Is Violence In Mass Media A Necessary Cathartic Outlet, Or An Unnecessary Influence?

There is continuing debate on the extent of the effects of media violence on children and young people. Violence in mainstream media like movies, TV shows and video games is something that is now so commonly portrayed that it is normalised to a point where most of the people don’t see it as an issue worth deliberation and debate. However, it does affects one’s cognition in a negative manner, especially young gullible minds. While it is often easy to objectively point out violent content in video games, unrelated animated characters in it being a contributing factor, it is all the more difficult for the mainstream public to object to the glorification of violence in movies, and Hindi movies, to be more specific. Most of the male lead role in movies are characterized by machismo and violence and these characters, played by famous actors who people see as role models, are more relatable to young people. Going by bandura’s social learning theory, when these model’s behaviours are reinforced positively, it tends to be imitated by people who relate to the model.
There is consistent evidence of research that potrays that the violent imagery in television, film and video, and computer games has substantial short-term effects on arousal, thoughts, and emotions, increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behaviour in younger children. Violence exposed children have an increased risk of developing problems including: mental health problems, learning disabilities, language impairments, and other neurocognitive problems. These problems interact to create a complex web of deficits and disabilities where intervention access points are difficult to assess.
Apart from the very obvious physical portrayal of violence, there is also a very casual depiction of violence which is in the form of sexual harassment or eve teasing. A very common theme of a lot of bollywood movies is how the persistent and often forced, non- consensual advances of the male protagonist eventually leads to a love story with a happy ending. In 2015, a case was reported where a 32 year old man was accused of stalking two women in Australia who escaped being convicted by court in Tasmania after arguing that he was inspired by Bollywood movies to believe that doggedly pursuing a woman would eventually cause them to fall in love. When an issue like eve-teasing, characterized as violence against women, is shown in such a positive light, it makes people to trivialise the issue in their head and the eventual desensitization towards it. Under the pretext of entertainment, some very problematic ideas are reinforced in the minds of people leading up to actual alterations in their thinking patterns and shaping up their conceptions of what is right/normal and what is not. Media has also been contributing in the perpetuation of rape culture.
To depict rape, which is the most heinous act of violence against women, in a casual light, sends a message to people that it is acceptable to laugh it off or turn a blind’s eye to such grievous offences, and in no way it cannot have a very detrimental impact on the well-being of society as large.
Bollywood films are marred with patriarchal contentions and sexist overtones, both manifested and subliminal. Bollywood has not only justified sexism but promoted sexual harassment, molestation, objectification of women, and voyeurism (Tariq, 2017)
There has also been a debate over violent games like doom, call of duty, PUBG. According to the American Psychological Association, consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect and decreases in pro social behaviours, empathy and sensitivity to aggression is found. Video games like PUBG, counter strike, grand theft auto are based around themes which involve killings, bloodshed, nudity, use of lethal weapons like guns. This promotes a callous attitude in favour of these weapons, its virtual accessibility and free usage undermines and trivialises the intensity of horrific incidents that take place around the world in reality because of such callous use of these same weapons. Moreover, these behaviours are practised thousands of times on a regular basis, and thus becomes an automatic response. Then where a provocative situation might arise in real life situation, the person might completely lose his ability to respond peacefully and instead generate this automated response which has been ‘programmed’ in his/her mind by virtue of being exposed to the violent content over a repeated period of time. As an example, in October 2018 a 19-year-old man, who arrested for allegedly killing his parents and sister, he was addicted to online battle game PUBG (Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds), a senior Delhi police officer was quoted as saying by a news agency. On Friday July 22, 2016, a gunman killed nine people at a mall in Munich, Germany. The 18-year-old shooter was subsequently characterized by the media as being under psychiatric care and harbouring at least two obsessions. One, an obsession with mass shootings, and the other an obsession with video games. A Los Angeles, California, news report stated that the gunman was “an avid player of first-person shooter video games, including ‘Counter-Strike,’” while another headline similarly declared, “Munich gunman, a fan of violent video games, rampage killers, had planned attack for a year” The legal action that has been already taken by some countries, or talks for which are underway in others to ban these games is one of the biggest testament to the fact that it indeed is affecting the society in a negative way.
In today’s time when binge-watching TV series on Netflix and other video streaming platforms has become a ‘trend’ and internet addiction is being recognized as any other behavioural addiction, it is no more an issue up for debate that its negative effects include increased feelings of loneliness and isolation, a sense of detachment from the social world and withdrawal of reality, it also hampers the scholastic performance of children, and to top it all, when the nature of content is violent, its effects are no longer restricted only to the individual and go on to effect the society at large.
Coming onto some of the more popular TV series like “13 reasons why”, or the Netflix original “Insatiable”, young people tend to absorb the content and the problematic ideas associated with it, without thinking too much of the way in which these ideas are inherently violent. The show 13 reasons why subtlety hints towards glorification of suicide and the trauma associated with bullying. The show Insatiable is extremely fat phobic and these ideas are extremely harmful and in no way should be normalised.
While there are two sides to this debate, the side in the favour of representing violent content in media most commonly argues that it provides an expressive outlet for the pent up frustration and aggression. However, there are other more constructive outlets for doing the same, including journaling, meditation, exercising etc and when it comes to entertainment, content which promotes pro social, sensitive, morally just and empathetic behaviour should be given representation.

Author – Anoushka Sharma, Intern - Social Media, DevInsights

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