Regulating Violence Portrayed in the Media

Two themes have emerged as dominant in recent media broadcasts: sex and violence. These two themes have proven to garner high ratings from viewers and they further ensure the success of television programs and cinema movies. Viewers themselves rank programs which feature either or both of these themes as favorites. Of greater impact it seems is the evolution of violence as depicted in the media.

With the aid of modern technology, especially as employed in animation and special effects, the depiction of violence has been further facilitated and enhanced. Furthermore, the proliferation of violent programs provides easy access to the same by viewers of all backgrounds, young and old as well as impressionable and guarded alike.

This reflects that regulatory boards and associations are no longer able to keep up with the numerous programs deployed containing violent content. On the other hand, the ease with which violent content may be accessed might be attributed to a slackening in standards. This is reflected in the programs which depict violent and gory images aired for children. Sometimes, as is the case with a lot of Japanese animation, the violence portrayed for the youth surpasses even that depicted for mature viewing.

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This research intends to study the role of violence as portrayed on the screen on aggressive behavior of viewers. It is the goal of this paper to assess whether or not there is a need to regulate the extent of depicted violence on screen. Should it be shown that such a need exists, then the reasonableness of the regulation to be made will be broached.

No distinction will be made between programs aired on television and those shown in movie theaters. Neither will distinction be made between programs with purely violent content and programs which only dedicate a portion of the airtime to violence. Included in the programs and movies to be analyzed will be news programs, fictional stories, and even animation. It will be borne in mind that what is of importance in this study is not so much the manner in which the violence is depicted but more on the effect that portrayals of violence has on the viewing public.

What will be taken into account will be the effect that violence has on the individual behavior as well as on the society at large bearing witness to it. Given the response of persons, whether implicit or explicit, to portrayals of violence, a close look will be taken as to the effect of regulating the violent content of movies and programs in the cinema and on television.

A brief analysis will be made regarding the effect such a regulation might have on viewer ratings and on the process of regulation itself. It is only as regards this aspect of regulation that an analysis of acceptable levels of violence will be made. Therefore, it is only in outlining a rational process of regulation wherein the manner of depicting violence will be assessed. These are the research goals and delimitations within which this paper will be made.

Research Issues

Such goals have been borne out of an observation that the increase in violent programs shown on screen have resulted in a related increase in crime and violence in the community. Several empirical research data have been obtained which support this observation. Although there has been contradictory evidence obtained which also tend to refute supporting evidence, the fact remains that in some populations and studies, a positive correlation has been drawn between television violence and violence in the individual and in the community.

Furthermore, actual cases have been observed wherein felonies have been committed mimicking behavior aired on television or shown in a movie. This reflects the danger of giving free license to creativity in violent films. This is particularly so in programs wherein the characters are permitted to accomplish their criminal objectives without resulting in action by legal or police authorities.

Not only as regards criminal behavior, but even in programs reflecting suicide behavior, there has been shown a duplication effect in the acts of viewers. Thus it is shown that concepts shown by the media give ideas to the audience regarding behavior that they themselves might engage in. Taking into consideration the extent of violent acts that can possibly be depicted in films today and the variety of programs accessible to different viewers, we are faced with the problem of having to control for an infinite number of different atrocities in any given community.

Given these facts, the emerging issue is undeniably whether or not regulation may effect a means of control for aggressive and violent behavior in societies exposed to violence in films. Given that violent programs have already been introduced into the regular broadcast of media, would its belated regulation result in a discernable change? Furthermore, up to what extent should regulation be made in order that an observable decline is found in violent behavior of the public?

Theoretical Framework

The focus and issues of this paper is based on several theoretical foundations. These theories serve to ground the rationalizations and argumentations made regarding the relationship of media portrayed violence and actual violent behavior. An understanding of the theoretical framework of such a relationship will support the importance of regulation and provide a background for determining the level of regulation required.

The first underlying theory bases the relationship on cognitive priming. Cognitive priming focuses on the ability of a stimulus to activate similar stimuli causing a chain of reactions as a result of the initial stimulus presented. This type of inference from one stimulus to another is largely dependent on built-in associations established in the memory pathways of the individual.

Applying this approach to violence, it is theorized that the violence in films stimulates previously held aggressive thoughts or tendencies in an individual. In fact, the individual need not necessarily have entertained such aggressiveness nor is there a need that the individual be attracted to violence. The only aspect required on the part of the individual when considering the cognitive priming approach is that there is a natural link made between the violent scene or act viewed with other violent behaviors – both those personally experienced and those simply associated on basis of logic.

Emotional arousal is different from cognitive priming in this sense because in emotional arousal, the natural tendency is key in bringing forth aggressive behavior as a result of witnessing a violent program. It should be noted that arousal merely energizes dominant behavior in a particular situation. Therefore, arousal produced by watching violent programs merely facilitates or intensifies a predisposition for violence. However, if there is no prior propensity for aggression, then there is no object to be energized by the arousal resulting from violent films.

Another reason why individuals are encouraged to act on their aggression after viewing violent behavior is a probable sponsor effect which operates on the mind of the viewer. This effect results from a perspective regarding the person of the sponsor endorsing the violent program.

This effect is said to have relevance when certain socialization norms dominate the understanding of the viewer causing him or her to gain respect for certain authority figures – such as the ones who have permitted the airing of the violent program. Given that the acts in the program were encouraged and not prohibited, then certainly the imitation of the same in actual life should warrant the same encouragement or at least a degree of tolerance.

It can thus be seen from the above theories that repeated exposure to violence on films causes an increase in permissiveness for deviant behavior. Furthermore, the lack of portrayal of punishment of violence causes viewers to rationalize that they themselves are capable of escaping reprimand should they perform the same acts.

As regards sensationalized victims of violence, individuals may even bring home the message that should they themselves receive the violence witnessed, they too should receive attention and momentary fame. All these signals represent misinformed ideologies about the role and effect of violence in society thus resulting in socially maladaptive and harmful behavior.

The Research Process

Considering the nature of the study to be made, several resources should be tapped in order to gain a holistic view as to the present standing of matters. Adequate research would also reflect the rational future steps to be made in terms of regulation. First, relevant material pertaining to present regulatory guidelines pertaining to violence should be obtained. Given, the guidelines, an assessment should be made whether or not the same are applied.

Next, an actual study should be made gathering data from a chosen population regarding the effect on aggression in viewers of the permitted level of violence in films. Should it be found that there is a significant relationship, then research must be made as to what level of viewed violence would not result in such violent viewer behavior.

The results should then display the effect such a regulation would have on viewer behavior by reviewing the data collected from the population organized. Furthermore, television viewer ratings of violent programs should be noted in order that a determination may be made as to the effect regulation will have on the ratings of networks and movie houses. From the above it can thus be seen that legislative acts, experimental data, and media network data sheets will be utilized in order to solidify a firm resource base for the results of the study.

In obtaining such resources, several research methods will need to be used, first of such will be the interview method. Members of movie regulatory bodies will have to be interviewed regarding the process of review and the standard of violence permitted in movies. Also, officers of media networks or their representatives should be interviewed in order to gain an accurate estimation of the quantifiable effect of violence in shows on viewer ratings.

Apart from interviews however, a field study should be conducted regarding the effect of particular levels of violence on viewers. In order to facilitate data collection, certain levels of violence will already be categorized and the viewers of such kinds of violence disseminated among the groups. Data will then be collected through a series of questionnaires and self-report tests.

It is hypothesized that the study will reveal that there is a lack if media regulation of violence on television programs and movie shows resulting in heightened levels of violence in the community. Increased regulation of media portrayals of violence will however serve to dampen the awareness of the public regarding the variety of violent acts. Regulation will also serve to maintain the authority of legal and police figures in controlling violent behavior. Thus, there should be an increase in regulation of violence in the media.

Works Cited

Felson, Richard. “Mass Media Effects on Violent Behavior.” Annual Review of Sociology 22 (1996): 103-128.

The author effectively synthesizes the large body of work related to the effects of mass media on resulting aggressive behavior in the viewer. The paper is objective and presents data supporting and defeating the relationship of depictions of violence with actual violent behaviors. The presentation sticks to the relevant data in the mass of previous studies conducted regarding the topic. Yet the detail embedded in the paper serves to enhance the reader’s knowledge of past studies. The paper is holistic as it takes into account concepts and theories as well as empirical data gathered.

Pirkis, Jane, Burgess, Philip, Blood, R. Warwick, and Francis, Catherine. “The Newsworthiness of Suicide.” Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 37(3) (2007): 278-283.

The authors herein take on a very limited perspective on the role of media on suicidal behavior. The theory implemented herein is that of modeling and emulation only. A further limitation of the paper is that it only considers those suicide attempts which were real and covered by news programs.

The authors focus on the danger that viewers may imitate the behavior of sensationalized and detailed suicidal acts. Several examples are given as to actual cases wherein media-covered suicides were copied by viewers of the news program. The authors themselves also suggest stricter regulation of suicides which are to be deemed as newsworthy and as to what aspects regarding the suicide should be revealed to the public.

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