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Steps can be taken to ease violence in contemporary culture

Published on -4/22/2013, 8:19 AM

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This is the last in a series about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: What are additional recommendations to deal with the effects of contemporary cultural violence?

A: In an article in 1992 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Brandon S. Centerwall emphasized the issues of quality and social responsibility in the media are peripheral to the competitive advertising market. Violence generates more viewers than other programs and therefore is preferred by the advertising industry. In the last 20 years, despite the advocacy roles of many professional organizations and experts, the media advertisers have not made any adjustments in promoting less violence.

Centerwall believes he has no recommendations for the television industry that it would be willing to accept. He believes the issue of children's overexposure to television violence is a public health issue. He sees controlling this access for children the same as requiring safety seats, bicycle helmets, good nutrition and immunizations.

Centerwall also recommends new television sets should be equipped with channel-lock circuitry that could enable parents to lock out certain channels at specific times. Also recommended is a violence rating system so parents would not have to watch every questionable program. In a national poll by the Los Angeles Times in 1989, 71 percent of adults surveyed favored violence ratings for programs on television.

Television violence and professional sports are inextricably intertwined. Any attempt to limit family viewing of sports would result in a cultural revolt. Newscasters already are discussing how next year's Super Bowl will be in New Jersey and whether there will be storms or blizzards to interfere with the extravaganza. The electrical outage in the 2013 Super Bowl was headline news for days.

The Parents Television Council recommends communities should communicate concerns to local and network television stations. Local stations could preempt programs to which local communities object. However, the problem with this recommendation is most communities would not collectively advocate against violent programs.

The Federal Communications Commission could expand the definition of broadcast indecency to include violent shows inappropriate for children. However, the PTC believes advertisers have far greater influence over broadcast standards than the FCC.

Researchers Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson from Iowa State University have written about the need for expanding roles for researchers. Public education from the results of research on media violence should be part of researchers' agendas. There have been some public education efforts from professional organizations of physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists, but not enough to seriously affect the media.

The American Journal of Public Health has published articles that discuss violence and health from a global perspective. Studies across nations demonstrate the government quality of certain social institutions provides safety nets to prevent violence. The two most important systems that need to be in place are a fair and effective criminal justice system and economic supports for persons and families in dire circumstances.

Furthermore, a risk factor that has been shown to be universally correlated with both interpersonal and collective aggression is income inequality.

The most significant factor in income inequality is not poverty itself, but the co-existence of extreme poverty and extreme wealth.

In recent decades, the gap in income inequality in the United States has been increasing.

Following the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., there was a congressional hearing on media violence. Henry Jenkins, Ph.D., professor and director of Comparative Media Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified at the hearing and made a series of recommendations.

Jenkins believes the context of digital media should be changed to supportive programming that supports troubled youth. For example, one entrepreneur, Sameer Parekh, created a website for youth who are rejected at school to communicate with others about their problems, thus forming a support group that offers a sense of belonging.

Another vital recommendation of Jenkins to reduce youth violence is for schools to be more proactive in creating positive environments that discourage bullying and the ostracism of cultural minorities. He also believes schools need to teach youth media coping skills, such as asking critical questions, evaluating the veracity of media and providing safeguards for privacy.

Jenkins believes schools and parents need to expand their knowledge and understanding of youth's perspectives on media programs and games.

What are children and adolescents watching and why? Simply taking a stand in the adult culture that the pop culture is negative and harmful will not lead to positive results.

Even though the rate of violent crimes is decreasing in the United States in recent years, there needs to be attention paid to the cultural context of values and standards in which youth are being immersed. The United States still leads western world countries in statistics on violence. This country would do well to reexamine its practices that support social inequality, social injustice, and racial and ethnic inequality.

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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