The debate over media violence has eluded definitive answers for more than three decades. At first blush, the debate is dominated by one question—whether or not media violence actually causes real-life violence. But closer examination reveals a political battle. On the one hand, there are those who blame media violence for societal violence and want to censor violent content to protect children. On the other hand are those who see regulation as the slippery slope to censorship or a smokescreen hiding the root causes of violence in society.
One thing is certain: the issue of media violence is not going away. Increasingly the debate is focusing on the "culture of violence," and on the normalization of aggression and lack of empathy in our society.
This section describes how the depiction of violence is evolving in a number of media formats. It analyses how, and why, violence is used by the entertainment and information industries. It offers an overview of research findings, an outline of government responses to the issue, and a look at some of the key arguments in the debate. It also explores the role that media education can play in helping young people to put media violence into perspective.
Throughout the section, there are links to seminal articles, reports and surveys on the issue.
Violence in Media Entertainment
Between 2000 B.C. and 44 A.D., the ancient Egyptians entertained themselves with plays re-enacting the murder of their god Osiris -- and the spectacle, history tells us, led to a number of copycat killings. The ancient Romans were given to lethal spectator sports as well, and in 380 B.C. Saint Augustine lamented that his society was addicted to gladiator games and "drunk with the fascination of bloodshed."
Violence has always played a role in entertainment. But there's a growing consensus that, in recent years, something about media violence has changed.
For one thing, there's more of it. Laval University professors Guy Paquette and Jacques de Guise studied six major Canadian television networks over a seven-year period, examining films, situation comedies, dramatic series, and children's programming (though not cartoons). The study found that between 1993 and 2001, incidents of physical violence increased by 378 per cent. TV shows in 2001 averaged 40 acts of violence per hour.
Francophone viewers experienced the greatest increase. Although physical violence on the three anglophone networks in the study increased by 183 per cent, on their francophone counterparts it increased by 540 per cent. One network, TQS, accounted for just under half (49 per cent) of all the physical violence on the networks studied. Paquette and de Guise also identified a disturbing increase in psychological violence, especially in the last two years. The study found that incidents of psychological violence remained relatively stable from 1993 to 1999, but increased 325 per cent from 1999 to 2001. Such incidents now occur more frequently than physical violence on both francophone and anglophone networks.
Canadians are also heavily influenced by American programming. Paquette and de Guise found that over 80 per cent of the TV violence aired in Canada originates in the U.S. They speculate that francophone networks and stations may have a higher incidence of violence because they broadcast more movies, and this, in turn may be due to lower production budgets. Canadian-made violence is most likely to appear on private networks, which broadcast three times as many violent acts as public networks do. Overall, 87.9 per cent of all violent acts appear before 9 p.m., and 39 per cent air before 8 p.m. -- at a time when children are likely to be watching.
More Graphic, More Sexual, More Sadistic
Other research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become much more graphic, much more sexual, and much more sadistic.
Explicit pictures of...