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Violence In The Media

Can We Learn Anything From The Recent Shooting In Colorado?

Above: A shooting at the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" has reopened the debate about the impact of violent images in the media.

Aired 7/23/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Gerard Jones

Author of "Killing Monsters - Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence"

Brad J. Bushman, Ph.D.

Professor of Communication and Psychology, The Ohio State University

Dr. Joseph E. Scott

Attorney and former Ohio State University Professor where he taught psychology, sociology, criminology and criminal justice courses.


The recent shooting at the Friday premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, CO has raised questions yet again about the violence we see in our entertainment. Can the violent images readily available in the media influence people to commit violent acts or can the fantasy violence provide a catharsis for some individuals? Does the massacre say more about the violent entertainment we see or about gun control laws?

For Gerard Jones, author of the book "Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence," comic books like "The Incredible Hulk" helped him.

Publisher Weekly wrote about Jones' books: "Violent entertainment is good for kids, and demonizing it can do great harm to their emotional development, claims Jones (Honey, I'm Home!) in this provocative and groundbreaking work. Drawing on his experience as a parent and as a creator of children's cartoons, as well as interviews with dozens of psychologists and educators, Jones forcefully argues that violent video games, movies, music and comics provide a safe fantasy world within which children learn to become familiar with and control the frightening emotions of anger, violence and sexuality. He debunks studies linking violent media with violence in society and argues that children clearly understand the difference between pretend and reality. Providing realistic and helpful advice, Jones says parents need to learn to differentiate between what violent games mean to children and what they mean to adults, and to stop imposing their understanding of them on children. Adults may be horrified at the literal meaning of a video game, but children are far more interested in its emotional meaning; "through identifying with a fantasy figure who displays intense sexuality, wields destructive power, and exudes heroism, kids can help themselves feel more control over these forces." Jones speaks to adult fears of the power of popular culture and cautions that "entertainment has its greatest influence when it's speaking to something that isn't otherwise being addressed in a child's life." To lessen the impact, adults should "model nonaggression, empathy, respect, a clear distinction between fantasy and reality, and the integration of aggression and other scary feelings."

Dr. Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, feels differently. He weighed in last year on an analysis of competing videogame violence reports submitted to the Supreme Court, and was interviewed for Wired Science.

More recently Bushman was interviewed for NPR: "What we found is for people who were exposed to a lot of violent video games, their brains did not respond to the violent images. They were numb, if you will...Everybody was more aggressive if they'd played a violent game than if they'd played a nonviolent game, and the more numb they were, the more aggressive they were in terms of blasting their opponent with loud noise through headphones,"

At the very least, Bushman concludes that violent video games desensitize young people.

Dr. Joseph Scott suggests that the recent shooting says more about the need for better gun control laws than it does about the impact of violence in the media on people.

(NOTE: Gerard Jones was scheduled to be on the show but was traveling in Idaho and hit a no-cell phone zone just before the show.)

More On The Topic

American Psychological Association: Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study

Longitudinal Relations Between Children’s Exposure to TV Violence and Their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977–1992

Research On Effects Of The Media

Violent Media Is Good For Kids

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | July 25, 2012 at 11:39 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I don't think the violence in media is the influence but rather an afterthought for the already ill/insane to use to make a statement. The shooting in CO, I believe, is a prime example of this. He had already decided to commit the act before deciding on what to wear and how to do it. The costume and such are indication that he wants to be notice, despite having rigged his home.

Still, while I don't believe violence in media is a huge factor it is a factor nonetheless. I know you and I disagree on this already but I strongly believe parents should limit what kind and type of violence young kids should be subjected to or experience. Everyone can hulk out and when they do they will imitate what they have experience for no other reason than that.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 26, 2012 at 9:25 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Following one or maybe even two rape/murders in England where the perpetrators took their cue (no pun) from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE--masks, costumes and all--Stanley Kubrick pulled the film from UK screens. And I still remember the gangbanger violence at the first screenings of Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS in early 1979. Yet neither of these are among the most violent films of their time, let alone of of all-time. I am thinking the real-life violence influenced by films is more influenced when there is a greater connection with the audience, either through general popularity (DARK KNIGHT?) or a cult following. (Yes, Hinkley clipped Ray Gun, but for different reasons.) We will never (thankfully) hear of someone raping/torturing/murdering someone because they were "triggered" by something obscure like A SERBIAN FILM or any of the sadistic "Asian Extreme"movies. Of course, one never knows.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 26, 2012 at 9:36 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

That said, I think Frankie's decision to pull THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE from circulation (he owned the copyright at the time) following the shooting of Ray Gun, John Paul II and John Lennon was little more than a knee-jerk reaction. What would prevent a would-be killer from watching a video of the lesser known EXECUTIVE ACTION at the time?

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