Despite the fact that most people reject the idea that cinema audiences are a completely passive mass who do not question or interpret films in different ways, some theorists have argued that films can have serious and damaging effects on viewers. In the past, the media (particularly tabloid newspapers) have been quick to blame films and video games when individuals have committed terrible crimes. The murder of the three year old James Bulger by two ten year old boys was blamed on the murderers having been exposed to the film Child’s Play 3 with calls for the film to be banned despite no real evidence that the boys had seen the film. Natural Born Killers and A Clockwork Orange were also blamed for copycat violence with the argument that some people see bad things in films and want to copy them.
The main effects that people are concerned about are desensitisation, fear, violence in society and viewer aggression. If people see a lot of violence in films, the argument is that they might become desensitised to real life violence. The more blood you see on screen, the more you get used to seeing blood and the less shocking it will be. The concern is that particularly children could be affected if they see too much violence and pain on screen, perhaps they will not feel as strongly about it when they see it in real life. This could make them dangerous human beings that do not empathise with people in pain and therefore they would be capable of being more violent in real life.
Similarly if there is more violence in films, there is an argument that society will become more violent. Films will make audiences feel that violence is an acceptable part of life and being violent is an acceptable way to behave. If film characters solve their problems with fights and killing the bad guys, people might follow. This also ties in with viewer aggression. If a viewer watched lots of violent films or films that make them angry, they might be more aggressive. I have had more than one student in the past tell me that watching a film like The Football Factory actually does make them want to fight. Again the real concern is children who are considered to be more impressionable. Will watching Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers or even Spiderman or Lord of the Rings make them more aggressive and enjoy the idea of fighting more? However this is why we have the BBFC and age ratings to stop children from seeing things that society deems unsuitable. The BBFC are very good at researching what the public views are on things like sex, violence and swearing. However they still occasionally but very rarely ban or cut films that they argue are too offensive or ‘dangerous’ even for people over the age of 18 due to harm these films could supposedly cause.
The other effect that might be a concern is that with all this violent entertainment, vulnerable people may actually start to fear society and other people. If an elderly, frail person watched a film like Harry Brown or Kidulthood, it may make them fear London youth because of the stereotypes it presents. Horror movie watchers might be more afraid of being alone, women could be more afraid of men and the threat of rape and all because of violent films that people watch for entertainment.
Did you miss...?
Part 1 on active vs passive spectatorship.
Part 2 on the pleasures of film watching.
Part 3 on frameworks of interpretation.
Part 4 on media literacy and intertextuality.
Part 6 on fandom and film fans.Part 7 on pre and post-viewing experiences and conditions of reception.
I'm curious about this one. What do you think about the media effects debate? Can films turn us into monsters? Do movies create pscychos? Or do movies make psychos more creative? Drop a comment below if you have an opinion on the matter...