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We’ve heard it all hundreds (or thousands) of times from politicians, church groups and outright control freaks: violence in the media causes real-life violence. It’s an unfounded claim based entirely on a worry, some train of thought had, but with no evidence. While individual studies may claim violent media causes aggressive behavior, the trend is patently false and those studies have flawed control groups lacking the isolation of variables. Leaps are taken.
The closest I’ve ever found to a “good study” was one which had children playing competitive first person shooters, allowing the participants to blast others with loud noises when they wished…except the sound never actually blared. It was just an illusion. Of course, kids playing shooters were being rude to one another. Yes, it’s aggressive behavior, but it’s caused by the element of competition, not the level of gore on the screen. Even shooters modded to remove blood and the appearance of violence got kids riled up. Talk to avid gamers, those inclined to defend the medium, and they’ll admit competitive games reveal who’s an anal sphincter, but being an anus is far from being a murderer. It’s not something we can adequately study in a contained environment.
Let’s settle a few factors here and create our own study, one more viable than anything published in a scientific journal. The whole country (USA) will be our subject. Here are the facts:
- Media has gotten more violent since the creation of the current core MPAA system in 1968 (with PG-13 added in the 80’s and NC-17 replacing X). That includes on TV. Want proof? Scroll down my blog a few entries to see what’s on NBC – aired on standard broadcasting.
- Videogames have introduced a new form of media violence: interactive. Arcades used to house most of it, but Nintendo dropped their violence ban on home systems soon after the PlayStation came out. It’s gotten more realistic with time.
- The internet makes it so most anyone can get what they want, no matter the age. Online purchases can be done…or pirating for those so inclined.
Okay, so we’ve taken a whole country and deluged it with violent media. We have horror movies, God of War, and on and on. We stream it into our homes via Netflix. It’s always available, reasonably cheap and in multiple formats. Guess what happened?
The homicide rate is hardly 1/2 of what it was in the early 90’s! I’m using the FBI’s data here.
Okay, so homicide is down. Still, people say other factors caused the drop, like the USA’s high incarceration rate, legalized abortion, the death penalty, feminism…which, let’s face it, have limited correlations to all of this. Whatever caused the drop likely happened between 1992 and 1994, such as Nintendo’s dropping the ban on violent content, the release of the PlayStation, widening availability of the internet’s grotesque content and so on. Women’s rights issues were moving decades before the decline in homicide, as were all the other things on the list. I won’t claim a correlation is a causation, but if violent media apparently turns us in all into homicidal maniacs, other forces would have to have doubly impacted the crime rate to not only even things out, but cause the decline.
The next time I see/hear someone pontificating about violence (or sex) in the media increasing crime rates, I’ll do what I always do, which is whine with the intent of informing. All these years of killing zombies, watching horror films and solving puzzles have more than satiated my need to work out any aggression I have. As a matter of fact, I’d say they taught me using my brain instead of my fists garners less risk across the board.