Why I believe violence in media is okay for kids

Today, we were asked to defend the position, “The company should produce a very violent ad in a children’s toy (specifically an army helicopter) if ordered by a very important client even though the owner of the business believes that such move is unethically correct.”

We prepared to the best of our abilities and I think we defended our difficult stance in class today. Below are the reasons on why we believe that the company should produce the violent ad.

This semester, we have to undergo around 7 hours of ethics class for four weeks. Ethics is really a difficult class to teach. I mean, how do you teach someone to be good, right?

I do believe however that ethics should be taught with an open mind. In a way, I do believe that everything is subjective and not everything can be split by black and white. If a terrorist holds your wife at gunpoint and orders you to give the ransom money, would you dare wait for him to shoot because you didn’t want to aid terrorists for the principle of it?

Honestly speaking, compared to my classmates, I think I’m relatively less ethical.

Don’t get me wrong. I still do what I think is right but I do believe that most people are just too self-righteous and uptight. They should be more open-minded that there’s a lot of gray areas in the world and so long as no one gets hurt, it’s NOT illegal and doesn’t go against my personal values and beliefs, then sure, why not?

Haha, again, this is a less popular stance. I wish that the world was all rosy and bright but who are we kidding ourselves? The world is a mean, bad place so yes, we have to adjust. It’s never just the question on what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes, we cannot really say.

Anyway, have a great weekend ahead!


1)       Research on media violence is generally inconclusive.

  • Whether media violence causes increased levels of aggression and violence with young kids has always been a perennial question of media effects research. And yet, they are also inconclusive. Whereas some may claim that children who has a higher exposure to media violence may behave more aggressively and affect them as adults years later, ” others, like Jonathan Freedman of the University of Toronto, maintain that “the scientific evidence simply does not show that watching violence either produces violence in people, or desensitizes them to it.”
  • In addition, there is a lack of consensus about media effects specifically reflecting three “grey areas” or constraints contained in the research itself.

–         First, media violence is notoriously hard to define and measure. Some experts who track violence in television programming, such as George Gerbner of Temple University, define violence as the act (or threat) of injuring or killing someone, independent of the method used or the surrounding context. Accordingly, Gerber includes cartoon violence in his data-set. But others, such as University of Laval professors Guy Paquette and Jacques de Guise, specifically exclude cartoon violence from their research because of its comical and unrealistic presentation.

–         Second, researchers disagree over the type of relationship the data supports. Some argue that exposure to media violence causes aggression. Others say that the two are associated, but that there is no causal connection. (That both, for instance, may be caused by some third factor.) And others say the data supports the conclusion that there is no relationship between the two at all.

–         Third, even those who agree that there is a connection between media violence and aggression disagree about how one affects the other. Some say that the mechanism is a psychological one, rooted in the ways we learn. For example, Huesmann argues that children develop “cognitive scripts” that guide their own behaviour by imitating the actions of media heroes. As they watch violent shows, children learn to internalize scripts that use violence as a way to problem solve.

2)         Many of the research are biased, erroneous and do not use proper sample sizes, causing misleading conclusions.


  • “In 1960, University of Michigan Professor Leonard Eron studied 856 grade three students living in a semi-rural community in Columbia County, New York, and found that the children who watched violent television at home behaved more aggressively in school. Eron wanted to track the effect of this exposure over the years, so he revisited Columbia County in 1971, when the children who participated in the 1960 study were 19 years of age. He found that boys who watched violent TV when they were eight were more likely to get in trouble with the law as teenagers. When Eron and Huesmann returned to Columbia County in 1982, the subjects were 30 years old. They reported that those participants who had watched more violent TV as eight-year-olds were more likely, as adults, to be convicted of serious crimes, to use violence to discipline their children, and to treat their spouses aggressively.”

–              Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes has attacked Eron’s work, arguing that his conclusions are based on an insignificant amount of data. Rhodes claims that Eron had information about the amount of TV viewed in 1960 for only 3 of the 24 men who committed violent crimes as adults years later. Rhodes concludes that Eron’s work is “poorly conceived, scientifically inadequate, biased and sloppy if not actually fraudulent research.”


  • “Columbia University professor Jeffrey Johnson has found that the effect is not limited to violent shows. Johnson tracked 707 families in upstate New York for 17 years, starting in 1975. In 2002, Johnson reported that children who watched one to three hours of television each day when they were 14 to 16 years old were 60 per cent more likely to be involved in assaults and fights as adults than those who watched less TV. Kansas State University professor John Murray concludes, “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 behavior when the young boy becomes a young man.”


–              Guy Cumberbatch, head of the Communications Research Group, a U.K. social policy think tank, has equally harsh words for Johnson’s study. Cumberbatch claims Johnson’s group of 88 under-one-hour TV watchers is “so small, it’s aberrant.” And, as journalist Ben Shouse points out, other critics say that Johnson’s study “can’t rule out the possibility that television is just a marker for some unmeasured environmental or psychological influence on both aggression and TV habits.”

3)       To directly link and accuse some violence in media spot ads solely to violent acts of the future simplifies and misleads the issue. They underestimate the power and influence of good parenting. There are numerous reasons on why people may become more violent. One factor is: poor parenting. Research state that family attitudes to violent content are more important than the images themselves.

  • For those researchers who argue that violence desensitizes kids to the consequences of violence, and video games have taught them how to handle a gun, others, like psychiatrist Serge Tisseron, maintain, “just because a film has a murder scene doesn’t mean people are going to commit the act… That overstates the power of the image and under-estimates the role of parents.” Researchers report that parental attitudes towards media violence can mitigate the impact it has on children. Huesmann and Bacharach conclude, “Family attitudes and social class are stronger determinants of attitudes toward aggression than is the amount of exposure to TV…[1]
  • University of Toronto Professor Jonathan Freedman points out that Japanese television has some of the most violent imagery in the world, and yet Japan has a much lower murder rate than other countries, including Canada and the United States, which have comparatively less violence on TV.
  • A number of studies suggest that media is only one of a number of variables that put children at risk of aggressive behavior. It could be so many things none of which may include violence. For example, a Norwegian study found that the lack of parental rules regulating what the boys watched was a more significant predictor of aggressive behavior than the amount of media violence they watched. It also indicated that exposure to real world violence, together with exposure to media violence, created an “overload” of violent events. Boys who experienced this overload were more likely to use violent media images to create and consolidate their identities as members of an anti-social and marginalized group.

4)       Crusade against media violence is a form of censorship that, if successful, would seriously hamper artistic expression.


  • Researchers R. Hodge and D. Tripp, for example, argue that, “Media violence is qualitatively different from real violence: it is a natural signifier of conflict and difference, and without representations of conflict, art of the past and present would be seriously impoverished.”


  • Many commentators, from artists to film makers to historians, agree. Comic-book creator Gerard Jones contends that violent video games, movies, music and comic books enable people to pull themselves out of emotional traps, “integrating the scariest, most fervently denied fragments of their psyches into fuller sense of selfhood through fantasies of superhuman combat and destruction.” Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes says that video game violence enables young people to safely challenge their feelings of powerlessness.


  • We’ve found that every aspect of even the trashiest pop-culture story can have its own developmental function… Identification with a rebellious, even destructive, hero helps children learn to push back against a modern culture that cultivates fear and teaches dependency. (Source: Gerard Jones, Violent Media is Good for Kids, 2000)
  • Psychologist Melanie Moore concludes: “Fear, greed, power-hunger, rage: these are aspects of our selves that we try not to experience in our lives but often want, even need, to experience vicariously through stories of others. Children need violent entertainment in order to explore the inescapable feelings that they’ve been taught to deny, and to reintegrate those feelings into a more whole, more complex, more resilient selfhood.”
  • Violence as reality. The frequent and graphic violence in [the] critically acclaimed film [Saving Private Ryan] is a reminder that the portrayal of violent behavior can serve artistic and moral purposes. (Source: Center for Media and Public Affairs, 1999)

5)       Ads like War Toys as a form of free speech and expression.

  • The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression lists a number of reasons to protect media violence as a form of free expression: 

–              Censorship won’t solve the root causes of violence in society

–              Deciding what is “acceptable” content is necessarily a subjective exercise

–              Many of the plays, books and films banned in the past are considered classics today

–              It’s up to individuals and not governments to decide what’s appropriate for themselves and their children

6)       Media Violence as Consumers’ ChoiceIt’s really up to the viewer to decide what to watch. If you don’t like television violence, then turn off the TV and encourage your kids to read books instead.

  • There are many tools to help monitor how children watches television. One such tool is the V-chip, which enables parents to program their televisions with pre-set industry ratings to screen out certain shows. Keith Spicer, former chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, calls the V-chip a “sexy, telegenic little gizmo that fulfills the fantasy of a magic wand.”
  • From this perspective, people don’t just passively absorb messages transmitted through the media; they choose which media to consume and are actively involved in determining what the meaning of the messages will be. And that process doesn’t occur in a social vacuum. Personal experiences affect what we watch and how we make sense of it. Our class position, our religious upbringing, our level of education, our family setting, and our peer groups all have a role to play in how we understand violent content.


  • Jenkins draws a different lesson from the shooting in Littleton: “Media images may have given [the Columbine shooters] symbols to express their rage and frustration, but the media did not create the rage or generate their alienation. What sparked the violence was not something they saw on the internet or on television, not some song lyric or some sequence from a movie, but things that really happened to them… If we want to do something about the problem, we are better off focusing our attention on negative social experiences and not the symbols we use to talk about those experiences.”

7)       Some research states that media violence desensitizes people to real violence. But is this really a bad thing? 


  • A number of studies in the 1970’s showed that people who are repeatedly exposed to media violence tend to be less disturbed when they witness real world violence, and have less sympathy for its victims. For example, Professors V.B. Cline, R.G. Croft, and S. Courrier studied young boys over a two-year period. In 1973, they reported that boys who watch more than 25 hours of television per week are significantly less likely to be aroused by real world violence than those boys who watch 4 hours or less per week. When researchers Fred Molitor and Ken Hirsch revisited this line of investigation in 1994, their work confirmed that children are more likely to tolerate aggressive behaviour in the real world if they first watch TV shows or films that contain violent content.
  • We do need a certain level of desensitivity for self-protection. For boys to be boys. To be engaged in joining the army. Truth is, there is evil in the world and it we sometimes have no choice but to fight. 


–              Now let’s talk about evil and our response to it, which we call Vigilance. Your love for your family should at least make you want fight, stop, or prevent any of the following: home invaders, muggers, rapists, school shooters, bullies, A-holes, abusive parents, crooked politicians, or your drunken relative ruining your Christmas party. What if there was a drug dealer hanging around your kid’s bus stop? What if your daughter’s prom date gave her a black eye? Robbers, rapists, and murderers—all these people have evil motivations and must to be stopped. You should call the cops of your kid’s drug dealer, and press charges against your daughter’s abusive boyfriend, let your dog’s bark and bite ward off your home invaders. This force we use and these steps we take to prevent violence and stop evil. 

–              Vigilance is to recognize and call-out evil. It seems like we live in a nation of pacified masses who have no stomach for peace keeping. We don’t stand up to evil; we ignore it as long as it doesn’t affect us. I think of the 20 odd school shootings from the last two decades. 1998, Springfield Oregon, Kip Kinkel opened fire in his high school. He was taken down and subdued by wrestler Jake Ryker, who took a bullet for his heroism. Ryker most likely knew what he was made of inside, I’m positive he tested his mettle wrestling and it came out that fateful day.  Ryker lived, but one of the heroes of Virginia Tech was not so lucky. Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor and professor, barred his classroom’s door shut to enable his students’ escape. The scary thing about that shooting is the amount of people who were shot dead execution style. The Gunman had to reload several times to continue his killing spree, which stretched over 2 hours total. Most of the heroes of that shooting were killed or injured that day. It’s hard to believe there was no Jake Ryker to subdue the shooter. I don’t know if anyone tried. I don’t know what I would have done. What about you?

8)       Kids are not as stupid as we think they are. It is a gross simplification to assume that kids are incapable of serious reflection and imitate mindlessly. It’s as if we assume that they will imitate only good actions in the absence of bad.

  • Violence seen on the media is not real, and that children understand this. Long before children watched violent cartoons, they listened to violent stories. Even our most cherished fairy tales often contain bloodshed. In fact, modern versions of fairy tales tend to be a lot less violent than the originals. For example, in Hans Christen Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, the little mermaid has her tongue cut out, almost stabs her prince, and dies; Disney’s famous version of this classic tale is significantly happier and less violent.

  • Some violence in the media was meant to teach a practical lesson. Many gladiators were condemned criminals, so their violent and entertaining death served as a warning against would-be criminals. Public executions have served the same purpose throughout history. Fairy tales also warned children against the dangers of misbehaving. For example, the little mermaid disobeyed the rules of her father and her people, and she suffered as a result. Children, like adults, are naturally drawn to violent images, and it is possible for children to learn valuable lessons from violent stories.

Bottomline: Not following clients’ orders would ensure Branson loses this account. He is just making a mountain out of a molehill. There was nothing illegal about the client request. Also, there are already regulatory boards in place to monitor and place these advertising properly. The federal government is responsible in ensuring proper compliance of guidelines. If the ad passes the guidelines, then, Branson Associates is doing nothing wrong. Business is business and if this is what the client wants and everything is legal, who has the right to say that there is too much violence in media nowadays?

[1]which is nevertheless a significant but weaker predictor.

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