Before the dawn of social media and live streaming, there were supposedly fewer ways to be swayed into violence. Unless you read ‘The Catcher In The Rye’, apparently. The book that’s been linked to various killers such as Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon.
But linking a book to violence isn’t done anymore, right?
…well, that’s an issue for another article.
The media is a behemoth in our society, shaping virtually everything in the world around us. This is particularly true if one is consuming media like an addict would consume drugs. At that point, it could be argued that their perception of reality is replaced by one from the virtual world, as argued in Jean Baudrillard’s Hyperreality theory (1).
With the media constantly branching out, and virtual reality games potentially becoming commonplace in the near future, there seems to be no end in sight for immersive and entirely engulfing experiences on the technological front.
The arguments in favour of such activities are known. Researchers Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green found that video games had long-lasting positive effects on their audience’s mental processes. That means everything from perception, attention span, memory and decision-making abilities (2). This is supposedly because video games are interactive, requiring the player to constantly to be engaged and storing a great deal of information to proceed.
Other media outlets have received similar praise for their effects upon the audience. Music has been shown to be both a mood booster and reduce anxiety (3) and the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that ‘the visual stimulation of film provokes an emotional response which is therapeutic’ (4).
But time after time, blame has been cast upon our music, video games and movies. They’ve been blamed for virtually every societal ill – be it violence, sexual promiscuity or generally bad behaviour.
With all the obscene things that singers do nowadays, Marilyn Manson might be seen as tame by comparison. And maybe that’s because, when it comes down to it, he’s never been shy about being seen as an entertainer who’s not suitable for children.
In 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attacked Columbine High School and killed twelve students and a teacher, some in the media placed the focus on the supposed connection between the shooters and their enjoyment of Manson’s music.
Interestingly enough, it seems that the two weren’t even fans of Manson (5). Rather, the media of the time decided to craft a story based on familiarity, and fabricated details to link to a controversial musician – claiming the shooters were dressed just like him, when they weren’t.
But for argument’s sake, could Manson’s music inspire violence?
Hardly. Sure, some of it is explicit and definitely dark, but to incite somebody to massacre their fellow students? Manson’s music, and music that has similarly ‘outrageous’ content, was lacking fifty years ago and there was still college bombings throughout the 1960s.
Video games are another common scapegoat within society, as children are becoming more invested in their virtual worlds, younger and younger. However, these is probably more reason to worry about a decline in a physical health rather than acts of violence, when it comes to over-indulgence in video games.
They’ve been blamed for the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012, the Heath High School shooting of 1997 and various cases assault and theft (The latter is usually blamed on the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ franchise).
An infamous lawyer, Jack Thompson, even began a crusade to have video games banned as he believes the correlation between video game use and criminal behaviour is clear.
It goes without saying, but children shouldn’t be playing games with overtly violent content.
A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association concludes that violent video game use by children can cause ‘heightened aggressive behaviour’ and ‘reduced pro-social behaviour’ (6). However, it should be noted that a 2011 study conducted by Paul Adachi and Teena Wiloughby suggested this could be down to the more challenging and fast paced nature of video games (6).
Regardless, to ban video games is downright wrong. Just as it would be wrong to ban violent movies, just because Jamie Bulger’s killers may have been influenced by ‘Child’s Play 3’ (Turns out the link was non-existent).
The responsibility must lie with the parents above all else. Though it’s increasingly difficult for parents to monitor their children’s activities, they can maintain control over the games, films and CDs brought into the house. One must not let technology take over the parenting.
In conclusion, would it be correct or incorrect to say ‘Music or video games or movies can turn somebody violent’?
My honest opinion is that it’s generally a minor detail. Killers often have very turbulent upbringings, full of abusive parents, schoolyard bullying and other horrors. A graphic movie is likely one of the last things to turn them into a killer. But if a child has all of that going on in their lives, and indulge in hours and hours of violent media, without relief?
I definitely don’t think it helps the situation either.