April 5, 2017
Apathy of the Lambs:
Consequences of Censored Violent Media for Young Audiences
If you’ve ever seen a teen or kids action entertainment (let’s give the excuse that it was with your preteen cousin or nephew) you might have noticed that the “bad guys” are getting shot at and beat up all over the place – but there’s little to no blood and you never see the dead bodies. But when you switch on adult media, there’s blood and bruises, dead bodies and dissection all over the place. Why the difference in violence for western media?
With focus on the United States, many western countries have their violent media censored for young audiences (Regulation of Violent Content). Families are often worried about what seeing this violence can do to you audiences, which is why censorship rules were put in place (Moore). However, this censorship is limited, usually only cutting the consequences of violence from screen time but leaving in all the action.
The Western World is obsessed with censoring violent visual media for young audiences to prevent real-life violence. However, their method of censorship creates problems because “censored” violence causes dissociation between violent acts and consequences, desensitization to violence and lack of empathy towards victims.
For young audiences in the western world, specifically the United States, violent media is “censored,” by showing the act of violence, but not the consequences (The Hunger Games). For example, an officer in a police procedural show can shoot a gun, but the bullet hitting its victim is never shown. Dead bodies can be lying around, but there’s never any blood.
The United States has a two-faced history with violence. On one side, there is the “bad” violence, which is any event in history where the US was in the wrong. This includes violent colonization of the land from aboriginals, slavery, racism, and so on (Bulger, Editorial Board). The US rarely discusses these events, and if they do, they are not discussed truthfully (for example, Thanksgiving) (Hardcastle).
On the other side, there is “good” violence, which the US cannot get enough of. Good violence is mainly patriotism, but also includes domestic violence, and acts of terrorism. This is essentially any situation of violence where the US is the hero; when the country is viewed in a positive light. Patriotism is good violence because it is about US citizens joining the army in order to fight and protect their country (Taymor). In wars throughout history, the US has most often come out successful (Editorial Board). Wars are extremely violent, but this violence is justified by the understanding that its purpose is for protection. This “justified” violence, coupled with the US’s quick fanaticism has lead them to essentially worship this so-called good violence (Lieven). Thus, violence is acceptable so long as it is justified and paints the United States positively.
The violent acts in entertainment are most often of this justified nature, and so American society considers this violence acceptable. Which has lead to censored violent media showing the act of violence. But the consequences of these actions cannot be shown on screen.
Consequences of violent actions are what make violence real and devastating. The consequences are the “bad” outcomes, the negative and real results of violence that the US does not want their children to see. Ignorance is bliss, no? But showing violent acts, because it is justified violence, without their real consequences creates dissociation between violence and its very negative results (Anderson 165). Children are found to be more susceptible to violent entertainment. Short- and long-term effects of consumption of violent media include lack of empathy and desensitization to violence (Anderson).
Further, young viewers will not only have issues understanding the connection between consequences and violent acts, but also with the reality of the violence itself. American children and teenagers watch violent entertainment from very comfortable locations, such as a theatre or home. The violence on-screen cannot affect them since they are surrounded by a safe environment. They also have the ability to switch the entertainment off whenever they choose, creating a further gap in the viewer’s understanding of the reality of the violence on screen.
These issues result in a lack of empathy for the viewer. They do not understand the realism of violence nor its consequences, and thus, cannot empathize with the real consequences and victims of violence (Anderson 165).
American society has changed drastically between the ‘50s and now. Society during the mid-century followed a strict set of rules (Pleasantville). Certain things were right, and other things were wrong. Society overall was quite prudish.
Slowly, these societal “rules” have changed and American is far more accepting. Look at Caitlyn Jenner, once Bruce Jenner, who decided he associated more as a woman and underwent surgeries to become change genders (Sawyer). Gay marriage was made legal (BBC). There are many more examples of how American society has changed and become more accepting towards previously “taboo” topics and issues.
This change has been reflected by the violence depicted in entertainment media. When Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was first released in theatres, audiences were shocked, even offended, by the stabbing scene in the shower (Hoberman). Now, that scene appears unrealistic and cheesy to audiences.
Today, our media is oversaturated with violence – a huge change from Psycho’s time (Moore). Look at the popularity of the Marvel comic movies in the box office, of shooter video games. Pick up a newspaper and chances are the front cover is featuring some violent story or another. Censorship has come in place to attempt “to halt or reverse these shifts [of violence in media] by reverting to the rituals or philosophy of a purer, Golden Age.” (Houchin) However, the popularity of violence continues to rise and is leaching into media intended for younger and younger audiences.
This constant exposure to violence has caused audiences to become increasingly desensitized at younger ages to violence (Moore). This desensitization transfers to real life violence, as well. People often ignore small acts of violence, and large acts are forgotten about in a matter of days (Graham). The bombardment of violence in media only furthers the lack of empathy people of the western world – of the United States – have towards real consequences and victims of violence (Ensor).
The United States’ use of censorship to prevent young audiences from being exposed to violent media actually does more harm than help. America’s need to cover up their blemishes through history has created an association between violence and good in the country. This “justified” violence resulted in censored media showing violent acts, but not the consequences. Which creates the inability for viewers to associate violent acts with negative consequences. Audiences are also becoming desensitized to violence at a faster and younger rate. These issues cause young audiences to lack empathy towards the real, devastating consequences and victims of violence. The very issues that the media censorship was created to prevent.
Anderson, Craig et al. “Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy and Prosocial Behaviour in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 136 No. 2, 2010. DOI: 10.1037/a0018251 http://arfer.net/x/anderson.pdf
BBC. “US Supreme Court rules gay marriage is legal nationwide.” BBC News, 27 June 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33290341
Bulger, Teresa. “Scrubbing the Whitewash from New England History: Citizenship, Race and Gender in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth- Century Nantucket.” ProQuest, University of California, 2013. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1439136161?pq-origsite=summon
Editorial Board. “How Texas is whitewashing Civil War history.” The Washington Post, 6 July 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/whitewashing-civil-war-history-for-young-minds/2015/07/06/1168226c-2415-11e5-b77f-eb13a215f593_story.html?utm_term=.dc3d2bee13d6
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Sawyer, Diane. “Bruce Jenner: ‘I’m a Woman.’” ABC News, 24 April 2015. http://abcnews.go.com/2020/fullpage/bruce-jenner-the-interview-30471558
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