Is popular culture an influence on violent Behaviour?

 

11 But what happens when the visual stimulus is taken away? Is violent behaviour inherent to popular cultures such as film and television, or is there sufficient information to prove music has an influence on violent behaviour? Violence in Music Music has not always been related to violent behaviour. Even throughout the 60’s and 70’s when bands such as Iron Maiden, Kiss, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest were on the rock ‘n’ roll scene promoting subversive values and sadism, violence was never a real issue.

Although many of these iconic rock figures did condone drug taking and some non-Christian beliefs, they were not deemed as influential enough to young people to incite violence in their nature. It was the introduction of ‘Gangster’ rap in the late 80’s and early 90’s to the music industry, reaching music lovers worldwide has caused many groups to start to take note of the violent imagery and verbal articulation in artists’ lyrics. Ice-T’s song ‘Cop-Killer’ sparked major protest after the Rodney King trial, in which he raps about killing police-officers:

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‘I got my twelve gauge sawed off. I got my headlights turned off. I’m ’bout to bust some shots off. I’m ’bout to dust some cops off. Cop killer, better you than me. Cop killer, f**k police brutality! Cop killer, I know your family’s grievin’ (f**k ’em) Cop killer, but tonight we get even. ‘ 12 The escalating media battles and criminal activities carried out by big name rappers in America has transcended into the everyday lives of young children and teenagers internationally through music icons such as Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.

The uncontrollable hatred between these two sides of the rap industry has sparked major gang wars between East and West Coast gangs such as the ‘Bloods’ and the ‘Crips’. The persuasive lyrics and violent imagery; killing policeman, raping women and murdering girlfriends, get into the minds of the listeners causing abhorrence between people from different gangs and races in America. The power of the spoken word is shown by the fact that their fans practice what these ‘icons’ preach.

Not only is it the lyrics of these rappers that have a major influence on their fans the everyday behaviour that these icons display has a substantial effect on the consumer: “When a ‘gangsta’ rapper is able to commit a crime and get away with it – it does make the crime more legitimate in the eyes of the ‘gangster’ rap consumer”13 It is clear, that individuals who are subject to the violence inherent in areas of the music industry, such as rap, can be influenced by both the violent lyrics and lifestyles of these musicians.

This demonstrates the link between popular culture and violent behaviour. Studies in Music and Violent Behaviour – Psychological Analysis Studies have been carried out into music and violent behaviour on a theoretical basis, using information gathered on the psychology of individuals, however there has never been a completely independent study into the effects of music on individuals. In a study by Bibi Baxter on Teenagers, Music and Violence, she relates intense interest in violence to pornography.

Her claim is that each consequent image in the music has to be more revealing and degrading than the last in order to maintain the interest of the listener. The article contains a table showing the three stages relating to input and memory and the changed effects they would have on the regular process (see appendix d). STAGE 1 MEMORABLE INPUT OF VIOLENCE REINFORCED STRONGLY BY CONSTANT REPETITION OF MUSIC ; VIOLENT IMAGES TEAMED WITH A RANGE OF STRONG NEGATIVE EMOTIONS Violent computer/video game – often played for hours, day after day OR Violent scenes in a film OR in music – often seen or heard more than once.

TYPICAL EMOTIONS ; REACTIONS triumph, disappointment, fierce determination, relief, annoyance, aggression, a sense of achievement from cruel actions, amazement at suffering which can be inflicted followed by gloating, identification with invincible characters STAGE 2 CONSCIOUS REMINDERS OF VIOLENCE Apart from visual reminders, eg: slogans, posters, toys, etc. , song/music likely to be heard and recognised in:- discos, pubs, homes, shops, streets, etc. followed by memories of enjoyment and/or discussion of gory details. Memory is reinforced even further by singing, humming, dancing to melody. STAGE 3 SUBLIMINAL REMINDERS OF VIOLENCE.

Visits to people and places which have past associations with the song/game/music, eg: shops, mates, etc. , or even just the sight of certain objects, eg: TV screen, joystick, etc. Most people are reliant upon a highly-developed visual memory; therefore progressively violent images teamed with both repetitive, brainwashing music and a wide range of strong sensations should give rise to concern. Add to this, the subliminal reminders which surround us all and it is easy to see how susceptible people could unwittingly become a walking time-bomb, programmed to commit violence which cannot be anticipated, controlled, or avoided.

The Long-Term Effects of Popular culture Most criticisms of popular cultures such as television and film regard the short-term effects of over exposure to violent imagery. However, studies have been conducted regarding the long-term effects of violence on television and in films and the effects they can have on individuals over a long period of time. An initial longitudinal study was conducted by Lefkowitz in 1972. He and his colleagues were able to demonstrate long-term effects in a group of children followed up over a ten-year period.

Confirming studies previously demonstrated in 1963 by Eron in the relationship between preference for violent media and the aggressive behaviour of children aged eight. The only question was whether this relationship would hold a grip at later ages in a child’s life. To answer this question the investigators obtained peer-rated measures of aggressive behaviour and preferences for various kinds of television, radio and comic books when the children were eight years old. Ten years later, when the members of the group were eighteen years old, the investigators again obtained measures of aggressive behaviour and television programme preferences.

Their results indicated that in boys, preference for television violence at age eight was significantly related to aggression at age eight, but that preference for television violence at age eighteen was only sometimes related to aggression at age eighteen. This indicates a high level of influence on younger children who watch violence on film oppressing them into violent acts and behaviour but a lower influence in older children, but still a noticeable influence. This leads on to the question of predicting adolescent aggression from knowledge of their television.

The important finding here is the significant relationship, for boys, between preference for violent media at age eight and aggressive behaviour at age eighteen. Equally important is the lack of relationship in the reverse direction; that is, preference for violent television programmes at age eighteen was not produced by their aggressive behaviour in early childhood. The most plausible interpretation of this pattern of correlations is that early preference for violent television programming and other media is one factor in the production of aggressive and antisocial behaviour when the young boy becomes a man.

This evidence reflects a study showing the link between popular culture and violent behaviour a real one. Consequently, a follow-up study was made in 1994, of Lefkowitz’s study. 22 years later, when the boys were thirty years old. The study found that there were significant correlations between violence viewing at age eight and serious interpersonal criminal behaviour at age 30. By looking at the effects of television, film and music on individuals and the way in which people can be affected by its controlling powers it is possible to draw a picture of defiance and dissidence.

Research by Bandura, Merrell and Lefkowitz has shown the possibilities and the reality of a correlation between popular culture and violent behaviour. Despite successful research into the field of violent behaviour and popular culture and success in court and interesting theories, many people believe that popular culture cannot and does not influence violent behaviour in individuals in contemporary society, this is discussed in the following chapter. Chapter 2 – Popular culture Does Not Influence Violent Behaviour “The life and behaviour of an individual, is shaped by a variety of factors from the cradle to the grave”.

14 Many critics of the theory that popular culture has a big influence on violent behaviour identify with the idea that individuals are influenced in many ways, and popular culture can only have limited influence if any. Many agreed with Jim Carroll, writer of the controversial Basketball Diaries, one of the alleged influences for the Columbine Killings in 1999 when he said: ‘Artists have nothing to do with the deranged, vaguely connected actions of a few celebrated nut cases – and that’s it. ‘ 15 There is substantial evidence which backs up Carroll’s case.

Both psychology and science believe there is no link between popular culture such as television, film, music and violent behaviour. Indeed when we look at these forms of popular culture the main arguments and centre for debate is censorship. What people are allowed to see and watch and what certain age groups are deemed mature enough to watch or listen to. Censorship It has been argued that censorship in television, film and music is a way of drawing parallels between popular media and the consequences such as violent behaviour.

In censoring or evening banning – for example, a film – the boards of classification are claiming that they recognise a link between the particular piece and violent behaviour. However, the link can be seen as defeated in Britain by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). In an article which appeared in the Guardian on the 4th of April 1998, reporter Tom Dewe Matthews wrote about the BBFC and the way: ‘The BBFC does not actually ban films… but will postpone their release until any controversy has died down before issuing a certificate as was seen with Crash and Reservoir Dogs.

’16 This attitude shows that even the people in charge of censoring films have reason to believe that a film should be released, but hold back because of public reaction. The BBFC argues that: ‘Abstinence is the best form of protection. That is, if someone does not want to see a certain film they should not and that warnings displayed on video cases and in cinemas should act as a deterrent for people. ‘ 17 This infers that a viewer should exercise their right to not watch something, and they should abstain from viewing certain programmes exercising choice.

This again shows indicates that censorship and abstinence provide a solution to the influence of popular culture over violent behaviour. The views on censorship also vehemently argue that there is no link between popular culture and violent behaviour, both with the BBFC’s views on releasing something after public outcry has subsided – bearing in mind the BBFC receive no financial gain from releasing film as they are a government funded organisation – and the history of censorship as a poor way of blocking material from individuals.

The Music Industry It has been argued that popular rock and rap stars are influential in the downfall of many children and that their controversial, subversive lyrics inspire rebellion and violence. However, many stars themselves have shunned this view of themselves as role models and go on to argue that, regardless of what they do or say, people’s individuality cannot be taken away from them and that their limited influence cannot compel people into acts of violence.

When he was writing about the Columbine massacre, Marilyn Manson touched on his feelings and the collective feelings of many in his position on extreme violent behaviour and the idea that popular culture can influence individuals to commit these acts, he said: ‘It is sad to think that the first few people on earth needed no books, movies, games or music to inspire cold-blooded murder. The day that Cain bashed his brother Abel’s18 brain in, the only motivation he needed was his own human disposition to violence.

‘ The view adopted by Manson is that violence is something which is inbred into society. Manson is referring to Sigmund Freud’s idea of the savage nature in mankind. He believes this violence is acquired at birth, propelled by religion and justified in its scruples; he refuses to believe that the majority of people can be directly influenced by popular culture and that it is our own human disposition which draws us to violent acts, regardless of any outward stimulation.

Manson carries on by attacking Christianity claiming: ‘… Christianity has given us an image of death and sexuality that we have based our culture around. The world’s most famous murder/suicide was also the birth of the death icon – the blueprint for society. Unfortunately, for all of their inspiring morality, nowhere in the Gospels is intelligence praised as a virtue. ‘ Manson is trying to reinforce his idea that violence is something born unto us and that regardless of stigma, some people may act upon it.

The kernel of his argument provides us with evidence that there is no link between popular culture and violent behaviour. Manson talks about the ability people have to act upon instinct. He dwells upon the fact that rock stars as role models do not influence violent behaviour, but that it boils down to the fact that as long as violence exists all around us, it will be prolific in television programmes, films and in music; be it violent lyrics, physical violence or indecent comments. Theories Which Defeat the Link between Popular culture and Violence.

Chapter 1 looked at research that established a link between popular culture and violent behaviour. The investigation by Bandura showed that both short and long-term viewing of televised violence produced aggressive reactions in the study’s participants. It is important to note that the studies conducted by Bandura et al. were criticised on the grounds that the aggressive behaviour was not meaningful within the social context of their experiments and that the stimulus materials were not representative of available television programming.

This highlights the bias in their work and the subjectivity in their experiments, leading towards a predetermined answer established by unfair testing. This alone shows the lack of extensive evidence proving the relationship between popular culture and violent behaviour and its ability to influence individuals’ reactions. In 1993 the National Research Council (NRC) cautioned that correlations do not prove cause, and could be reflective of poor parental supervision and a heightened potential for violent behaviour.

This statement was a profound result of studies conducted in the late 70’s and early 80’s confirming correlations between popular media and violent behaviour but without proving a substantial influence over individuals to act upon violent feelings or aggression. Again, disproving popular culture ‘s influence over violent behaviour through the basis of cause and effect, that is, the cause of violent behaviour is not necessarily the effect of violent images witnessed or listened to but a culmination of different effects in an individuals’ life.

In 1978 Eysenck and Nias suggested a model which assumes pre-disposition to violence (like that which Manson spoke about earlier on) in a country is distributed in the shape of a normal curve of distribution, with 5% of people actually being violent. Their model suggests a 1% shift in propensity to violence would increase the number of violent people in the UK by 350,000 and in the USA by 1. 4 million. 19. Although Eysenck and Nias’ model is over simplified because human behaviour is multiply determined, they conclude that: ‘Even quite small effects, so small as to be hardly measurable may have far reaching and tremendous consequences.

‘1 It is evident that a small shift in propensity, for example the advent of war, could have a 1% increase on the population on the curve of distribution. War brings together people in countries, with media propaganda increasing hatred between sides, which is enough to increase the level of violent people in a country. Therefore, these people would draw on what they had learned from media and television and channel their aggression through these images in their heads, carrying out copycat acts of violence and aggression based on the only violence that they have seen.

Thus, it would appear that popular culture was the influence over these actually violent people, when really; they are reflective of the distribution of violent people in the country. Therefore, the studies of Eysenck and Nias now show that violence is something inbred into individuals, relating back to Marilyn Manson’s views on Columbine. Thus, the evidence given in chapter 1 regarding the influence popular culture can have over violent behaviour can be associated with a propensity towards violence of the population and not popular culture itself.

The Hypodermic Syringe Effect This theory has its root in 1950’s America when dominant businesses and the then government wanted to discover how far the public were influenced by what they saw on television. The Hypodermic Theory came from this Media Effects model, which had a heavy emphasis in psychology. The Hypodermic model proposes that the media has a very direct and extremely immediate effect on the general public, who accept the injected message without question due to their passiveness.

For example, if a viewer was shown the notorious and much discussed film ‘Natural Born Killers’ (Oliver Stone 1994), the Hypodermic model would say that due to it’s alleged glamorization of motiveless violence, where the main protagonists are seen as romantic folk heroes who get away with their crimes in the end, the viewer would simply take in the message, accept it and then violent behaviour would stem from that. The implication here is that the viewer will empathise with the main protagonists making them seem likeable, resulting in the viewer condoning their actions and possibly recreating them.

If people were simply passive and accepted everything they saw on the screen and let it influence their behaviour without questioning it, then they would have all become violent to the extreme after watching a violent film, something which we know is simply not the case. And it is women, children and the working class who are seen as vulnerable as they are assumed to be intellectually inferior, while those who study the effects, white middle class males, are somehow above being effected by the media.

Surely this only goes towards what they say is the reality if the subject as it is they who say viewers as a mass will be effected, so by not including themselves they are disproving their own theory. This apparent bourgeoisie look at influencing violent behaviour through popular culture only affecting the lower classes shows the lack of a substantial link between popular culture and violent behaviour. With these researchers blaming any apparent link to a lack of intellect and absorption in ‘low’ culture as opposed to any link which is all encompassing.

Uses and Gratifications The second model differs greatly from the Hypodermic one, in that it focuses more on the viewer. In this model who and what a person is, is the key to how they use the media text and what gratification they attain from it. This brings in the idea that an individual, because of who they are and where in society they have come from, will react differently to a text. This was touched on earlier when discussing ‘The Bill’. An individual, depending on who they are, will have a different reading of a text.

Regarding something with the high violence content of ‘Natural Born Killers’, it helps build personal identity in that the viewer sees it and knows what not to be like. The viewer can judge between what is right and what is wrong. Society rightfully condemns the behaviour of the characters and so do active members of that society. People do not try to emulate them, even if when watching it is a diversion and form of escapism, but that is it and nothing more. It is not reality and this is accepted. And the fact that viewers watch the film and do not automatically become more violent clearly gives this backing.

By looking at a variety of theories, case studies and different means of controlling popular culture, it has become clear that it is too little to say that screen violence produces behavioural effects as it is a generalization. Also behaviour does not seem to be the correct word. When watching violence people react emotionally in different ways, not behaviourally. A viewer may be appalled by the graphic and bloody violence of ‘Natural Born Killers’, exhilarated during a hand to hand combat in ‘Rocky’ or even amused by the over-the-top slapstick violence of ‘The Three Stooges’.

The message of the maker of the text, the text itself and who the audiences are as individuals are all as equally important as each other, and so all have to be taken into consideration. One without the other two is not enough, it takes more than just screen violence and screen violence alone to produce behavioural effects on viewers. Conclusion In conclusion, if screen violence produces behavioural effects on viewers, therefore creating a more violent society, it would be more evident in our everyday lives.

Images of violence are all around us in many forms of the media. If we were all effected in the same way then everyone would have the same reaction. If everyone reacted to and mimicked behaviour seen on the screen then our society would be one of constant violence in every situation imaginable. This is simply not the case. The James Bulger murder where two young boys caused the death of a toddler by supposedly mimicking a scene from the violent horror film ‘Child’s Play III’ has been blamed on screen violence.

However there was no evidence, as Martin Barker (1997)20 explains, that the boys had actually seen that film even though that is what the press latched onto. So where the effects of screen violence were blamed there were more than likely other elements which helped bring the situation into existence. More than just what such individuals watch has to be taken into consideration, but also who they are and where they have come from. If it was simply that violence on the screen instigated violent behaviour and nothing more, what of other cases such as Mary Bell, a girl who killed two very young children.

She had not seen ‘Child’s Play’ or ‘Natural Born Killers’, but had experienced real life abuse at the hands of her mother. It takes more than just watching violence on the screen to cause it. An individual may watch a violent film and then perform the acts in real life, but one would then have to look at what they, as a viewer, originally brought to the reading. Thus, when asked the question, ‘Is popular culture an influence on violent behaviour’ my answer is no.

After my extensive research I am led to believe that violent behaviour is intrinsically based on many factors, interdependent on one another and that popular culture cannot solely influence an individual to commit an act of violence. However, I do agree with the fact that images in popular culture can influence the way in which an individual carries out an act of violence. This is because of a lack of other stimuli which a violent individual can act upon, retorting upon something they have seen before in a movie or on television.