April 14, 2008

Web Surfing: What Do Other Bloggers Have to Say About Violence in the Media?

This week, I navigated the blogosphere in a search for blogs that comment on the media's role or lack of role in youth violence. As I wrote about last week, research shows that mental illness is the leading indicator and cause of violence. However, in our media saturated society, television and other technologies are the easiest scapegoats for the problem. Many blogs reinforce this misconception about violence in the media being extremely dangerous to today's youth. The first blog I looked at is called Game Politics, which posts a conversation between Larry King and Dr. Phil about video games' influence over children. I challenged Dr. Phil's argument that video games are a causal factor in young people committing violent acts. The second blog I looked at is called Matty N's Blog. The creator of the blog quotes Rush Limbaugh voicing his opinion that video games are not guilty of people's violent crimes. He says that the individual is responsible for the act. I responded to both Game Politics' and Matty N's posts below:

While I appreciate Dr. Phil's opinions on many topics, I greatly disagree with his point of view that video games cause youth violence. Research shows that by the age of 11, children have adult capabilities of deciphering between fantasy and reality on the television screen. Thus, shooting animated people by clicking a remote control is in no way teaching kids about violence. In fact, many sociologists have noted that violence in a media is a safe way for people to release their violent urges. Furthermore, evidence reveals that mental illness is the leading cause in homicide. I believe that the media is simply an easy target for criticism regarding serious issues, such as teenage violence. By blaming the media, individuals do not have to look into the deeper problems-problems that may begin in their very own households.

Rush's statement about the relationship between video games and school shootings is valuable to Americans. He is correct in noting that video games are absolutely not responsible for adolescent violence. There is no evidence tying the two matters together, and as Rush points out, the fact that the Virginia Tech school shooter played video games is irrelevant. Many people are gamers and do not commit heinous crimes. I do think it is important to be sensitive to the mental issues that DO have an effect on homicidal people. Mental illness is a serious disease that can be fatal to one or more people if it goes untreated. Mental illness contributes to violent acts, such as school shootings, not video games.

April 8, 2008

School Shootings: The Cause

Four months ago, at Northern Illinois University, there was a school shooting. This event is similar to what happened on April 16, 2007 when reporters were in a frenzy to report on the Virginia Tech Shooting. As the news reported, a male Virginia Tech student killed many university students and professors, and then he committed suicide. This was an extremely traumatic and shocking event because it exemplified how even in the middle class, primarily white, academic world danger can arise. Consequentially, the public questioned the cause of this man's violent act immediately following the event, and they searched for someone or something to blame. Unfortunately for the media, popular culture and the media as a whole were held responsible. School shootings, such as Virginia Tech are infrequent, but extremely frightening events. In nearly all cases, popular culture and the media are targeted as the causes of violent behavior. Ironically, media has no proven association with violence. In fact, professionals state that mental illness is the key cause. However, because grave issues, such as the cause of violent impules require people to look into themselves in order to resolve the problem, it is easier to point fingers and redirect the blame. Additionally, the ubiquity of media is a new phenomenon, therefore several adults fear the effects of media on children because their childhood did not include computer games and frequent television use.

This entire cycle of placing blame on the media begins with news reporting. After the Virginia Tech shooting transpired, many news mediums were fast to name video game Counter Strike as the culprit in the event. Fox News reported that gaming is directly related to the deaths of the victims at Virginia Tech. The article quoted Jack Thompson (depicted to the right), a video game critic, stating that there are "real people that are in the ground now because of this game." To frantic parents, this statement was a relief because it explained some rationale for the terrible episode. In reality, the parents simply believed what they read without checking the facts. Thompson's commentary is simliar to past remarks associated with school shootings. After the Columbine Shooting in 1999, there was a widely covered lawsuit against video game production companies. The BBC reported that the lawsuit asserts "that many of the computer games produced by the 25 companies it names created the conditions that made the massacre possible." While there was no evidence to support this claim and the lawsuit was rejected in court, the idea that there is a relationship between video games and school shootings permeated society. Because the news maintains sensationalized reporting regarding school shootings, the true causes of adolescent violence remained silenced.

In actuality, mental illness is the primary causal factor for adolescent violence. In Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epedemialogy by Steinkopff, it is denoted that "patients who suffer from serious mental conditions are more prone to violent behavior." If this illness goes untreated, it can be tremendously dangerous to both the patient and others. Moreover, in a study that was conducted by the National Research Council Institude of Medicine, statistics reveal that five of eight school shooters had mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression. The study also bares information about the perpetrators prior to the shootings. Many of these people had tried to kill themselves at an earlier time. Thus, this violent behavior is somewhat explicable after understanding mental illness and its severe effects. Some of these life-impeding symptoms include suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, learning disabilities, anxiety, et cetera. Therefore, even if the school shooters played video games, mental illness is clearly the real problem. There may be a correlation between school shooters and video games in that violent teenagers play violent games. however it is inaccurate to use this correlation to explain that video games (like the one depicted) rather than mental illness causes violence.

So the question that remains is why do people blame the media? The first reason is that mental illness and youth violence are two topics that are sensitive and quite personal for most individuals. To evaluate if a child has a psychological disorder, one must look deeply into their own households. This is a difficult and emotional task for most people. it is simpler to redirect the blame to an outward source. Secondly, as University of Southern California Professor Karen Sternheimer states, "media culture has expanded exponentially over the last few decade." Because there is so much access to media products and media is completely incorporated into society, people fear a loss of control. Parents no longer know exactly what their child is watching on the television or what their child is doing when they are playing video games. Just as ignorance regarding people of other cultures, religions and races produces prejudice, so does a lack of understanding of media.

As Professor Sternheimer points out in It's Not the Media, adults fears about the media causing youth to commit homicidal acts completely disregards children's ability to rationalize. Furthermore, an examination conducted by Professor Sternheimer reinforces the point that violence is learned through social contexts and personal life experiences. Her research reveals that the "meaning of violence is made within particular social contexts. " This means that one source, the media, does not inform kids about sadism. It is the varying life experience of each individual child that affects their understanding of aggression. The news should focus on school shooters' lives leading up to the event and their mental illnesses when reporting about these tragedies. Additionally, schools and parents ought to pay special attention to signs of mental illness and seek treatment immediately if it is necessary. In order to prevent future heart wrenching events in schools, video games can no longer be the scapegoats and people must look at the real issue.
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