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Trend of growing violence seen in United States

Published on -3/4/2013, 8:23 AM

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This is the second in a series of articles about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: What are ways in which culture supports violence?

A: The foundation for structural violence, which is the way a society's social institutions legitimize violence, is social and economic inequality. Common examples of culturally sanctioned violence are the inequities in the availability of health care. Medical care is sold as a commodity based on ability to pay. It is not based on need. In the United States, for example, in a study in 1990 by Moore et al, the results found blacks were much less likely to receive treatment for AIDS than whites.

Medical anthropologist Paul Farmer theorizes economically driven forces constrain institutions such as the health care delivery system. Structural violence that becomes commonplace in society, such as sexism and racism, eventually can become accepted and not questioned. Although reforms have occurred in these areas, there still is a lot of structural violence towards groups of people, especially the lower socio-economic groups of diversity.

Social inequities and social injustice require interventions that alter the fabric of society. These interventions are such measures as making health care available to all citizens based on need, providing environmental remedies that make the environment safe for people, and providing economic assistance that enables citizens to rise above poverty.

Besides the social practices that support structural violence, the United States glamorizes violence in many ways. However, violence always has been part of American history. The early settlers displaced and massacred American Indians. African slaves were transported to America and denied their civil rights. The United States conducted a Revolutionary War and a Civil War. Two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War followed. In the past 50 years, there have been mass shootings, bombings and 9/11. Gang violence and drug-related deaths also have escalated.

So what's different today? The media now has made available 24 hour-a-day reporting of global violence. Movies and television have made violence the fulcrum of entertainment. The heroes often are characters who perform violent acts but never experience consequences. A perusal of television programs and movie titles reveals a fixation on violent themes and reality shows based on characters who live by brawn and physical aggression. Modern Americans have learned to accept violence as normal in the depiction of heroes and idols. The above concepts are from an article titled "Violence in American Pop Culture."

According to Pat LaMarche, author and television host, Americans are a violent people. When things don't go according to expectations, Americans result to brutality. She observes that phenomenon at the national military level when the government moves to attack or invade countries such as Iraq. The misuse of power to commit violence also is evident in homes in which there is family violence.

Nathan Bransford, a social media manager for CNET, raises several significant questions about violence in American culture. Why are Americans so blasé about human violence and so vehement about causes such as preserving the rights of endangered species? Why do Americans not respond to the fact they are twice as likely to die violently than citizens of first world countries? Why do Americans find real life violence entertaining?

In an article from the "American Psychologist," 2001, authors Bushman and Anderson from Iowa State University published an article titled "Media Violence and the American Public." They note the interest in the link between media violence and social violence began in 1965, when the first generation of children raised with television reached ages for the commitment of violent crimes. This effect also has been noted in other countries. The authors believe the global marketability for American media supports an emphasis on violence.

Bushman and Anderson also point out research information that supports a link between media violence and aggression has increased significantly since 1975. At the same time, the news consistently has downplayed the role of media violence. They speculate such reporting practices are based on the vested interests of the media industry that profits from the popularity of violent programs. A second cause for under-reporting might be a misapplied concept of fairness in which media represents both sides of the debate, leading to too little emphasis on scientific research and disproportionate representation of vocal dissidents. Finally, the authors believe the failure to get the latest research in front of the public is due to scientists not seeing themselves as public educators.

In an article in the Anthology of Ideas about the human propensity for violence, the author attributes human aggression to three causes. First is the status drive, the basis of the reward system in cultures. Second is biological causality in which hormones contribute to human aggression. Third is the culture people live in. Each culture has standards of acceptability based on a specific set of instincts and behaviors.

* Next week's article will feature facts and statistics about media and media violence.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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