The Positive Effects of Media Violence Essay

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A school shooting has just taken place. As I write this, the newscaster wonders if there is any connection between this and other school shootings, whether through method or motive. There will likely be a discussion on one of the myriad talk shows later, the ubiquitous scrolling headline at the bottom reading something along the lines of “Shooters Played Violent Video Games” or “Teen Killers Watched Action Movies.” And why not? Violence in the media has received an ample amount of attention in the past few years. The prevailing opinion seems to be that the effects of violent television programming and video games on children is harmful, damaging, and possibly influencing violent acts in turn. Yet children have long been drawn to violent fantasy scenarios, whether it be Beowulf or Gunsmoke or Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. There is a magnetic pull for children toward these types of stories and there has been since the dawn of time. Children like the shooters in Helsinki are an aberration, the sociological equivalent of a defective gene. Far from creating generation after generation of serial killers and gang bangers, violent stories can be and usually are beneficial to the young people that they target. 

My own development would be sorely lacking without such tales. In my youth I was an awkward, overweight child with no social skills. In this vacuum of social input, I was instantly drawn to comic books. Spider-Man was by far my favorite. There was an appeal there in reading about the hero beating up his villains, and I admired this fictional character so much that I took to heart his credo: "With great power comes great responsibility." The violence that drew me in and thrilled me also inspired me. 
Later, as a still awkward teenager, I fell in love with martial arts films. Again, the violence and action drew me in. In the fantastic athleticism of Bruce Lee, Yuen Biao, and Jackie Chan, I also discovered a sense of right and wrong, of honor and nobility. There was a moral code in these films imparted through the characters, not much different from the moral codes extant in Medieval tales of knights slaying dragons or in the stories of Wild West lawmen. Lacking a father figure in my own life, these characters (who were no doubt strong and in control of their lives) gave me something to aspire to, some sense of what a grown man should be and how he should i...

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...y purposeless. Comic books and fantasy films offer a way for these children to escape such stresses, if only for a small period of time. The heroes of such stories usually pummel their foes into complacency, and this can offer a feeling of empowerment to outcast youth, even if only vicariously, that they tend to not experience in their lives. For every bully that has ever picked on them, or every verbal abuse that they've received, they are able through such media to gain some measure of confidence back.

Like most issues, violence in the media is a complicated and gray issue. But put aside the knee-jerk reaction that incidents like Columbine and Helsinki engender, and it's easy to see how every child needs to slay a dragon, even if it’s just a virtual one. 

Works Cited

Sipes, Richard G. "War, Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories." American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 75, No. 1. (Feb., 1973), pp. 64-86.

Lorenz, K. (1963) On Aggression. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, reprinted in 2012.

Block, Jerald J, MD. "Lessons From Columbine: Virtual and Real Rage." American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, Vol. 28, Issue 2. (Feb., 2007), pp. 3-25.

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