Media is influential, not above criticism
Many people are now quicker to discuss how problematic they deem certain media to be. Some may push back against this and say media doesn’t need to conform to morals or automatically influence people to do bad things. While it’s understandable not to want to critique the movies you like, it’s important to acknowledge media can affect people, and therefore is not above relevant criticism.
The idea that media can affect behavior shouldn’t be a super radical claim. In American schools, students study how Nazi Germany used media to convince the public to believe false propaganda. Students also often study propaganda from the USSR.
Believing that propaganda works may imply that media can affect behavior. While not all media is straight-up propaganda, it can still influence someone’s beliefs.
A major argument of media’s influence in the past two decades has been in regards to video games causing violence. Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country, which is unfortunately all too often, some elected officials try to pin the blame on violent video games.
There have been 33 school shootings between 1980 and 2018 where more than one person was murdered. Out of all the shooters for those events, four of them liked video games. Teenage boys are the main audience for many video games, especially ones with guns. So, many people assume video games are the reason why these events occur.
However, the scientific association between violence and games isn’t really there.
Violent art, in general, seems to be a common theme among mass murderers. A Secret Service and Department of Education report researched a number of school violence incidents. 24 percent of the perpetrators were interested in violent books, 12 percent liked games and 37 percent used writing to express their interest in violence.
Video games alone clearly do not cause violence, but there may be a connection between violent media, whether it be books or video games or real-life violence.
If Americans grow up in a world where they see violence all the time in media, it may desensitize them. This is especially true in younger children who, if desensitized at a developmental age, can end up becoming more aggressive if they see that as normal.
This doesn’t mean video games always cause violence but violent media shouldn’t be totally dismissed as non-influential. That said, the aggressive claims that video games are harmful have led media influence discourse to become non-nuanced. Now people are quicker to be defensive about problematic media.
Some people may claim others can tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. Therefore, it won’t necessarily buy into every problematic message in a piece of media. Most people probably can process fiction as it is and won’t have it affect their morals. But, that doesn’t mean media can never affect real life.
For example, Samsung claimed the Galaxy Tablet was influenced by the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “Jaws” led to people seeing sharks as inherently dangerous, which led to shark hunting that decimated populations. “Free Willy” influenced people to want to free the actual whale in the movie.
There are a lot of contentious discussions online as to whether certain problematic relationships in media can be harmful to show. This also applies to adults being romantic with minors, like in the film “Licorice Pizza.”
While depicting a problematic relationship isn’t automatically bad, it can be questionable if a film acts as though it’s perfectly normal, as “Licorice Pizza” supposedly does. It sends a message to the audience that this kind of relationship between minors and adults is okay when, in reality, it’s not.
Many people will still argue that a piece of media portraying a relationship with problematic dynamics as good is fine because viewers should be able to distinguish what is real and what isn’t.
While in a perfect world, people shouldn’t be so easily influenced, it’s clear that media can have an effect. If a movie or game is pushing a heavily problematic message, then it should be allowed to be criticized because of the possibility to be influential.
While the discourse has been poisoned by non-nuanced takes like “video games cause violence,” this doesn’t mean that people should act like media has no effect whatsoever. It’s important to acknowledge the power of media on society and critique it appropriately.
Anna Baker is an English senior who can be reached at [email protected]