You always hear the tale of a small child who broke their leg jumping off the garage roof because they were trying to be Batman. Where this story originated from, why everyone knows of it and why it keeps popping up in casual media debates is unknown, but these things happen. There has been anxieties about the effect that media has on people (usually focusing primarily on children, adolescents, the uneducated or the working class) for years, especially in relation to television, video games, films, magazines and now, the internet. This media has consistently been used as a scapegoat and justification for violent actions.
The concept of the media being blamed for negative parts of society is called the “Media Effects Model”. To get an understanding of how prevalent this way of thinking is and how long it has been around, academics have been doing studies to determine whether or not media does have an adverse effect on society for a number of years, and there has been no real yes or no outcome to this question. Famously, the psychologist Alfred Bandura conducted his Bobo Doll experiment where he reached the conclusion that yes watching violence encourages violence, but psychologist Christopher Ferguson did two studies, one on violent movies and homicide rates and one on videogames, and found that there was no correlation between the consumption of violent media, and real life violence.
Everything from books and magazines to movies and videogames are put under the metaphorical magnifying glass of the media effects model. The novel “The Catcher in the Rye” has been associated with the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the shooting of John Lennon. In 1999, two students at Columbine High School killed 13 people and injured 24 when they entered their school and opened fire before killing themselves. In the aftermath, speculation began on what led these two young men to plan out an elaborate school massacre. Video games, the film Natural Born Killers and music artist Marilyn Manson were all blamed for promoting violence and being behind the perpetrators motivations. Target recently stopped selling the video game Grand Theft Auto V because of the games content and apparent violence against women. Magazines are constantly being blamed for encouraging anorexia.
Blaming the media for negative things that happen is easy. What is less easy is to analyse the situation by looking at the bigger picture. For example, yes it is true that the two boys who orchestrated the Columbine Massacre played first-person shooter video games and listened to Marilyn Manson, but it is equally true that they were both bullied, one was considered to have psychopathy and the other had serious clinical depression. The video game they played involved shooting people, but tens of thousands of people played this game and there was not tens of thousands of mass shootings from these players. There is no simple causation effect. People are not inherently violent because they play video games, watch graphic films or listen to angry music, there are other issues that contribute, and usually contribute more-so.
My personal opinion is that the media effects model is deep and complicated. It is not justifiable to blame ONLY the media for negative things that exist in our society. Yes, I get angry when I die in a video game for the hundredth time, but that has more to do with frustration at failing than it does with the videogames violent or not violent content. It isn’t black and white, or even shades of grey. It is a far more complicated issue that needs to continue to be studied.
Ferguson, C. J. (2014) Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When. Journal of Communication, 65:1. E1-E22.
Gutierrez, J. P. (2014) No link found between movie, video game violence and societal violence. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-11/ica-nlf102814.php Accessed 19/04/2015
McLeod, S. A. (2011). Bobo Doll Experiment.http://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html Accessed 19/04/2015
Turnbull, S. (2015) Media Mythbusting 1: Television Makes you Fat. Lecture. 10/03/15.