Matthew Sanders: America needs to curb its appetite for violent media
"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." Gautama Buddha
Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, America has lurched from grief to anger to blame, to new gun control measures announced by the White House. Firearms have naturally occupied center stage in a fierce debate that lays alternating blame on the weapons and entertainment industries as promoters of violence.
Both groups vehemently dismiss any causal links between the horrific violence on America’s children and their products. Gun rights activists herald rights protected by the Second amendment and decry the simulated carnage in video games and movies. Entertainment representatives wave the First amendment as a shield, and heap scorn on weapons makers as perpetrators of death.
It is impossible to prove causation in the school shootings, but it is laughably dishonest for both to deny correlations between violent entertainment, violent weapons and the rise and persistence of violence in America. In this column, I’ll focus on the debate surrounding violent media.
Millions affected by violent crime
After a dramatic spike in the early 90s, violent crime has dropped to levels common in the early 1980s.
Many researchers remain baffled by precisely why numbers have dropped, but noted social scientist James Q. Wilson suggested in the Wall Street Journal that more severe sentencing, self-protective measures like alarm systems, moves to safer neighborhoods, improved police techniques, reduced lead in the atmosphere and reduced crack cocaine use contributed significantly to the drop.
While improvements are laudable, should we really be comfortable with today’s level of violence in our communities? To provide some perspective, between 2000 and 2010, America’s families and children experienced 177,816 homicides, or more than half the US combat deaths in World War II. During the decade, more than 1 million American women were forcibly raped, nearly 5 million people were robbed and more than 9 million people endured aggravated assault.
All together, 15 million traumatic crimes reported over 10 years would represent the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Violence is expensive
Studies estimating the economic costs of violent crime are plentiful. For instance, in the 1990s, research published in Understanding and Preventing Violence estimated costs of $54,000 per rape, $19,000 per robbery, and $16,500 per assault, which included costs such as loss of life, pain and suffering, and other short and long-term costs.
In a classic study by the Department of Justice, analysts estimated that the national cost of violent crime exceeds $450 billion. Still others point to the trauma and fear that negatively affect the a child's development.
Violent entertainment leads to violent behavior
Remarkably, some scoff at ties between entertainment and violence. Yet a decade ago the American Association of Pediatrics issued a joint statement on entertainment violence based on evidence from more than 1000 studies. Some findings include:
Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts.
Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.
Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life.
Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life.
Accordingly, research of Ohio State Professor Brad Bushman indicates persistent and statistically significant link between aggression and violent entertainment and video games.
Of deniers he says, “The entertainment industry is probably reluctant to admit that they are marketing a harmful product, much like the tobacco industry was reluctant to admit that they were marketing a harmful product.” Alarmingly, research also indicated that news reports more frequently denied the negative effects of violent media.
We regularly hear messages from our First Lady promoting the lifelong benefits of producing and eating more healthy food. Likewise, parents must carefully govern their intake of violence, and media creators should be more socially responsible in their movies and games.
Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a GM at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. email@example.com or @Sanders_Matt