The 60’s ushered in the age of television as parents struggled to understand it’s mind-numbing spell on their children. In the 70’s, fantasy and role playing games were turning teenagers into blood-thirsty killers. In the 80’s, heavy metal music was creating legions of devil worshippers with their satanic messages. In the 90’s, video games were leading young people to wreck and ruin. And in the first part of the 21st century, it was social media that was going to cause societal collapse.
As we wend our way toward the end of the current decade, websites like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube seem to be pulling ahead to be the decided targets of our accusations as harbingers of adolescent corruption. Videos that turn their begrudging subjects into celebrities are viewed millions of times to become modern-day phenomena. Programming whose subject or content would never survive the censors’ chopping block become mainstream, ironically due to their subversive nature.
Perhaps the assertion over the years that media portraying violence and mature subject matter lead to the desensitization of their audiences has some merit. Studies have strongly suggested that “exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior [sic], aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect.” Maybe watching episode after violence-soaks episode back-to-back really does lead to lowered degrees of empathy.
Whether we are talking about short or long-term effects of constant and protracted exposure to violence in media, what these studies are basically saying is that notwithstanding individual perceptions, if violence is portrayed in a believable way, we will identify with the characters and therefore the experiences. Seems obvious, doesn’t it?
Do those who produce content for these various media therefore have a responsibility to their audiences to portray that content in a responsible manner? And if so, how far does that responsibility go? Should it be watered down to ensure that it can’t possibly have an adverse impact on the consumer or should it be presented as stark reality leaving the consumers to draw their own conclusions? Is there a middle ground and if so, what does it look like?
“Netflix and chill”, “binge-watching”, “going viral”…these phrases have worked their way into our daily vernacular as they serve as a means of sharing our collective electronic experience with each other. But the fact is, that shared experience is not as common as we would like to think. If you were born in the pre-Internet age, you probably spend a lot of your energy trying to understand this. If you grew up during the years following that, you accept it almost instinctually.
Referenced web sites:
American Psychological Association
13 Reasons Why: Is it ‘exposing the truth’ or a ‘primer’ on teen suicide?
The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research