Can the nation-state and culture combine forces to reduce interpersonal violence in the West?
Violence is a difficult term to define, but for the purposes of this assignment violence can be defined as a crime or the threat to commit a crime by one person upon another person, and that usually that has negative physical or emotional effects upon the victim. Violence in Western society has been increasing steadily and has become a major concern for many nations. Increasingly, much of the violence is committed by male children and teenagers. Crimes by young people are no longer just misdemeanors, but they now include the major felonies of rape, robbery and homicide. The rise in violent crime in the last few decades has been accompanied by a rise in violence in the media, especially television, movies and music. To protect society, the US government must impose regulations on these media outlets so that audiences are not subjected to too much gratuitous violence that may influence them to commit such acts of violence.
Much of Western society’s contemporary behavior is influenced by popular culture, usually by such media outlets as television, movies and music. Arguments exist today concerning the amount of responsibility that the media has to portray such violent crimes as unacceptable. The most popular of such beliefs is one that argues that the media is currently romanticizing the use of violence to gain an audience. Proponents of such an argument claim that if the media displays violence in a less glamorous way, interpersonal violence can be reduced. For this to happen, the nation-state must play the important role of regulating how much and what types of violence media sources can show, and to which audiences.
Some people, mostly men, enjoy viewing or hearing about acts of violence. Some even find it exciting to participate, on one level or another, in violent acts. Television programs, movies and music capitalize on this fact by showing or describing gratuitous acts of violence. Even news programs see the importance in covering violent interpersonal crimes in their broadcasts to gain high ratings. Western society is interested in conflict, and enjoys being a third party audience to such violence. The problem with this is that by consuming too much violence through the media, the viewer can become immune to the effects or consequences of violence and may be more prone to commit crimes, or less likely to respond when witnessing another becoming a victim of a crime.
Many researchers point to the fact that men are “dispensable” creatures as the reason for their affinity to violence. The fact that one man has enough sperm to produce an entire population means that they have to compete for females. This competition drives them to commit violent acts against each other to better their chances of finding a mate. Of course, such behavior is not common today, but sociologists argue that this is how men developed their violent nature towards each other. Another related theory of why men are more violent than women is that historically separate populations have always been in competition. Competition for land, resources and women. To protect their genetic makeup and ensure that their genes will be passed on to future generations, the males of the population acted violently towards the males of any population threatening their own. One example of this is the holocaust, in which the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jewish population in order for the Aryan race to prosper. The fact that men are more inclined to commit violent acts against one another more than towards women and children reinforces the argument that they act violently in order to ensure their genes will be passed on to future generations.
In the past few hundred years it seems that men have become less violent, supporting the argument that violence is unlearned. To become a more civilized species, humans have adapted to abstain from committing violent interpersonal crimes. It seems this trend is becoming undermined by television, music and movies. By the age of 18, the average American television viewer has witnessed over 32,000 murders and 40,000 attempted murders on television alone (American Psychological Association). These statistics do not include such violence seen in movies or heard in music. To witness such an amount of violence is clearly unrealistic and exploitative. Violence is being used by television programs as a superficial way of grabbing and holding an audience’s attention. Producers of television programs that show violence must take the responsibility of showing a realistic amount of violence on their shows. That is, they must not use gratuitous violence to appeal to male viewers, or else the violent crime rate in the United States will rise.
The federal government in the US has taken the initiative to curb not only the amount of violence that can be shown by one program, but also the level of violence that can be shown and to what audiences. By limiting the amount of violence shown on television before 10pm, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is trying to make sure that children are not exposed to the levels of gratuitous violence intended for more mature audiences. As early as the 1960s, studies reported that watching television can make children more aggressive. In fact, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the National Institute of Mental Health have all linked violent television and movies with aggressive behavior in young people. Watching violence can also leave children fearful or make them less sensitive to real violence and its consequences. One of the biggest problems with experiencing violence in the media is the fact that it is often portrayed without consequences. When an audience sees violence without remorse, criticism, or punishment they do not get a realistic view of violence, and may be more prone to committing such violence themselves.
Movies are regulated much less by the government than television is, simply because the audience has to make the effort to go to the theater or rent the video in order to view the violence shown. The reason television is regulated more is mainly to shield children from viewing violent or sexual content that their parents may have little control over. The regulations for movies involve simple rating systems in which certain age groups are forbidden from viewing movies that the government feels may contain too much violent or sexual content for them. These rating systems often force producers of films to think carefully about how much violence they wish to include in their movies, because a lower rating that encompasses more age groups means the film will have a much larger possible audience. On the other hand, the less violence that a certain type of film shows, the less appealing the film may be, especially to the older, male demographic.
Music can be a much more influential medium than TV or film when it comes to portraying violence. The audience cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality as well as in music or movies, because musicians often claim their records are authentic. Some claim that heavy metal and rap, as well as some other types of music, beautify, consecrate, and celebrate violence. Music is much less regulated, and therefore a much more dangerous medium than either television or film. Violence cannot be viewed through music, but it is graphically described and that can subconsciously impact the male psyche (Anderson).
Empirical research has demonstrated that masculinity is a major cause of violent crime. The overwhelming majority of violent offenses of all kinds are committed by men. Masculinity has been identified as central to the question of violence (Egger). According to Heather Strang, male homicide offenders in Australia in 1990 to 1991 outnumbered females by a factor of nine. The disproportionate involvement of male offenders was evident in all age groups and across all jurisdictions (Strang). Although the fact that masculinity contributes to high levels of violence, it does not account for all the factors that influence this violence in men.
The federal government must work closely with popular media outlets to reduce the amount and severity of gratuitous violence shown to audiences. Current methods of regulation are not working, as they are simply making violence less accessible to children. The media must take the responsibility of presenting realistic portrayals of violence, so as to not induce more violent behavior from their audiences. The governments of the Western world cannot altogether prohibit the media from showing violence to their citizens, but they can impose more strict limitations on the amount of violence shown and to which audiences. More mature audiences can handle violent content better than younger, more impressionable audiences.
American Psychological Association Website www.apa.org/journals/xap/xap44291.html
Anderson Ph.D., Craig “Exposure to Violent Media: The Effects of Songs with Violent Lyrics on Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings” Iowa State University. Texas Department of Human Services; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 84, No. 5.
Egger, S. Violence and Masculinity: A Commentary
Huston, A.C., et al 1992 Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press
Strang, H. 1992, Homicides in Australia 1990-1991, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.