Violence on the Tube


Matt Chisholm
Jeb Beck
English 110
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
watch a lot of violence on television may begin to believe that the world is as
mean and dangerous in real life as it appears on television, and hence, they
begin to view the world as a much more mean and dangerous place, is another way
in which media violence affects children (Murray 9).
Children learn from observing the behavior of their parents and other
adults. Television violence supplies models of aggressive “skills.”
Acquisition of these skills, in turn, enhances children's aggressive
competencies. In fact, children are more likely to imitate what their parents
do than heed what they say. If adults say they disapprove of aggression but
smash furniture or slap each other when frustrated, children are likely to
develop the notion that aggression is the way to handle frustration.