The Medium’s Message: Televised Violence Doesn’t Cause Violence

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05/29/13
In the Magazine
Ursula Coyote/AMC, via Everett

IT’S COMMON knowledge that blood-drenched films and TV shows are a cause of violent behavior. But then again “common knowledge” doesn’t always correspond to reality. The recent mass shootings in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, and elsewhere are horrific, but they are special cases. Solid statistics show that even as media violence has increased exponentially, overall criminal violence has decreased dramatically. Gun homicides are down 49 percent since 1993. Still, the public doesn’t want to believe it, according to a recent Pew poll. Joanne Savage and Christina Yancey know all about that. In 2008 they published an exhaustive analysis of studies on the link between media and violence. Ever since, the two criminologists from American University in Washington, D.C., have been fighting an uphill battle to convince academics and politicians that while violent media can lead to increased aggressive behavior, a solid link to violent crime just isn’t there. Although politicians like to say “thousands of studies” prove the connection, only a few address it directly, and they are inconclusive, says Savage. There may be many reasons for criminal craziness in America, Savage tells Newsweek, but “media violence” is “not a major or even a minor cause.”

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