Having more home time during the pandemic, I began viewing a few more successful TV series such as Breaking Bad, Homeland, 24 Hours, and NCIS. My choice was highly personal, and I am very late to the party in viewing. What impressed me was the scripts' high quality, how they were extremely intriguing to the point of binge viewing, and how pervasive violence has become. Typically, the hero commits a very natural form of violence on others (he may be forced to do it!) but survives harm that may come to him. Violence is everywhere and justified. The great level of detail of how violence is committed shocked me, and I wonder if this does not facilitate real imitation. Most directors of violent media would say that their work simply represents society, and some would claim that by exaggerating violence, they intend to have an anti-violent message. We would be rash to think that violence makes a profit! Nor is it limited to TV series: remember all the films viewed at will on TV, and the new media forms such as video games primarily based on eliminating one's opponents.
Naturally, I could have chosen to see Friends or the Bold and the Beautiful, but violence has prevailed. As early as 1993, before the age of 18, an American youth views on the average 200,000 violent acts on television (American Psychological Association 1993). Weapons appeared every seven minutes on primetime tv (Strasburger 2000). In a fascinating longitudinal study of primetime TV, the number of violent sequences per TV hour went from 6 in 1972 to around a constant 3.5 sequences per TV hour in 2010. (Jamieson & Romer, 2014) Unfortunately, there is no systematic monitoring of violence in media/entertainment. My impression is that the amount has remained high, and above all, media/entertainment violence has become more seductive.
Studies demonstrating an association between exposure to violence in the media and real-life aggression and violence began appearing in the 1950s. Since then, various government agencies and organizations have examined the relationship. These include a 1972 Surgeon General’s report, a 1982 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) review, and a 2000 Congressional summit that issued a joint statement on the impact of entertainment violence on children. In 2000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a report noting that media violence is a risk factor in shootings in schools. A 2003 NIMH report noted media violence to be a significant causal factor in aggression and violence. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a 2007 report on violent programming on television and noted that there is "strong evidence" that exposure to violence through the media can increase aggressive behavior in children. These reports and others are based on a body of literature that includes more than 2,000 scientific papers, studies, and reviews demonstrating the various effects that exposure to media violence can have on children and adolescents. These include increases in aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, bullying, fear, depression, nightmares, and sleep disturbances. Some studies found the strength of association to be nearly as strong as the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, and stronger than the well-established associations between calcium intake and bone mass, lead ingestion and IQ, and failure to use condoms and acquisition of HIV.
(AAFP p1 2016)
In 2007 the FCC proposed restrictions on TV violence without subsequent approval.
In 2019, the FBI reported 379 violent crimes per 100,000 people and 2,109.9 property crimes per 100,000 people. Among violent crimes, aggravated assault was the most common offense, followed by robbery, rape, and murder/non-negligent manslaughter. The violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2019, with large decreases in the rates of robbery (-68%), murder/non-negligent manslaughter (-47%), and aggravated assault (-43%) (Gramlich, 2020). Although the US crime rates are declining, they remain high with respect to many developed countries. The intentional homicides in the EU-27 numbered 3,993 in 2018 (Eurostat, 2020) compared to 16,214 in the US for the same year (Wikipedia, 2020). In terms of per capita rates, the US murder rate was 5.5 times greater than that of the EU=27 in 2018. In terms of overall safety from crime, "the countries at the top (of safety) offer little surprise; they are mostly European countries with developed economies and healthcare systems. 16 of the top 20 safest countries are located in Europe. The US ranks almost exactly in the middle at 65th, well behind its economically developed peers" (Getzoff p1 2019).
The sheer amount of time we spend on entertainment/media is as astonishing as the violence of media. Our average media time for adults was 12 hours, nine minutes a day in 2019, up one-and-a-half hours from 2011. We spent 6 hours 35 minutes on digital, 3 hours 35 minutes on TV, 1 hour 20 minutes on radio, 11 minutes on newspapers, and 9 minutes on magazines, including the time of multitasking (He 2019). This excludes non-media time, such as digital time for work and communication. "Driven by a combination of the effects of the coronavirus crisis and pre-pandemic trends, the average time US consumers spend with media will rise by more than 1 hour per day this year (2020), to 13 hours, 35 minutes. While receding somewhat in the next two years, the total will remain well above 2019's level" (Dolliver p 1 2020).
In 2019, “On average, 8- to 12-year-olds in this country use just under five hours’ worth of entertainment screen media per day (4:44), and teens use an average of just under seven and a half hours’ worth (7:22)—not including time spent using screens for school or homework… The biggest change in young people’s media habits over the past four years isn’t something brand new like virtual reality; it’s the amount of time they spend watching online videos like those found on YouTube. The percent of young people who say they watch online videos “every day” has more than doubled among both age groups” (Rideout and Robb p 3 2019).
From these consumer trends, it is not surprising that the global entertainment and media market reached an all-time high of $2.1 trillion in 2019, with $720 billion, one-third in the US (Watson 2020). The industry is undergoing a consolidation phase due to the extreme economies of scale based upon size, in the new digital environment. In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by 50 companies; by 2011, 90% was controlled by just six companies, and by 2017 only five. The big five are AT&T, Comcast, the Walt Disney Company, Viacom/CBS, and the Fox Corporation. (Wikipedia, 2017).
Gonzales and Torres concluded back in 2014 that if the trend of media ownership concentration continues, where a handful of giant firms run almost exclusively by white investors and managers dominate the market, minority media ownership will virtually disappear in the United States, and we will soon face a de facto apartheid media system (González & Torres 2014).
What is the narrative concerning violence that these five media giants would like to tell us? More of the same, a little whitewashing? These five oligopolies may be considered to be part of the problem. At this moment, when we are attempting to reconcile our political and social differences within the nation, with gun ownership remaining at a maximum: it is time to de-escalate violence. Two mass shootings in a week, in Atlanta and Boulder, should be a wake-up call.
What might work? The old approach of trying to forbid excess violence in the media was unsuccessful and problematic because it conflicts with the freedom of expression. Instead, we should reward all forms of non-violent media. The industry could give special recognition to excellence in violence-free media. Private capital and corporations could become interested in being associated with financing and awarding the many possible forms of benevolent entertainment.
This change might come from within the industry. A recent McKinsey study of the industry indicates that women represent 49 percent of the workforce in media and entertainment (versus 38 percent for all sectors) and hold 27 percent of executive-level positions. This is not enough, and McKinsey strongly advocates appointing more women to board positions and listening to the women's perspective (Beard et al. 2020). Studies of personal values have shown that women are more caring and cooperative than men. They have a greater sense of community, feeling part of something bigger, and are less prone to use violence to resolve conflicts. (Francescato et al., 2017). For the mission of de-escalation of violence, women may hold the key to its success.
As the public, we can begin to find value in benevolence and start to free ourselves of the old media stereotypes of all kinds, involving men, women, minorities, and others.
AAFP 2016, Violence in the Media and Entertainment (Position Paper), accessed January 20, 2021.
Beard L., Dunn J., Huang J., Krivkovich A., 2020, Shattering the glass screen, McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, Technology, Media & Communications, Our Insights, February 13.
Dolliver, M., 2020, US Time Spent with Media 2020: Gains in Consumer Usage During the Year of Covid-19 and Beyond, EMarketer, April 29.
Eurostat, 2020, Statistics Explained, Crime Statistics, Intentional Homicides, July, accessed January 27, 2021.
Francescato, D., Mebane M., Vecchione, M., 2017, Gender differences in personal values of national and local Italian politicians, activists and voters, International Journal of Psychology, 2017 Vol. 52, No. 5, 406–414, DOI: 10.1002/ijop.12236.
Getzoff, M., 2019, The World’s Safest Countries 2019, January 23, Global Finance Magazine.
González, J., Torres J., 2004, How Long Must We Wait? The Fight for Racial and Ethnic Equality in the American News Media, RaceForward Site, accessed January 29, 2021.
Gramlich, J., 2020, What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States, Factank, November 20. Pew Research.
He, A., 2019, Average Time Spent with Media in 2019 Has Plateaued, E-Marketer, May 31.
Jamieson, P. E., Romer, D., 2014, Violence in Popular US Prime Time TV Dramas and the Cultivation of Fear: A Time Series Analysis, Media and Communication, 2014, Volume 2, Issue 2, Pages 31-41.
Rideout, V., and Robb, M. B. (2019). The Common Sense census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2019. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.
Watson, A., 2020, Value of the global entertainment and media market 2011-2024, Statista, October 23.
Wikipedia, 2017, Concentration of media ownership, assessed January 29, 2021.
Wikipedia, 2020, List of countries by intentional homicide rate, accessed January 27, 2021