Violence is a weed in society that affects many Americans directly and all of us emotionally. The one-year anniversary of the tragic killings in Newtown, Conn., reminded the nation of the extent to which violence harms our nation. The roots of violence in America are many and complex, but there is no doubt the primary dispenser of cultural violence into society is the media industry.
Prime-time dramas, on both broadcast and cable, are saturated with violence of the most graphic and sordid kind. Even the so-called good guys are often depraved and seriously flawed characters who employ violence to solve any problem. Blood-soaked plots fail to put violence in context. In the early 1960s, a program called “The Untouchables” was criticized for its shoot-’em-up portrayal of FBI agents chasing Prohibition-era mobsters. That show looks like a church picnic compared to the mediated violence on screen today.
After the Newtown horror, Vice President Joe Biden met with media industry “leaders” to discuss the role of media in fueling a society filled with violence. Biden refused to hold his entertainment corporate pals accountable. After a lot of backslapping, entertainment mouthpieces expressed “concern,” and the White House asked for more study of media violence. In short, nothing happened.
Countless studies demonstrate the link between consuming mediated violence and aggression. Media consumption, of course, is not the only factor creating a violent society, but it clearly is a key factor. A report to Congress by the Federal Communications Commission in 2007 clearly stated exposure to media violence increases aggression in kids. In typical FCC fashion, however, the commission dropped the matter.
The media industry has done nothing to diminish the amount of violence in entertainment, and it misleads the public with regard to the amount of violence contained in its programming. Two recent studies demonstrate the ratings system designed to warn viewers about violent content is basically dishonest.