The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 7, 2012

Youth inundated with thousands of violent acts in media

Point Blank

By John Blankenship
Columnist

— Movies, TV, video games and music.

Teens get their favorite entertainment mainly from these four media.

But many of the top shows, songs and games are extremely violent.

A famous rap musician talks about killing his wife.

A cartoon character beats someone up in every episode of the show.

In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that before the age of 18, a person will have seen more than 200,000 acts of violence on TV and in movies, including an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 murders.

The AMA also says that seeing so much violence desensitizes, or numbs, viewers.

Instead of feeling sad when someone is killed on TV, viewers may feel nothing. They may even grow to see violence as an everyday, normal occurrence.

Matt Hough, a recent West Virginia University graduate spends, two to three hours a day, or an estimated 15 to 20 hours a week, watching TV. Recently, he has noticed that TV violence has increased dramatically, especially in promotions and advertisements for movies and video games.

“Often the most violent or homicidal parts of a film will be aired during promotion,” the movie buff explained. “Promoters don’t show the film’s resolution or anything about saving lives — only the taking of life.”

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Murder rates doubled 10 to 15 years after the introduction of television in the United States, Canada and virtually every country where “free TV” was launched — truly a troubling anecdote, according to law enforcement officers worldwide.

In the last 10 years, violent female role models have emerged on movie and television screens. In the same decade, the violent crime rate has risen 93 percent among females compared to 35 percent for males, and the largest growing portion of the prison population is violent female inmates-another disturbing anecdote.

Every new television season ramps up the violence, escalates sexual content, and increases questions about the purpose of this powerful teaching and entertainment tool. In many families, media have replaced teachers and parents as educators, role models, and the primary sources of information about the world, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last year. The warnings are mostly ignored, as industry debate focuses on technological tools that “rate” programs according to their violence and sexual content.

Television violence was up a whopping 70 percent in the two years since a study was conducted recently by the Parents Television Council (PTC). Coarse language was up 78 percent.

Some of the sexual content fell into subcategories covering topics which a generation ago would seldom have seen the light of day in 10 p.m. programming, let alone 8 p.m. fare.

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Two years ago, the AAP reported that children between 2 and 18 years of age spend 6.5 to 8 hours a day with media, including television, videotapes, movies and video games, more than on any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 18, the average young person has seen 200,000 acts of violence on television alone.

The report noted that, of 10,000 hours of broadcast programming reviewed by the National Television Violence Study, 61 percent portrayed interpersonal violence, much of it in an entertaining or glamorized manner.

The highest proportion of violence was in children’s programs — of all animated films produced in the U.S. between 1937 and 2007, 100 percent portrayed violence.

Audiences seem to want more violence as if it were some kind of narcotic to the senses.

And that is exactly what the creators of violent TV programs, films and music aim to provide. “Sex and violence just sells more sex and violence,” writes psychology professor Brad Bushman after conducting a study at the University of Iowa. “Sex and violence registers much more strongly than messages the advertisers are hoping to deliver.”

Hough, meanwhile, is hoping to pursue a career in film criticism. “Hollywood’s overall treatment of violence is unreal,” the film buff explained. “Films have a tendency to over-emphasize violence for its own sake. Military hardware and physical force is used to create extreme violence on screen. When bombers and tanks are used to rescue one person behind enemy lines, it’s absurd; it’s just not realistic.”

He continued, “When sons, fathers and husbands are slaughtered in violent reprisals, the audience doesn’t witness the grief of the children, wives and mothers who are left behind … That’s not a true picture of reality.

“Maybe it’s time that parents took back their turf and started to show their authority. After all, even if they cannot fully control what their children see and hear, they at least can make their views known and control their own home environment.”

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Top o’ the mornin’

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.

E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net