The Business of Media Violence

Violence has always played a role in entertainment but there’s a growing consensus that, in recent years, something about media violence has changed. For one thing, there’s more of it.

Research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become much more graphic, much more sexual, and much more sadistic. Explicit pictures of slow-motion bullets exploding from people’s chests, and dead bodies surrounded by pools of blood, are now commonplace fare. The notion of violence as a means of problem solving is reinforced by entertainment in which both villains and heroes resort to violence on a continual basis. The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), which has studied violence in television, movies and music videos for a decade, reports that nearly half of all violence is committed by the “good guys.” Less than 10 per cent of the TV shows, movies and music videos that were analyzed contextualized the violence or explored its human consequences. The violence was simply presented as justifiable, natural and inevitable — the most obvious way to solve the problem.

The Business of Media Violence

Media entertainment is big business: popular culture products are now the United States’ biggest export. No one knows better than the communications industries that children and young people represent a huge market, due to both their own spending power and their influence on family spending decisions. In September 2000, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report revealed what many suspected: U.S. media corporations were routinely ignoring their own rating restrictions and actively marketing violent entertainment to children and teens. In fact, the study showed that 80 per cent of R-rated movies, 70 per cent of restricted video games, and 100 per cent of music with “explicit content” warning labels were being marketed to kids under 17.

The report revealed a number of standard (though illicit) practices for marketing adult media products to kids. These included advertising in publications for adolescents, such as YMTeen and Marvel comics; screening trailers for restricted movies on TV at times when kids are likely to be watching; and recruiting teens and children (sometimes as young as nine) to evaluate story concepts, commercials, trailers and rough cuts—even for R-rated movies. The study also revealed that the film and videogame industries often target children as young as four with toy tie-ins for adult-rated movies and games.

Follow-up reports from the FTC indicate that the film and gaming industries have improved their practices somewhat. However, ads for R-rated movies continue to appear on television shows popular with kids (TV is considered the most important medium for drawing an audience to a film), and the video game industry still advertises games rated M (Mature) in magazines with young readers. The music industry has done little to clean up its act. All five major record labels continue to advertise albums with explicit or violent content on television programs and in magazines that have substantial followings of kids under the age of seventeen.

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