Project for Ethical Government

Violence in Media is Not the Problem

It is fashionable today for people to complain about violence in the media, and even to contend that the violence we find in our society today is rooted, when you get down to it, in the media whose products surround us. The complaint is misplaced.

Violence in the media is not the problem. It is merely a symptom of the problem. Media violence is to real violence what child pornography is to pedophilia--a kind of release for an urge that is already there.

The problem is that people like violence. People like to see other people getting hurt, especially those they do not identify with or that they actively dislike. This is why violence is so prevalent in the media. People like to see it and are willing to pay for it. The media producers only make their money if they give people what they like.

There is, however, not much evidence that the media cause people to like violence. Movies and TV may suggest particular ways to be violent and, even, that it is okay to give vent to violent urges. But it is not at all clear that the media "cause" the violent urges to do harm in the first place. Like pornography, violent media mainly provide a vicarious release for appetites they do not in themselves create. People choose to see violent films and programming because they already have the desire to see it. The important question is why? Why do even small children, who have never seen violence on film or TV, have a capacity to be violent, and a need to learn to control themselves, just as children steeped the in the violent media of today?

The failing of the media is, if anything, its omission to provide sufficient positive examples of people endeavoring to rein in their violent impulses, especially the self-righteous ones. However, to place too much focus on the media is to distract from the real issue? Why do people like violence in the first place?