How'd Media Get So Violent? online lecture for CoM 4424-Uses & effects of mass media

warning in all seriousness: this lecture contains adult content, language, and violent scenes.

Fun fact: this Spark lecture almost didn't happen because I got sidetracked looking at pictures of LOST characters holding guns. There are a surprising amount of them.

This week's unit brings up a really important area of media effects research: the copycat phenomenon. Your book goes into more detail, but basically, it refers to the phenomenon of audience members "copying" behaviors they see on media. You know, like this:

Or this (look like anyone else's childhood?):

Or this level of bad-assery:

These are all great examples of people seeing a *mediated* behavior and repeating it. A famous psychologist helps us understand why that happens. Albert Bandura's Bobo doll experiments (see the textbook and the video below) helped us understand how we learn behavior.

Bandura's research is important for media studies because:

we ascribe a certain level of importance to media messages.

From Psycho, a classic horror film, very important piece of media history

we tend to admire certain mediated characters

This is the Kardashian Family. They have a show or something?

As a result, whenever we see a behavior from a character with whom we identify or want to identify rewarded in the all-important mediated environment, we may be so inclined to repeat that behavior ourselves so we are socially rewarded, too.

IDK who this guy is but Google Images tells me he's an important WWE person and has rhinestones on his fur coat, which means he's a big deal. Kids (and adults) love WWE, and some (kids and adults) don't get that it's just a carefully choreographed dance. As a result, we see kids ascribing importance to their favorite WWE characters, and imitating them (anyone else ever play "wrastling" when you were a kid?) - hopefully they don't get hurt in the process.

Now that we've got a good understanding of copycat theory, let's talk about why it's not the most important thing to understand about mediated violence, which is a pretty big problem. An FCC report from several years ago on violence (there's an article about the report in your D2L readings this week) suggested that the prevalence of mediated violence makes kids more violent. There's so much mediated content now, it's honestly difficult for researchers to keep up with just how much violent television kids & adults consume. But a landmark study in the early 90s demonstrated that kids see something like 200,000 violent acts in media before age 18. That was before YouTube. Even something as seemingly innocent as Looney Tunes is violent:

There are a couple of important points I really want to make sure you understand about violence and media.

1. People like to blame media for real-life violence, and say that mediated violence has a direct effect on audience members, when in fact, it's much more complicated.

We know that the magic bullet perspective has been largely debunked: just because I hear a broadcast about an alien invasion does not mean I'm going to run for the hills or set my dogs loose. Instead, media messages impact everyone differently based on personality and so many other factors.

A great example is seen in the movie Bowling for Columbine. Pundits and parents alike, searching for meaning in the senseless and horrible Columbine school shootings, like to point out the correlation between the shooters and their appreciation of Marilyn Manson. Mr. Manson had a few things to say about that here:

and then again here, on Larry King Live:

What Marilyn Manson is getting at is a fundamental concept to fully understand in communication research:

Correlation does not equal causation.

Just because we see a prevalence of mediated violence and more instances of violence in real life - you might say, a correlation between mediated & real violence - does not mean that the mediated violence is CAUSING that real-life violence. This brings me to point number 2.

2. The copycat phenomenon is important to understand, but it is NOT THE POINT. I bet you're sitting there thinking, yeah, violence is bad, but I play Grand Theft Auto 7 hours a day and I've yet to pull an unsuspecting driver out of his car, beat him up, and then drive his car to a drug deal.

What we should be thinking about isn't the micro-level effects of violence, but the macro-level: or what sort of cumulative effects violence has on society. It desensitizes us to violence. When I show an opening clip from The Walking Dead in class (I know, horrible quality; check it out on Netflix if you want to see the full thing):

the class' response is usually along the lines of: "it's not that bad, I mean, she just got shot."

A small child. A zombie child, but still. A child just got shot. And that's not a big deal. Anyone else see a problem there?

3. The amount of violence in media has desensitized us to real-world violence, so that when we see any sort of mediated violence, it doesn't seem "that bad."

But when we look at a whole bunch of violent scenes all together, like this, it seems horrible.

Pay close attention in your readings to George Gerbner's cultivation theory for insight on this point. This theory explains how consumption of violent media messages cultivates a distorted view of reality among audiences. Know anyone who is terrified of real life because they watch a lot of tv news, which focuses on the violence that happens every day? They are a good example of someone who has fallen victim to the mean world syndrome, or the belief that the real world is just as violent as the mediated world.

Even though the world is a violent place, especially in other parts of the world, the violence shown on media is different than what we'd see in real life. In particular, mediated violence rarely, if ever, shows people being punished for violence. We don't see the serious consequences or healing process that has to happen when, heaven forbid, someone is actually a victim of something violent. And, in most cases - super big point here:

Mediated violence is almost always justified. Translation: we may begin to think that violence in real life is always justified.

Let me give you an example. One of the most violent (and wildly popular) shows on tv right now is Game of Thrones. At the risk of spoilers, I'm going to share with you a scene from the first episode. It depicts a beheadding. If you are squeamish, just close your eyes and listen after you hit play - don't watch.

Obviously, Ned Stark didn't want to kill the deserter. But it was the law. And Ned follows the law. Beheadding: justified. In reality, violence just doesn't work that way.

Now, you might be thinking: wow, we're seeing beheadings (and much, much worse) on TV now? Ten years ago, we didn't...

3. Violence in media keeps getting worse because of the threshold effect.

Basically, once you see one person shot on television, you need to see 5 people shot the next time for that show to be shocking & dare I say it, entertaining. Content creators keep making mediated violence more intense to keep up with what they did last season, last year, or even two years ago, or even what other shows are doing. More on thresholds next week with sexual content in media.

Super tame compared to some of the horror movies we have these days. Just a cannibal, right?

With all of this in mind, head over to the further readings and discussions, and chime in with your ideas, thoughts, and - hopefully - questions! I really look forward to discussing this topic with you in the forums.

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