Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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The Media Connection

"Television has brought murder back into the home-where it belongs," Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), writer, movie director.

Today, in the United States, 98% of all homes have at least one television, more than have telephones or even bathtubs. By the time the average American child reaches the age of 12, he or she has viewed over 8,000 murders on television. Children shows are frequently the worst offenders. A University of Pennsylvania study discovered children's programs contained an average of 32 violent acts per hour and 56% of those shows had violent characters. The same study also found that 74% of the Saturday morning shows displayed characters that became the victims of violence. What is all this violence doing to America's children? Does viewing violent television shows and movies cause violence and crime?

Numerous studies have been undertaken in the past 50 years to investigate the connection between television and crime. Some critics have been vociferous in their belief that watching violence promotes violence. Almost all of the available data on the subject has found disturbing connections between TV viewing and real world violence, not only here in the United States, but in Europe and Australia as well. TV Guide said as early as 1977: "In one survey of 208 prison convicts, 9 of 10 admitted that they learned new criminal tricks by watching crime programs. And 4 out of 10 said they had attempted specific crimes seen on television."

One of the many disturbing images in The Deer Hunter (1976) starring Robert DeNiro
One of the many disturbing images in
The Deer Hunter (1976) starring
Robert DeNiro

Movies, especially, have come under heavy criticism for their emphasis on killing and gratuitous violence. On April 20, 1999, the 110th anniversary of Adolph Hitler's birth, two students went on a shooting rampage in Littleton, Colorado, at the Columbine High School. Wearing long, black trench coats, the students walked through the hallways shooting at students indiscriminately. They shot 38 classmates, killing 13 before they turned the guns on themselves. The event was eerily reminiscent of a scene in a popular youth film of the time in which angry students clad in long, dark coats and armed with shotguns killed their teachers. Another movie, which had an unanticipated effect on its audience, was The Deer Hunter (1972) directed by Michael Cimino. The film received several Academy Awards for its disturbing portrayal of how the Vietnam War affected a small Pennsylvania town. The Deer Hunter contains a harrowing scene in which a character plays a deadly game of "Russian roulette." The film has been linked to at least 43 deaths in a similar fashion.

What is the destiny of children who watch thousands of hours of violence saturated movies and television shows before they even reach their teenage years?

We may never know. Except to say it must have some effect, for it seems impossible that it could have no effect. In one 1995 survey, "57% of the public thinks violence in the media is a major factor in real life violence" of every sort (Schmalleger). But it would still be an overstatement to assume that television viewing alone causes crime or violence. After all, the overwhelming majority of young television viewers do not commit acts of violence, nor do they become delinquents. But if we accept the American Psychological Association report, which said, "The irrefutable conclusion is that viewing violence increases violence" (Myers), then it is truly bad news for America, for television has impacted upon our culture with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It has become so much a part of our lives and permeated every level of our social consciousness, that it may be impossible to judge its influence on those that sit hypnotized in its presence for untold hours of their youth.

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