|VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA|
depictions of violence on film and television on the increase? Center
for Media and Public Affairs President Robert Lichter, Washington Post
columnist E.J. Dionne and director Rupert Wainwright take your questions.
L. Miller of Fort Bragg, NC asks:
In my research, I have seen that children from other countries have also been exposed to violent programs, and yet they do not display violent tendencies or aggression. What is your perspective on America blaming the media for increased violence in our youth when other countries do not report the same problems?
Dear Ms. (Terri) Miller:
It's true that you cannot explain our higher levels of violence solely or even primarily by what's on TV or in the movies. We have many other problems besides violent programming, and I don't think it helps our debate when people yell loudly about violent programming simply to avoid talking about tougher gun control, which I believe we need. We also seem to have a culture of violence in some of our big cities which is similar to, but seems deeper than, comparable cultures of violence in other countries. We've also had specific problems related to the spread of crack.
Having said all this, there have been studies suggesting that steady exposure to violent programming is desensitizing and can deepen our culture of violence. The point, as I tried to say on the show, is not to promote censorship, but to get the entertainment industry to examine what it's doing -- and what it could do far better.
For what it's worth, my column in The Washington Post on Sept. 21, available at washingtonpost.com at least through Monday night (search on my name in the "Author" box) goes into this in more detail.
Although rates of youth crime and violence are very high in the U.S. relative to other countries, research findings that media violence contributes to real world violent behavior have been replicated in many other countries, including Canada, several European countries, Israel, and South Africa. The great exception appears to be Japan, in which very low rates of youthful violence coexist with a popular culture that includes very violent products.
It appears that the unusually strong social controls in this culture override any impact of entertainment media in producing behavioral outcomes. This serves to remind us that the causes of violence can range from an immediate and obvious individual stimulus to cultural norms and practices that quietly condition the behavior patterns of entire populations.
I am very sympathetic to your observations, and my perspective on the issue you mentioned is that America has not yet accepted the repercussions of the widespread availability of cheap lethal weapons.