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In the battle to end gun violence, why does violence in media get a pass?

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High school students and other anti-violence advocates have taken to the streets to seek the end of gun violence in America. Good for them. Their rage has been directed at gun manufacturers, the National Rifle Association and various government officials. Noticeably absent from this anger and activism is any mention of the media industry, which has created and legitimized a culture in which violence is used as entertainment.

Anti-violence activists and demonstrators should go after the culture merchants who have helped form a society in which gun violence is commonplace. Without a cultural foundation of media-generated violence pervading television, movie houses, the internet and video games, gun manufactures might as well be making widgets. The NRA would be considered just another lobbying organization.

{mosads}The producers of violent media content have exploited the nation’s fascination with violence to accumulate huge financial profits for their fat-cat corporations. Notice how the news coverage of the nation’s gun culture, crafted by the big media corporations themselves, focuses on the actual guns and legislators. Scant media coverage has explained how culture is created and supported by self-interested media corporations looking to make money from such “entertainment,” instead of providing leadership on how a civil culture can exist without violence.


Researchers of mediated violence acknowledge the cumulative effects of absorbing violence through media. Watching a solitary movie with violence or playing a solo video game with violent content won’t necessarily destabilize an otherwise sensible person. Swimming in mediated violence day after day, however, does distort the perception of vulnerable minds and contributes to aggressive attitudes.

The First Amendment protects the merchants of mediated violence, as it should. This hardly excuses the media industry for its collective lack of leadership. It is said a society defines itself by the stories it tells. Big media corporations are the main story tellers in society today. They can use that clout to help create program content that deemphasizes weapons, puts violence in context, and makes sure the proprietors of criminal violence are the bad guys.

There was a time when cigarettes were seen throughout prime time television and in virtually every film. That’s not the case now because Hollywood showed leadership and delegitimized smoking. Violence still generates ratings and box office receipts, however, so leadership yields to profits.

President Trump met with executives of the entertainment industry earlier this month in the aftermath of Florida school shootings. Also in attendance was Melissa Henson of the Parents Television Council. Henson reported after the meeting that “the entertainment industry is still fighting to maintain the status quo and is not ready or willing to confront the impact that media violence has on our children.”

Henson went on to explain that media executives rolled out the tired call for parents to pay more attention to the content ratings that are applied to television, movies and video games. These gutless media executives will do anything to avoid responsibility for the content they create. The ratings are deceptive and administered by the entertainment industry itself. More gun violence is found in supposedly PG-13 movies than in R-rated movies. Kids are targeted with the marketing efforts of violent video games.

Any campaign against gun violence is doomed to fail if it ignores the cultural surroundings in which guns are glamorized. High school administrators who want to support activist teenagers should provide media literacy skills that allow students to see how anti-social and gratuitous violence is marketed on screens and in video games. Parents should tell teens that if they really want to stop violence, begin by turning around the culture. Stop playing demented video games. Seek uplifting television and film content with sensible messages.

Go after Viacom, Comcast, Disney and Fox Entertainment through social media. Go on YouTube with a rant about Time Warner. Stopping violence in society will take a multi-faceted approach. Big media needs to be held accountable for its role in creating and supporting the disturbing culture that today causes so much suffering.

Jeffrey McCall (@Prof_McCall) is a professor of communication at DePauw University.

Tags Donald Trump first amendment gun violence Guns Jeff McCall media Second Amendment

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