As you’ll know well if you follow this blog regularly, each time I teach Composition 1 I assign something called the Mini-Essay, and I have a contest in which the top three Mini-Essays are voted on and one winner from the class gets published here. Below find this semester’s winner, and his entry about this Mean World.
Crime, Television and Insanity
by Forrest Wold-McGimsey
How many times per year does the average person see a dead body? A murder? How about a simple car crash? For most people, the answer is once or twice at most. But how many times have they seen these acts on screen? The American television-watching community takes little notice of the extreme levels of violence and gore in the shows and movies they commonly fall asleep to mainly because they’ve conditioned themselves to shrug it off, knowing it isn’t real. However, shrugging off the acts they so carelessly watch does not mean that they forget about them and repeatedly watching them is having potentially serious effects on their psyches.
Shows such as NCIS, CSI, and Criminal Minds all release weekly episodes following a basic plot of first showing a gruesome and very plausible murder before having heroic detectives solve the case and bring the perpetrator to justice. Or, for Law and Order SVU, swap murder for rape. These shows all depict brutal murders and assaults while being watched weekly by millions of eyes, old and young. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is the second longest running scripted primetime television series, behind Lassie. The show has produced nineteen seasons of simulated brutality and exposed countless eyes to hundreds of individual rapes and assaults. These acts are not something a normal person would see on a day to day basis and there is a reason that those who do frequently see them tend to develop post-traumatic stress disorders. Because so many people watch these shows, there is a widespread desensitization to violence among the viewers as well as a heightened sense of false danger. George Gerbner, a communications researcher and founder of the Cultural Indicators Research Project, set out to monitor and study the effects of television on its viewers and their subsequent views on the world. Gerbner, in his movie The Mean World Syndrome, sums from his work that “growing up from infancy with this unprecedented diet of [TV] violence has three consequences, which, in combination, I call the ‘mean world syndrome.’ What this means is that if you are growing up in a home where there is more than say three hours of television per day, for all practical purposes you live in a meaner world – and act accordingly – than your next-door neighbor who lives in the same world but watches less television. The programming reinforces the worst fears and apprehensions and paranoia of people” (Earp, 2010). In addition, a 2009 Gallup crime poll showed that Americans are overestimating the danger around them at higher and higher rates despite a nearly constant drop in crime rate. Gallup reported “74% of Americans saying there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago, the highest measured since the early 1990s.” Gallup and many experts have hinted to the possibility of this rise stemming from an overdose of simulated violence on a regular basis. (Jones) An unprecedented amount of people are witnessing these perfectly played out portrayals of violence, rape and murder and not giving it another thought. However, whether the viewers realize it or not, these shows are affecting their perception of the world as well as shaping their personalities in less than positive ways.
It is recommended by health officials that television use should be kept to a maximum of two hours per day. Though most of Americans do not abide by that recommendation, there are plenty of better shows and movies to be spending those two hours (or five) a day watching that don’t include mind-warping scenes that people were never meant to be exposed to anyway and, in real life, would go out of their way to avoid. Exposing one’s self to violent and twisted television shows has a harmful effect on their psyche and can alter their view of the world for the worse. So instead turn off your screens, go outside and enjoy real life: the world is not as dangerous as our televisions are telling us it is.
Jones, Jeffrey M. “Americans Perceive Increased Crime in U.S.” Gallup. N.p., 14 Oct. 2009. Web. 3 Sept. 2016.
The Mean World Syndrome. Dir. Jeremy Earp. 2010. Transcript.