“Mom, I’m going to see Terminator:3 Rise of The Machines, I’ll be back at 12.” “Jane, I don’t want you seeing that movie. It’s too violent.” “Oh mom, I know it’s not real. I would never act out anything I see in the movies.”
Unfortunately, this battle has taken place between parents and their children for years. Should this battle even need to take place or are parents being overprotective? What effect do violent movies have on society? Are the current movie ratings acceptable or does the movie industry need regulation? Because of the obvious negative effects of violence on people of all ages after viewing a violent movie, the movie industry needs outside regulation as to the content allowed.
Does watching a violent or gory movie affect us? Violence, as with any other controversial issue, affects each person differently, so there is no definitive answer. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that children will react differently than a teen would, and a teen would react differently than a mature adult would. Additionally, there are several individual and personal factors to take into account when analyzing movie violence.
A child’s response to a violent movie is overall the most distinctive and conclusive. We do know that violence does affect children, whether psychologically or physically. There are three consequences to a child viewing a violent movie. They will absorb the image in their minds and have nightmares, it will implant accepting images of violence in their minds, or it will have no effect at all on the child. Although not entirely impossible, the last option seems highly unlikely. For example, take this very feasible situation. “John and his 7 year old son Mark had just come home from the store where John had bought a 6-disc DVD changer for his home stereo. John loaded several of his favorite movies along with Mark’s favorite movie The Lion King. Mark was getting antsy, so John decided to turn on The Lion King. Midway through, John left the room to make some popcorn and get a drink. No more than 5 minutes later, John returned to find Mark crying at the sight of 6 men lying dead in a pool of blood in the movie The
Boondock Saints. That night, Mark had difficulty sleeping and awoke from a nightmare. When questioned by his father, Mark said he remembered the movie and it felt like a bad guy was coming after him” (Cantor 5).
The scene Mark saw was his first, and undoubtedly not his last, violent encounter, which will be etched in his mind forever. The talk John will have to have with Mark will be one of the hardest discussions a parent could have with their child. There is no easy way to explain to a young child why violence is purposely added to movies, that it is not real, and that they should not imitate what they see in movies. While children may view their parents as being overprotective, in time they will come to appreciate and understand their parents’ decision.
In 1993 The American Psychological Association conducted a research project in which it studied televisions effects on viewers and summarized their results in this way: “’There is absolutely no doubt that higher levels of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior. Children’s exposure to violence in the mass media, particularly at young ages, can have harmful lifelong consequences’” (Torr 1).
In 1965, researchers conducted an experiment to compare the behavior of twenty-four children watching television. “Half watched a violent episode of the cartoon Woody Woodpecker, and the other twelve watched the non-violent cartoon The Little Red Hen. During play afterwards, the researchers observed that the children who watched the violent cartoon were much more likely to hit other children and break toys” (M.A.N.2 2).
A teen’s response to a violent movie is perhaps the most dangerous. Brain cells do not finish developing until a person is 20 years old. In fact, one of the last regions to mature is specifically involved with the ability to plan and make complex judgments. In addition, the emotional part of the brain is different from the thinking part of the brain. While it is not correct to say that violent movies CAUSE teens to act violent, it is safe to say that violent movies FOSTER violent tendencies already instilled in a teen. They can also cause rise to violent or hostile feelings deep down in the person when easily provoked.
Often, researchers point to the rise in school shootings as an effect of media violence. However, many blame those shootings on the availability of guns and bullying. The shooters, often unpopular and rejected, are the targets of bullying and tormenting. “However, since guns and bullying have always been problems with many of America’s troubled youth, others looked beyond the obvious, pointing an accusing finger at the level of violence in the media” (eNotes 1).
An adult’s response to a violent movie is very different from a child’s or even a teen’s. Most adults are able to distinguish reality from fictional movie violence. However, adults too may react in three different ways; desensitized, aggressive, or fearful. The psychological effects on an adult after watching a violent movie have been researched and have yielded shocking results.
James B. Weaver III, head of the Department of Communication Studies at Virginia Tech, conducted an experiment in which he hoped to prove that “consistent exposure to violence in films would bring out in people a greater support of violent solutions to social problems” (Harris 1). Every evening for 4 days, the participants viewed violent movies and were told to evaluate the films’ viability in the video market. On the fifth day, the researchers secretly added a second part to the experiment: the students were sent to a professor’s office to help decide whether they should be given financial assistance or denied it. “The researchers were surprised at the strong effect of media violence on the responses of non-provoked persons” (Harris 1). Weaver discovered that all participants reacted in a hostile manner to the experiment if they were told they should not receive financial assistance. Weaver’s conclusion was that “prolonged exposure to gratuitously violent films can escalate hostile behavior in other men and
women and instigate such behavior in unprovoked research participants” (Harris 2). The findings of this research project were published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology and the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
From 1994 to 1997 the National Television Violence Study studied the harmful effects associated with viewing movie violence. The top three effects that all ages suffer are the “learning of aggressive behaviors and attitudes,” the “desensitization to violence,” and the “fear of being victimized by violence” (eNotes 2).
As of now, it is not safe to link violent movies directly with acts of violence. However, violence in movies can stimulate violent tendencies that are already part of the person. There is a need to take personality traits into consideration when studying the effects of violent films before an accusing finger is pointed at the media. Those who grew up in a stable household with two involved parents are more likely to react differently, and generally, positively, to a violent movie than someone who grew up in an abusive or alcoholic household with parents who are either separated or divorced. Other factors that should be taken into consideration are substance abuse, either by themselves or by a family member, childhood trauma, or having violent and/or antisocial parents.
Not surprisingly, “American children watch an average of three to four hours of television daily” (A.A.C.A.P. 1). It is estimated that children will see approximately twenty thousand simulated deaths in their lifetime. “In 2001, the worldwide box office brought in fourteen million dollars” (M.A.N.1 1). The movie industry has a large voice in American culture which they could use for good; however, they are abusing their power. Those three to four hours children are in front of the television are not filled with intellectual or brain stimulating educational shows, rather, they are filled with crude and violent movies that are not appropriate for children or teens.
Congress has taken action against the pervasive violence in television programming by passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, “which required television broadcasters to develop a voluntary ratings system for T.V. programs” (Torr 2). However, movies have always been more violent than television because they are seen as a medium that children and adolescents have less access too. Thus, movies need to be more strictly monitored and regulated.
What will solve the majority of the problems that come with violent movies is regulation. The current rating system is not effective. The Motion Picture Association of America’s preoccupation with what is offensive to adults comes at the expense of what is arguably a more important question: what types of portrayals are harmful to children? The current rating system only deals with what ages can or cannot see certain movies. This is completely unreliable because many parents will take their children to see PG-13 or R rated movies because they are naïve and do not think it will affect their children. In addition, “research indicates that certain media depictions, such as teenage characters who engage in realistic aggression, are likely to be more problematic for an older child. Preteen viewers who are typically interested in motives and searching for role models might be more inclined to imitate the behaviors seen than a younger child who doesn’t yet grasp the complexity of how motivation affects action” (Wilson 1)
Sadly, parents who do not take an interest in their children’s well being need extra guidance. Children are easily influenced by violence, teens may not be able to control their inner feelings when stimulated by violent images in movies, and adults are easily provoked after seeing a violent movie. Thus, regulation needs to be implemented. While many would like to see violence, sex, and foul language completely removed from movies, this is just not feasible. The movie industry is a business and they do have the right to free speech. However, similar to the automobile manufacturing industry and the regulations put on what automobile parts are “street legal”, the movie industry needs a standard as to what can and cannot be in movies.
One solution could be the implementation of two categories. There would be one category for movies that all ages can see without negative consequence and another category for movies that are not recommended for children. A board, made up of educators, psychologists, doctors, professors, and parents, should organize and decide to what extent violence, sex, and language should be allowed in “Category 1 movies.” The second category should disallow anyone less than eighteen years of age from viewing, buying, or downloading “Category 2” movies. However, those movies should still be monitored for extreme unnecessary violence. Movie critics should not be allowed to serve on the board because “they are among the most ‘heavily exposed’ consumers and run the risk of being hardened to the appalling sights and losing touch with the reactions of normal filmgoers” (Good 174).
While not foolproof, this plan is a step in the right direction to protecting the young eyes and ears of society. A society that accepts violence as just a form of entertainment is destined to be a society that accepts violence in the streets. Because of the obvious negative effects of violence on people of all ages after viewing a violent movie, the movie industry needs outside regulation as to the content allowed. Each time you watch, read, play, or listen to something, you are making a choice. You have a right to be picky about the media you choose. After all, you are the target audience. Your choices count. Do not let the media dictate what society’s values are. Take a stand and hold the movie industry accountable for what they put in front of the impressionable eyes and ears of America.