Recently, the Todd Philips movie Joker sparked mass hysteria at many screenings across the U.S. due to the fear of a potential person deriving influence from the deranged character portrayed on the silver screen. These fears, however, are entirely unfounded and hinge on near tabloid-like reports found nearly everywhere online nowadays.
No, just because someone watches too many Tarantino movies or because they play video games like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, that person will not turn into a mass shooter.
Over the years, various studies and research programs have all concluded the same point that violent media does not influence people to perpetrate violent acts. Then the question must be asked as to why so many believe that movies and games can influence people to do violent acts.
The debate of whether a movie or game can influence an individual’s desire for violence first rose to prominence shortly after the tragic Columbine shooting. Many parents, and people all over the country, cited that the students who perpetrated this heinous act had derived some form of inspiration from various Spielberg and Tarantino movies, as well as shooter games that were prevalent at the time, even the musical career of shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
This is an understandable reaction: a traumatic event has occurred for many and they need something to blame, an easy target being a form of media, like a movie or game. Yet at closer inspection to the situation, games and movies had nothing to do with influencing the shooters to commit their crime. The students who perpetrated the crime were most likely suffering from various mental disorders, and their academic careers up to that point indicated that they were the subjects of no small amount of bullying at school.
The movies and games they watched and played did not somehow tell them to do anything.
Saying that a video game or movie can cause someone, particularly teens and adolescents, to develop violent tendencies is similar to parents back in the 1950’s blaming rock n’ roll music for juvenile delinquency and back in the 1980’s blaming rock n’ roll for a rise in Satanism. This line of reasoning by many parents, that anything that they did not grow up with is a negative influence on their children, can easily be dismissed but many simply to refuse to discard their misinformed opinions.
Take, for instance, a hypothetical movie about a man who is incredibly generous. This film doesn’t magically increase the number of people who give back to their community. Sure, it might pull on some heartstrings and cause people to think about what they do for their community, but it doesn’t cause someone to become a philanthropist.
Various studies have been conducted to answer this question and they all yield the same result: it doesn’t.
A 2004 study conducted by the Illinois State University concluded that while there was obviously a small level of influence on adolescents from R-rated films, none of them developed violent impulses.
Similarly, the American Psychological Association attempted a large scale test to see whether or not there was any correlation between violent media and violent activity. The study found that there is a negligible influence on violent activity on society brought on by violent games. The same study also showed that there existed a conformational bias, the tendency to only pay attention to information that corroborates an individual’s own opinion regarding something, when it came to reporting on a violent criminal. Consequently, even though both men and women play video games and watch violent movies the media often tends to only analyze the media activity of young men and rarely ever older men or women. This form of selective reporting might be linked to the growing sentiment that violent media influences violent actions. Thus, the study concluded that because so many different individuals absorb violent media it cannot be used as the explanation of all violent crimes.
This, however, does not mean that there is absolutely zero influence.
All forms of media have varying degrees of influence on individuals, but most people can rationalize rational thoughts from more irrational thoughts. As such, it would be foolish to place all the blame on any single form of media.
So where does the blame lie? In a lack of mental health support and facilities.
Nearly every single violent crime was committed by an individual who struggled with many mental disorders. If any single factor is to be blamed, it must be the lack of mental health support for those suffering from chronic disorders.
From the mountain of evidence against the idea that violent media can cause violent crimes, it can be deemed with absolute certainty that playing too many shooters doesn’t groom a person into acting upon their worst impulses.
Media in general is an outlet for many people that serves as an escape from reality where they can be entertained and engaged. Violence just so happens to be entertaining for many viewers because it is often so unbelievable and almost fantastical.
Let people enjoy their activities so long as it doesn’t hurt themselves or others.
Anuraj Nair is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl