nation’s public libraries. Second, the ban violates the rights of citizens who are denied access to the suppressed information. The Supreme Court has held that the right to receive ideas is protected by the First Amendment (Boire).
It is hypocritical for America to use such rights as these as a foundation and then aim to infringed upon them by censoring the media. The government should not be in the business of policing the minds of Americans, rather they should recognize that unlimited access to information and freedom of expression are imperative for a healthy, functional democracy.
The case that pro-censors make is for the eventual regulation of the media and what it depicts to America’s youth. Ray Surette reminds us that, “[…] we were a violent nation before we had mass media, and there is no evidence that the removal of violent media would make us nonviolent” (3). The problem of violence in the eyes of the censors has a lot to do with the media and the way it illustrates violence as a sensible and acceptable alterative in the fantasy world that it creates. This “fake” world though has adverse affects on the children who watch it and conclude that it is suitable to bring the violence that occurs on the television into the world they live in. The media has been portraying violence as an accepted alternative for some time and now generations are becoming desensitized to violence in the real world. Before death and murder were acts that frightened and caused society to mourn, but now with death and murder a staple of any child’s nightly entertainment they are learning to treat such things as death and violence in a new light. Florence Loyie writes, “There is a generation of people out there who have been so emotionally desensitized by media violence they have learned to associate human death and suffering with pleasure” (Loyie 1). She also goes on to say, “Parents need to remember that up until about the age of seven, children have enormous difficulty telling the differences between fantasy and reality” (Loyie 2). Children need to be taught at a young age to deal with their emotions, otherwise they will have difficulty functioning in society in their future years. It is the duty of the parent to regulate their own child’s exposure to the media and to educate them on right and wrong, real and fake.
The true tragedy of this issue is that violence is real; and children are exposed to real life horrors everyday. Surette explains that we cannot attempt to reduce an aspect of violence is our violent society and expect to have dramatic results. “Youth violence will not be seriously reduced without violence in other aspects of our culture being addressed” (10). The violence we see today is a product of the culture America has developed in the past five decades. If we desire to change that culture we have to take on all of the facets of its personality. “We must everything we can, such as economic inequalities, the gun culture, and the glamorization of violence […] we must work to modify the individual, family, and neighborhood factors that violently predispose youth” (10).
The argument over whether the media is to blame for youth violence is one that resembles many facing society; it has many sides and deep beliefs. The side that supports the censorship of the media is passionate for its cause but struggles to find any conclusive evidence to support its ideas. It is for this reason that one should not place the blame of youth aggression on the media alone. By doing this society is using it as scapegoat for the real problem that is to hard to look face to face with. Taking away violent video games, harsh music lyrics, horror movies, and graphic television shows will not rid violence from society. All of those media outlets are reflections of how we live as a society and until we change the way in which our society operates violence will be prevalent and growing among our youths. It is not easy to examine oneself and admit to being a part of the problem, but if society can humble itself and look within, rather than out, for answers, a real solution will surface. Take away the media all together; however, until society can find an answer that is not a scapegoat, violence will continue to plague the nation.