Dec. 13, 1996
One Saturday morning many years ago, I was watching an episode of the Roadrunner' on television. As Wile E. Coyote was pushed off of a cliff by the Roadrunner for the fourth or fifth time, I started laughing uncontrollably. I then watched a Bugs Bunny' show and started laughing whenever I saw Elmer Fudd shoot Daffy Duck and his bill went twirling around his head. The next day, I pushed my brother off of a cliff and shot my dog to see if its head would twirl around.
Obviously, that last sentence is not true. Some people believe that violence on the tube is one of the main factors that leads to real-life violence, but in my opinion, television is just a minor factor that leads to real-life violence and that it is the parents responsibility to teach kids the difference.
According to Rathus in Psychology in the New Millennium, observational learning may account for most human learning (239). Observational learning extends to observing parents and peers, classroom learning, reading books, and learning from media such as television and films. Nearly all of us have been exposed to television, videotapes, and films in the classroom. Children in day- care centers often watch Sesame Street. There are filmed and videotaped versions of great works of literature such as Orson Welles' Macbeth. Nearly every school shows films of laboratory experiments.
But what of our viewing outside of the classroom? Television is also one of our major sources of informal observational learning. According to Sweet and Singh, viewing habits range from the child who watches no television at all to the child who is in front of the television nearly all waking hours. They say that on average, children aged 2 to 11 watch about 23 hours of television per week, and teenagers watch about 22 hours per week (2). According to these figures, children spend less time in the classroom than they do watching television. During these hours of
viewing, children are constantly being shown acts of violence.
Why? Simple: violence sells.
People are drawn to violence in films, television dramas, books, professional wrestling and boxing, and reports of crime and warfare. Does violence do more than sell, however? Do media portrayals of violence beget violence in the streets and in the home?
It seems clear enough that there are connections between violence in the media and real violence. In the 1990's, for example, audiences at films about violent urban youth such as Colors, Boyz N the Hood, and Juice have gotten into fights, shot one another, and gone on rampages after the showings. The MTV cartoon characters, Beavis and Butt-head, who comment on rock videos and burn and destroy things, may have been connected with the death of a 2-year-old and a burned room in Ohio. The victims 5-year-old brother, who set the blaze that killed the 2-year-old, had begun playing with fire after he observed Beavis and Butt-head to say that fire is fun. A few more examples are shown on the picture to the left (Leland 47). Obviously, these are just a few isolated incidents. If everyone acted this way after watching violence then we would really have a problem.
Children are routinely exposed to murders, beatings, and sexual assaults just by turning on the television set. The public is wary of it, of course. Psychologists, educators, and parent groups have raised many questions about the effects of media violence. For example, does media violence cause real violence? If there are causal connections between media violence and real violence, what can parents and educators do to prevent the fictional from spilling over into the real world?
Media violence affects children through observational learning, disinhibition, increasing arousal and priming aggressive thoughts, and desensitization. The Mean World Syndrome, which suggests that children who...