It’s just a game: media and mass violence

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Image by Darren W. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By: Max Liebel 

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- In 1960 a man was arrested for the murders of three women. When he was questioned by police, he told them that on his third murder he had been inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Psycho.” When members of the press got ahold of this information they were quick to approach Hitchcock with questions of whether or not he felt at all responsible for the third murder, to which he stated, “Well what film did he watch before the first two murders?” 

Hitchcock’s statement is interesting and provides a necessary form of context when we discuss how media affects violence in society.  The answer is media has very little to no effect on predisposed violent behavior, oftentimes violent behavior can be attributed to a chemical imbalance or environmental influences. Along with this, warning signs from those who commit such heinous crimes usually develop at an early age. 

We as a society have been having discussions on the media’s portrayal of violence as detrimental to youth and development since Homer wrote the Iliad. Often times when a mass shooting or some other form of mass violence occurs we don’t blame it on mental illness, stunted social development or white supremacy, we blame a video game or a movie. For some, it’s easier to say “It can’t be my child it has to be that movie they went and saw last week.” Or “No way my child has been speaking to white supremacists in chat rooms, I shouldn’t have let them buy Grand Theft Auto.” In reality, media has simply been a scapegoat for some to avoid much tougher conversations.  

The New York Times ran an article investigating the relationship between mass shootings and white supremacy and discovered that 17 mass shootings in the past eight years were perpetrated by someone who had direct ties to white supremacist groups. This would check out considering 95 percent of mass shooters on record are white males. Due to these findings and others like it, on Sept. 23, the Department of Homeland Security deemed white supremacist groups a significant terror threat. 

However, it takes more than just hateful rhetoric to lead someone to violence. Murder is an unnatural act that I’m sure most wouldn’t even consider attempting without our moral compasses intervening. This is why most perpetrators of mass violence have been linked to mental illness. At least 60 percent of mass shooters since 1970 have shown symptoms or been diagnosed with some form of mental illness and more than 41 percent of mass shooters have some prior account of violent behavior. 

Art has always been a reflection of society, not the other way around. Very rarely do creative ideas manifest out of thin air. If a film about a serial killer is made, it is because serial killers exist. If a videogame about war is created, I think it’s pretty rational to say that war was the inspiration, not the game. Having these which came first arguments has not moved the needle in any direction when it comes to mass violence. Seemingly every week there is another mass shooting or act of mass violence, and every time it is the same discussion. If we are ever to see tangible change, new discussions need to be had because the ones we are currently having don’t seem to be working. 


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