As a new parent, I have tuned into the escalating amount of graphic violence being aired on mainstream television and movies. I find the context of the violence and the seeming urgency to up-the-ante with an increasing level of explicitness exceptionally disturbing. It leaves me questioning the impact that this might have on my child’s sense of wellbeing.
The scope and breath of media violence is something we grapple with in everyday life. The nature of media violence, its presence, context and its relationship to violence in the real world has generated many decades of debate. Current marketing and media trends seem to indicate that the existence of violence in the media is not going away but is, in fact, evolving into something more calamitous. To understand media violence, one must look at its history, who generates it and why it is produced.
With bringing about a revelation of media violence in society for our children, I will demonstrate that violent acts are not desired by the viewing audience and are only present in media as mere strategic marketing. The increasing amount of violence and its graphic portrayal on television does not mirror violence in the real world, but does actually alter people’s perception of its reality. Violence in television and movies changes our perception of the world and has a harmful cascading effect on our society.
Violence has always been instrumental in storytelling. From the beginning of time, violence has been used as a lesson of moral code establishing right from wrong. Violent acts were used as legitimate, artistic creation that helped to explain historic dramas and were crucial to a story that sent an anti-violence message (Gerbner, 1994).
There are many historical depictions of graphic violence in the Bible and similar depictions of bloody Napoleonic battle scenes and of the cutthroat love tragedies of Shakespeare. Even children’s fables used violence as a device to tell a story. For example, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs relied on violence to tell the story of greed and vanity. Theatrical films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Forrest Gump, and Dances with Wolves and movies based on historic events such as Casablanca, Elizabeth, Schindler’s List, and Titanic, would be very difficult, if not impossible, to portray without the use of violence.
Today, the violent acts themselves have developed into the artistic creation itself. The kinds of stories told now are of power through violence, and the message conveyed is that violence can solve just about any problem (Gerbner, 1994). Such examples include Terminator, Rambo, Natural Born Killers, and American Psycho. Other movies are simply studio-produced cash-cows with questionable artistic merit and seem to quickly go from theatre box office to home video. They seek to achieve the “cheap thrill” rush and include the titles Saw, Kill Bill, Untraceable, and The Fast and the Furious. Depictions of violence are never simply about the physical act but rather about the context of the violence. Rather than existing as the vehicle to deliver a message, the physical act has become the raison d’être (Gerbner, 1994).
Media entertainment is big business. Pop culture products are the United States’ largest export. Between 2000 and 2001, people around the world spent an astounding record, 14 billion U.S. dollars, going to the movies. These U.S. films are distributed in more than 150 countries and American television programs are broadcast in over 125 international markets (“The Business of Media Violence,” 2009, para. 1). Violence is packaged as pop culture’s biggest product. Violence is easy to manufacture and simple to sell worldwide and is hitting the mainstream like never before.
Most of the stories on television and in movies are dictated by large conglomerate companies. In order to survive, these multinational corporations whose studios