I have a shameful admission to make. For the last few days I have been imbibing in the intellectual equivalent of salty snack foods: TV crime shows. And I have another admission: I have grown not to care at all about the victims. I have become calloused to their fates.
Most of these victims are awful people… shallow, selfish, dishonest, greedy, libido-driven. I find myself repeatedly saying, “Good. He (or she) had it coming.”
Does this mean that TV is turning me into a sociopath?
Now I hasten to say that these are fictional characters whose main importance to the plot line is to become a corpse laid out on an autopsy table or the hapless victim of a murder, scam, or other crime. Maybe one reason I care so little is that most of them are poorly-written, unsympathetic, predictable characters.
But I have had another thought, too. Perhaps this is the result which is intended by the producers of the shows.
Does anyone else think that this may be a strategy for desensitizing audiences to an escalating diet of media violence? Does anyone else think that these depictions of victims objectifies them—and denies that they are living, breathing human beings endowed with unique characters and souls, but rather as replaceable objects?
Author Dave Grossman points out that this process of desensitization begins for most of our kids not at 18 years, but at 18 months when children are developmentally unable to discern between fantasy and reality. It isn’t until kids reach the age of 6 or 7 that they begin to understand where information about violence comes from.
“When young children see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized, degraded or murdered on TV,” says Grossman, “to them it is as though it were actually happening.” Sure, they are told: ‘Hey, it’s all for fun. Look, this isn’t real. It’s just for TV.’ And they nod their little heads and say, ‘okay.’
“But they can’t tell the difference,” says Grossman.
Grossman says that the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco. Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social impact of brutalization by the media, but the definitive epidemiological study was published by the American Medical Association.
Says Grossman: “The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations after television made its appearance as compared to nations and regions without TV. The two nations or regions being compared are demographically and ethnically identical; only one variable is different: the presence of television. In every nation, region, or city with television, there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three to five-year-old to reach the ‘prime crime age.’ That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.”
Thus, because we have been reared on this media diet in which brutal, perverse and gratuitous violence is the norm, naturally we will tolerate high levels of violence in our society.
Says another commentator, Dr. George Drinka: “Most will not insist on real change in how violence is perceived and will accept a few changes on the edges of the society as enough—a few more dollars spent of mental illness prevention, a little tweak of the law around background checks for buying guns, a few more schools with automatic door-locking mechanisms. These changes done, we can then change the channel and go on with our lives.”
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