Media Violence
And Its Effect
On Aggression

Assessing the
Scientific Evidence

Jonathan L. Freedman
(University of Toronto)
I have been warned to be careful with my heart. At age 70, with a long history of high blood pressure and agina, I am susceptible to massive coronary attack, cardiovascular thrombosis, and arrhythmia.

So I am cautious. I sleep eight hours a night, recently gave up smoking, and try not to get overly excited over the foolishness of the world.

But then comes this book on media violence by one J. Freedman and I am forced into extremis despite my doctor's strictures. I read a page and then have to lie down until my pulse quiets down. If I am to attempt a whole chapter before supper, I warn my wife to be prepared to call 911. I absolutely ban the book from my reading room on weekends because of the possibility of massive hemorrhage.

God knows what background this Freedman has --- the book doesn't tell us --- but there is no indication of mental problems either in his style of writing or in his choice of words. He seems to be literate and well-spoken --- and the only mental instability an outsider could detect from this writing would be the result of his strange and wonderful conclusions.

He claims, for instance, that drawn from the 200 or so scientific studies made over the past four decades, there is "little or no evidence that television induces violence" in any form whatsoever, except for a slight (a slight!) increase "in violent behavior in those under the age of ten."

§     §     §

Listen Freedman. I am in the "playroom" --- we call it a playroom, although it is really the television room --- where our 30" monster resides. I am with my seven-year-old grandson Robin and my four-year-old granddaughter Melody. We are watching a ho-hum detective chase movie and suddenly one of the Mafia types goes ballistic and throws the good guy on the ground and has his honchos break his arms. Both of them. In slow motion. Complete with crunches and screams.

I vow never to allow my beloved grandchildren to watch television ever again, but you know how long those resolutions last, so I content myself with believing that I will be very very careful, turn the damn thing off at any hint of rapine or murder.

Switch to another week. I am drowsing off, the lady of the house (in the movie) is taking a shower, some nutcase is seen creeping in the window and for some reason --- the plot is not very well-constructed --- he pulls out a portable 3/4" drill and, before I have a chance to react, he pushes the whirling bit right through the shower curtain and penetrates deeply--- with a drill! --- into the mid- and lower back of the innocent lady. Complete with shrieks and blood and hunks of flesh. It takes me a week to coax the kids into taking showers after that one.

Next scene, a half-a-year later. I am drifting off, they are glued to the set, and when I awake to gunshots, we see two gangly teenagers in the school-room, gunning down a dozen or so screaming kids, the English teacher and, for good measure, the janitor. Blood all over the desks, the blackboards, the ceiling.

§     §     §

They say that in poorer families, children watch television some ten to thirteen hours a day. There isn't someone like me around to try to shoo them away from the blood-soaked shows, especially late at night. Perhaps the old man is in jail; perhaps Mom is working twelve hours a day (complete with commute) for $6 an hour at KFC or MacDonalds --- take home pay around $4.50.

Maybe they are latchkey kids, or maybe the grandmother what with her rheumatism just can't get over there every day to watch out for them. The TV is their baby-sitter. There's no one when they get home from school but that big gray eye in their crowded living room. The TV showing them things that we might hope they would never have to see.

It is said that in their lifetimes, before they reach the age of eighteen, the average American child will have watched over ten thousand acts of violence, murders and beatings --- utilizing knives, shotguns, pistols, rifles, bombs, cars, jack-hammers, chain-saws, ball-peen hammers, and every other diabolical machine they can come up with to inflict injury on the innocent.

Tell me, Freedman, about the effect of this stuff on minds of the two- or three- or five-year olds --- watching this gross cruelty at a time when their young brains are so open, so vulnerable; when, indeed, psychologists tell us --- your book says you are a psychologist --- their minds can scarcely comprehend the difference between the real and the imagined. A quarter of our youth, the flower of our nation, up close (the young always like to watch TV up close), immersed in visions of the most appalling cruelty that one human can visit on another, hour after hour, day after day, depicted with all the art that the Hollywood types can so realistically create.

And you want to tell me, Freedman, that this has absolutely no effect on our children, and how they relate to their parents, and how they relate to their society, and most of all, how they will live their lives. What planet have you come from, Freedman?

The kids, the kids all around you, are learning from the very first moments of their waking lives that violence works. When they reach what we used to call "the age of reason," and if there is no other way to respond to the agony of living, they can always cast back to the lessons they learned back then when they were but a few years old, when they had a chance, daily, to peer at the world through blood-covered lenses, utilizing one of the greatest teaching machines of all time --- where they learned again and again and again that there is always a solution for the pain of living in the world; that is, get hold of something, anything --- a hammer, an AK-47, a switch-blade, a pair of knuck-chucks, a brick --- and bingo! you have an acceptable way to take care of frustration, anger, hate, fear.

§     §     §

Freedman, we are told, is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. Are we talking about the same University of Toronto --- the one up there over the border somewhere?

Or maybe there is another University of Toronto, in Upper Volta, perhaps, in a small town also called Toronto, not more than thirty kms. from Ouagadougou, with its own precious, small, and underfunded "University of Toronto." Where our good professor lives and teaches and comes up with such otherworldly statements as "I hope that neither organizations nor individuals will ever again say that the evidence for a causal effect of media violence is overwhelming or that the case is closed. Perhaps the people will even begin to accept the clear fact that the evidence does not support the notion that exposure to media violence causes aggression or desensitization to aggression."

--- P. F. W. Watters

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