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Media Violence In The West And In Pakistan Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5561 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Media violence is not confined to any one medium. Decades ago, violent content was as limited as the reach of media itself. Today, the audiences have increased by more than a triple-fold. With the advent of advanced technology, media violence creates even a greater risk of possible harm to the society, especially children.

To understand media violence, or mediated violence, one needs to understand both its theoretical and practical approaches. Our main concern in this chapter will be the forms of media violence in the West and in Pakistan in particular.

Theoretical Perspective

Mediated violence has been in the limelight since a long, long time. The effect of such media content has been termed negative by a heavy majority. But there have been researchers who would think otherwise. Mediated violence, in their perspective, have both good and bad possible effects and ofcourse, it varies differently in different people.

Aristotle introduced catharsis theory in his play Poetics. He suggested that people experience an emotional release when they view tragedy plays. Any sort of negative feelings that they arouse emotion such as fear or anger were eliminated when they watch characters experiencing tragic events.

This release of emotions during viewing media content is also known as vicarious participation. It helps to release tensions which trigger aggression or aggressive behavior. Feelings of audience or the viewer are presumably cleansed when they watch characters in the play involved in tragic events. This emotional cleansing was assumed to be positive to both the individual and society. This theory has been carried over into modern day mass media. It is used to defend the increase in the amount of violence in media content.

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Sigmund Freud and other scholars revived the concept of catharsis. Brill was the psychiatrist who suggested the ‘psychoanalytic techniques’ of Freud to the US. He asked his patients to watch a prize fight once a month to let go of their angry, aggressive feelings into harmless channels. The psychoanalytic theory states that such type of emotional release is linked to a need to release unconscious conflicts. For example, stress and frustration related to work and job situation tends one to act inappropriately. These feelings can be vented out through a physical activity or any activity that helps them to release stress.

Aristotle’s idea of catharsis is used as a justification for many directors and producers of today. They claim that media content is cathartic and beneficial for individuals. For example, Alfred Hitchcock, director of the movie Psycho, said, “One of television’s greatest contributions is that it brought murder back into the home where it belongs. Seeing a murder on television can be good therapy. It can help work off one’s antagonism.” More recently, in 1992, Paul Verhoeven, director of the movie Total Recall, said, “I think it’s a kind of purifying experience to see violence.”

Violent computer games are also considered cathartic just like violent movies and dramas. Killing enemies and being deeply involved in the game environment is thought to be a useful outlet for the “primal human urge to kill”. An imaginary founder, Dr Bartha, in promotional materials for fictional CyberDivision movement says, “We kill. It’s OK. It’s not our fault any more than breathing or urinating.”

“It’s a marketing campaign,” said a SegaSoft spokesperson, “but there is some validity to the concept that you need an outlet for aggressive urges.” People who play violent video games share same views. Dr Abdul Rahim, a 24 year old dentist by profession, spends his free time playing games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and Aliens vs Predators. All three of them are banned in various countries by their respective censor boards. “Everytime our exams ended, all us friends went for gaming, chose such games like Counterstrike and GTA. We named the characters after our professors and shot them. In the stressful medical schooling period, it was very stress relieving. But don’t get me wrong, I am not a violent person by nature. We just had fun playing such games together.”

“It actually does give you a leeway to vent out your aggression and gives one a reason to take of from frustration. Ofcourse, it’s entertainment too,” says Raheel Yousaf, a young mechanical engineer. When asked if such form of violence increases one’s level of aggression in reality, he replied, “Yes it promotes aggression but provides mean to le go the frustrations. It is kind of a double edged sword. Depends how you use it.”

The second theory concerning media violence is that even if it provides catharsis to the viewer it also makes him indifferent to the violence in real. This phenomenon is known as desensitization. It states that when individuals watch large amounts of violence tend to become less sensitive to real-life violence compared to those who watch less violence. Psychologists have studied this phenomenon to a great deal and proposed that people who watch more violence become less aroused, physiologically and emotionally. Cline, Croft and Courrier (1973), in an experiment, showed violent content to two groups of children: light viewer and heavy viewer of television. They found out children who watched more television (violent content) were less aroused physiologically than those children who were light television viewers.

In a different study, Thomas, Horton, Lippincott, and Drabman (1977) made two groups of 8-10 year-old children watch two different film clips. First clip was of a aggressive police drama. The second was of a volleyball game. After the first two clips, both groups were individually shown a TV clip of violence in real-life. Researchers studied that the children who had watched the violent police drama were considerably less provoked by the following violent clip as compared to the children who had watched the non-violent volleyball game. Same experiment was repeated with college students and similar results were obtained.

Moreover, the flourishing of hate speech in new media platforms, such as YouTube, can be explained using desensitization theory. This theory states that exposure to violence through media channels leads to desensitization to violence in real life, as well as a decrease in feelings of empathy or sympathy towards actual victims (Encyclopedia of Communication, 2006). Exposure to violence on the Internet, in video games, and in other new media platforms potentially desensitizes users to violent acts, which could make them more likely to commit such acts, such as the cyberbullying evident in many YouTube comments.

Bushmen and Anderson (2008) used the theory of desensitization in order prove it reduces helping behavior. In Study 1, violent video games known to desensitize people caused decreases in helping-related behavior, perceptions, and cognitions. In Study 2, violent movies delayed helping in a wholly naturalistic setting. The person in need of help had an injured ankle in both studies. In Study 1, the injury resulted from interpersonal violence, whereas in Study 2, the cause of injury was unknown. The similar results across very different studies suggest that desensitization caused by media violence generalizes beyond failure to help victims of violence. Theoretically, we expect such generalization; one factor in¬‚uencing helping behavior is judged severity of injury, and that judgment is in¬‚uenced by one’s own emotional and physiological reaction to the injury.

In the Figure 1, Bushmen and Anderson illustrated the process by which the urge to help people in pain and distress reduces. The level and degree of sensitization differs from person to person. The results, as stated, proved that media violence has a negative effect on audiences.

In a study by Mullin and Linz (1995), the two researchers demonstrated that audiences who show a degree of desensitization towards the sufferer in non-media framework following experience to violence in media have chances of recovering their sensitivity rather quickly given that they are not experiencing any exposure to other violent representation. The effects of repeated exposure to explicit violent films on emotional desensitization and insensitivity toward domestic violence were studied in an experiment. With repeated film exposure, it was found out, that emotional feedback, self-reported physiological arousal and degree of impact of sexual violence was reduced. Participants in the experiment showed less sympathy for domestic violence victims three days following exposure to the final film, and marked their injuries as being less strict than did a no-exposure control group. Their level of sensitivity to the sufferers of domestic violence returned five days following the final film exposure. The new level of sensitivity was same as that by the no-exposure comparison group.

As a result it was theorized that exposure to violence in media has tendency to desensitize audience where they experience reduced feelings of concern, understanding, or sympathy toward victims of real-life violence. The study has also shown that people who view large amounts of violent content show less physiological reaction to violence in other circumstances Audience, both male and female, who are exposed to sexual violence in media also are seen to show less sensitivity to sexial violence in other contexts and usually sympathize less with rape victims. This desensitization can be reduced if sufficient rest period is given to the viewer and he or she can find the capability to empathize with victims of violence

In a tragic incident, media can be accused for its impact of violence on teenagers. A 15 year old was bullied to death by nine teenagers (three males and six females). The girl, Phoebe Prince was terrorized by these teenager for months and eventually she committed suicide. This is a clear example of how media triggers aggression in teenagers. Moreover, cartoons are held accountable for being violent, no matter what rating it has. It is shown that cartons lead to a notable degree of verbal aggression in school environment. Individual is aware of his/her behavior which is resulted from high exposure to media violence but he can not predict the effects it has on the victim. In the incident above, the verbal aggression used against Phoebe may have been triggered by the high volume violent content from media. In the same study it can be seen that this desensitization leads to irrational behavior which leads to more aggressive behavior. Boys tend to get involved in bullying more whereas girls end up in verbal aggression. In both cases, the end can be dangerous for both genders. They may idolize their favorite character of a movie or a cartoon and act accordingly. This can lead to serious damage to the family and society as whole.

Vulnerable Audiences

Audiences for possible harm by media violence differ from age to age and culture to culture. But in any society in any part of the world, children are the most affected viewers of media. The reason is that at a tender age, child grasps more from media, not able to differentiate between media and reality. Seeing is believing.

For adults, violence in media triggers or increases aggression. Due to its cathartic effect, it helps release and reinforce emotions.

Violent Sources:


Pakistani news channels are filled with violence and suffering. Political instability, strikes, bomb blasts, military operations, thefts, sexual harassment, and to top it off, talks shows who discuss all this negativity with no constructive solution. The local news is widely used by Pakistanis. Everyone turn to Geo, ARY News and Aaj TV for every latest happening. News channels over emphasize brutal crime, as does Express News, and audiences now rely greatly on the sensational portrayal of violence as shown on TV. In a very tragic incident, two boys from Sialkot were brutually murdered. The entire gruesome footage was shown on every news channel for as long as the story was held its importance. Moreover, flogging of women by Taliban is shown openly on media. Mutilated body parts are shown on screen after a bomb blast. Every channel shows a negative aspect of Pakistan. Audiences are not given any productive news, or if they are, they are shown at off-time.

Furthermore, it is noted that major news networks around the world newscasts crime and violence as news features. Africa, Iraq, Palestine and Israel conflict, Afghanistan all are part of international media ‘propaganda’. Even though most television news programs are not proposed for a child audience, they depend greatly on news channels for their knowledge about current events and they watch more news channels than their parents can think they do. Most children in the highest grades of elementary school watch the news at least several times a week and even many 3- to 8-year-olds regularly watch television news. Many older elementary school children claim that they watch the news because they find it important to stay informed, but even if children do not choose to watch the news themselves, they still are frequently confronted with it when they are looking for other programs or when their parents are watching. With the rise of television channels and Internet services that broadcast news around the clock and with the growing practice of interrupting other television programming to report on “breaking news stories,” children of all ages thus may be regularly confronted with highly distressing and violent accounts of murders, catastrophic accidents, war, and other suffering.

With Pakistan the situation is much more complex. There is so much bloodshed and violence going on throughout the country, news channels can not ignore it. Few years ago two thieves were burnt alive in Karachi. The picture was printed in the front page of one of the leading English newspapers, The News (Jang Group). Moreover, coverage of natural disasters (flood and earthquakes), national crisis such as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) issue during Swat Operation, drone attacks in FATA region, poverty, load shedding, inflation, unemployment and as a result serious political instability. Repetitive news about all these issues creates frustration in the society. Taliban and military are sadly such big issues in Pakistan, they seem unresolved for years to come.

Entertainment gala

Media content for entertainment purposes has a massive number of violent content. It includes all sorts of TV shows such as dramas, telefilms, sporting programs (Khatron ke Khiladi, Fear Factor etc), film trailers and misguiding youth shows where young adults are pretending to be ‘bad guys’ to appear ‘cool’ to the audience (Aag Tv).

According to a survey by a Russian NGO, there is significant impact of on-screen violence on teenagers. About half the teenagers were positive about its demonstration: they enjoyed films, television shows, and computer games containing on-screen violence and they admired the characters – including “bad guys”. Impact on teenagers results in a societal imbalance such as theft, racing on highways, sexual harassment, and so on. 90.23% of the participants held action as their favorite genre for overall entertainment (TV, movies, PC games etc). In the same study, 90.93% of Russian teenagers said that United States produced most of on-screen violence content. 62.32% of teenagers who watched violence said they had nothing else to do so hence they watched violence to pass time.

Violence in entertainment has been glamorized repeatedly. Explicit images of bullets coming out of a man’s chest in a slow motion, and dead bodies piled up in pool of blood, are now everyday routine. Millions of viewers worldwide, many of them children, watch female World Wrestling Entertainment wrestlers try to tear out each other’s hair and rip off each other’s clothing. And one of the top-selling video games in the world, Grand Theft Auto, is programmed so players can beat prostitutes to death with baseball bats after having sex with them.

One of the recent violent TV shows, Prison Break, had the highest ratings, not only in the US but all over the world. Fans were glued to every episode just to see a handsome guy devising a plan to break out of a penitentiary and having a love affair with the doctor of the infirmary of the same prison. The plot no doubt was very interesting but violence sells and it has a bad impact. Cutting of limbs, psychopathic behavior of some characters and running away from the FBI, all was glamorized till the very end.

Children’s cartoons

Violence in children’s cartoons is one of the most neglected, ignored yet threatening form of violence. With media booming and life getting on faster track by the day, parents leave their children to the sole entertainment of Cartoon Network, Nickelodian and Disney Channel. What they do not realize is the kind of impact some cartoons have on children. According to American Psychological Association, “an average twelve-year- old has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on network television”. According to Dr. Aletha Huston’s 1992 study titled Big world, small screen: The role of television in American society, by the time a child is eighteen years old, he or she will witness on television (with average viewing time) 200,000 acts of violence including 40,000 murders.

According to researches, it has a deep impact on a child’s aggressive behavior. Violence in cartoons also increases fear in children, the ‘mean-world syndrome’. It also desensitizes children to real-life violence because the violent content is depicted as humorous with no realistic consequences.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children’s Hospital Research in a December 8, 2008 interview, says, “Watching violent cartoons increases real life aggression. Decades of research have proven that children imitate what they see on screen – this includes both undesirable and desirable behaviors”

According to Dr. Christakis, cartoon violence has two central messages that tend to boost a child’s aggressive behavior. The first is that cartoon aggression occurs without penalties – no one REALLY get hurts. This has a lot of parents believing cartoons are safe whereas the actuality is the opposite. The second is that they often portray violence as something that is entertaining or pleasurable which for adults seems harmless since it is not factual after all. The reality is that children less than 7 years of age do not differentiate between fantasy and real life. Cartoons are in fact quite real to children and once again, repetitive research has shown that commingling violence and humor enhances its potency, cautions Dr. Christakis.

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Study shows a strong link between media violence and the manner in which children behave. Experience with TV violence raises real world aggression. Also, children regularly exposed to sadism on television are indifferent towards real life violent experiences. Children become resistant to the pain and anguish of others. Children don’t have much understanding of the real world; that is why it is hard for them to tell apart between fantasy and reality. Consequently, they copy what they see in cartoons.

Children who see aggressive content in TV do become desensitized to violence and aggression. This desensitization to media violence has been studied in trial situations, as in study by Drabman and Thomas (1974). In this study named “Does Watching Violence on Television Cause Apathy?”, children who view a violent film later took considerably longer to seek adult support to stop what they considered was an altercation between younger children, as compared to the children who did not watch the film. In a more recent reproduction using modern video resources, Molitor and Hirsch (1994) studied children’s toleration of actual reality violence after exposure to media violence. The study reassured the original findings: viewing violence increases acceptance for violent behavior.

Children today are ‘inspired’ by ‘heroics’ of Ben Ten, Powerpuff Girls, Sylvester and Tweety, Pokemon, Scooby Doo and The Simpson to name a few. These shows show characters fighting or escaping from violence, jubilating in violent acts, and showing more violence than a child would usually see. Christakis particularly called out Looney Tunes cartoons in his research, by encouraging them to view such aggressive cartoons, “You are actually teaching [children] that violence is funny.”

Moreover, interestingly, those classic Looney Tunes cartoons were never initially proposed for a children’s audience. They were at first placed in front of feature films in movie theatres that had mainstream movies like Captain Blood or Casablanca.

Children do copy their heroes, hopeful to imitate them and be to stand as strong and influential as they do. The TV acts like a babysitter for the parents and they allow their children to sit in front it, taking in everything they get out from that LCD screen, mindlessly. Meanwhile parents are busy doing their everyday chores diligently, making sure their child do not distract them. While they are busy with their work, the children are getting maximum violence from the media content in shape of cartoons, ads, music, films and what not. The studies carried out have shown that children either copy their heroes or let the actions of these heroes persuade their later, more aggressive actions. A research conducted by Albert Bandura with some groups of children, each viewing a different form of violence, concurs with this and recommends that the type of violence a child executes is shaped by the sort that he or she sees on TV; “a person displaying violence on film is as influential as one displaying it in real life….televised models are important sources of social behavior” (Bandura, 126). TV has a strong impact on children from a juvenile age, specially if adults give them many chances to watch and do not step in to repeat to their children that this is all fake, or to switch the channel should the matter is inappropriate for children.

According to the CNN, the Cartoon Network had the highest number of violent incidents with 1,330, or 5 incidents per episode.

The ABC Family Channel had only 318 violent happenings, but had an average of almost 11 per episode, the top of the networks surveyed. The report said the WB cartoon “Teen Titans” had maximum amount of violence with 21.7 incidents per episode.

“Too often we dismiss violence in children’s programming as inconsequential,” the study said. It also cleared out that even though cartoons have been historically aggressive, what’s altered is the level of violence, and it called the outcome “ubiquitous, often sinister, and in many cases frighteningly realistic.”

The Disney Channel had the lowest number of violent incidents at 0.95 per episode, the report said. The report also disapproved of the networks for airing children’s shows with unethical language — such as “stupid,” “loser” and “butt” — as well as sexual intimation, insults and bullying.

With little to none animation produced in Pakistan, younger audiences rely solely on western media. Recently, Tetra Pak and Safeguard created animated short documentary-cum-advertisements to promote their products and services. Both ads targeted the children and contained violent content to a notable degree.


Films contain maximum amount of threatening violence. A story’s two main components: Heroes and villains are used to glamorize and sell violence. And that what makes it to the top of box office. The Dark Knight, sequel of Batman Series, one of the most highly appreciated films of all times, contains gruesome acts of violence. The actor, Heath Ledger, is supposedly believed to have committed suicide as a result of psychotic acting he did in the movie as ‘Joker’. The movie broke all time records and is one of the best critically acclaimed movies.

Tom Cruise’s ‘Knight and Day’ (2010) alongside Cameron Diaz is another example of violent films. The hero, the very handsome Mr Cruise, shoots people and runs. But ofcourse he is the good guy. There is a lot of blood spilled and cars burnt. But in the midst of such violence, the two stars find time to have a sexual attraction and the inevitable love making starts. There’s nothing to sweat about if you kill about a dozen people, at least you get a pretty girl at hand. A particularly prominent example of such violence was the movie “Payback,” in which the Mel Gibson, the murders a lot of people for payback, with a wink and a smile, and gets away with it. The examples of such kind of ‘non-serious violence attitude’ is literally in thousands from James Bond movies to Schwarzenegger and Stallone. From these movies we get the idea that violence is not serious, killing dozens to hundreds of people is an everyday thing and it is okay to feel good about it. But yes there are instances where violence is dealt with responsibility, only that I cant remember any. That’s the impact of justified violence. It is so less glamorous that it is equally forgettable.

Film violence can be seen as an particularly telling phases of hardships of popular cinema to counter attack the forces at any given time in the dynamic society and those who control it. Sklar and Jowett, in mid 70’s, revised previous accounts of film history and Hollywood’s development over the period of time. Instead of simply being a controversial subject for censor board or industry regulators, these pictures betrayed wider social antagonisms. Sklar (1994), in his memoir, wrote about Mack Sennett’s slapstick films produced during World War I and the exodus of immigrants that changed America’s cities, Sklar observes,

“Sennett’s comedies, appearing in an era of strife and official violence, gave audiences their first glimpses of a social perspective that was to become one of the most emotionally powerful of Hollywood formulas – the anarchic individual pitted against disordered violent authority-which reemerged in later periods of upheaval in the early 1930s and late 1960s” (1994, 109).

He viewed violence as a expression of deeply ingrained cultural conflicts and, significantly, suggests the proceedings of social authority–in Sennett’s films, the police-“can be construed as violent just as readily as those of individuals”. When this happens, according to Sklar, it is possible to examine the cinema as a medium where it out-do’s social authority and prestige.

As producers and directors were trying to get their product acceptable to the masses, they used the First World War as an event to increase their international distribution, overcoming the European cinema and expanding their domestic role. Still a hatchling industry relatively new to southern California, “Hollywood”–which, by 1918, was a everyday generic title for the American film industry–became an significant section of the U.S. government’s propaganda promotion aimed at influencing public opinion that was favorable to conflicts and war efforts.

Violence in film and television definitely seems to be a contributing contributory factor in the growing crime rate, even though there are people who declare it isn’t. Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert is amongst them. In his 1971 appraisal of the film “Dirty Harry,” he writes: “I think films are more often a mirror of society than an agent of change, and that when we blame the movies for the evils around us we are getting things backward. If there aren’t mentalities like Dirty Harry’s at loose in the land, then the movie is irrelevant. If there are, we should not blame the bearer of the bad news.”

Bruder, in her paper, Aestheticizing Violence, or How To Do Things with Style,” deconstructs some films, including “Hard Target,” “Posse” and “True Romance.” Bruder disagree and says that highly glamorized violence in films like these can be viewed as a explanation of the new ways of thinking about the multifaceted cultural communications in our world. Furthmore, she says that those who disapprove of such violence in movies basically don’t understand violence as this new language of film and the way audiences relate to it. For instance, “Hard Target,” is directed by John Woo, a longtime fixture in Hong Kong-based action films. Woo, director of “Mission Impossible 2,” is representative of a new wave of directors portraying highly glamorized violence in films. Critiques have also defended violence in movies by stating it to be part of catharsis. Other people argue that it desensitizes audience to actual real-life violence, making them indifferent to violence.

It is to be noted that the level of impact of violence has changed over the years. Previously a movie was shown in cinema halls and then was locked up into stores or if lucky enough, it came up for rent. Today all media content, especially movies, are available online. From the first movie ever made to the movie released today, all movies are available on the internet. One can download them legally through registered sites or download them free though torrent files and torrent software. To make viewing easy, some sites also provide online streaming of various content. Any movie which was banned previously can be found online. Any part of the movie which was banned by the censor board is available on Youtube. So when you are watching your favorite action movie, you can watch it over and over again. This might increase the degree of impact of media violence by triple fold.

The easy convenience of media content online just makes it easier for younger audiences to access it. Parents seldom check what their children are surfing online. The internet cannot say no to the user and there is no rating system, unless parents are too concerned and have put virtual locks on sites. In Pakistan, this is rare. Young audiences have viewed both violent and sexual contact by the age 15 in Pakistan. Every other child knows about the new ‘cool’ game and the new ‘sexy’ item girl. It’s no secret that the biggest movie production house, Hollywood produces many “R” rated films for young viewers. “Starship Troopers” is a good example. A work of youthful fiction written by Robert Heinlein, the book was made into an R-rated movie particularly intended for teenage boys with a naked shower scene (which was not part of the original book), tons of violence and, on the surface at least, engaging poster simplicity for its fascist biased angle The deeper satirical degree of the film are so thin and weakly worked out, they probably go right over the heads of most of the target audience. People saw the film to see the nude women in the shower. Sex and violence sells in film industry. One of Hollywood’s favorite combination of all time. This could be seen in Sharon Stone’s reason to stardom in ‘Basic Instinct’. Old, classic movies seem ‘dull’ when it comes to glamorizing life as in movies today. The lead female character has to lose her dignity in movies today to make a movie a success. As seen in Bollywood movies, previously item girls and heroines were clearly distinct from each other. Today every leading actoress has an popular item song to her name such Aishwariya Rai (Kajra Re) and Katrina Kaif (Sheila badnaam hui) to name a few.

Film not only informs us what to think but they tell us how to think in a certain way and how to feel and express about the experience we had with media exposure. This seems very powerful way to control thinking and persuading process. If this was not true, large corporations would not spend millions of dollars on product placement. In December 2010, United Kingdom allowed product placement in their media content too. Previously it was heavily done by United States. TV ads are like very short films produced to sell products or services and when made properly they work.


Gangster films, War films, western films, martial arts films, several of these come under the broad category of “action” films.


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