Representations of violence are not new. In fact, violence has been a key part of media since the birth of literature: Ancient Greek poetry and drama frequently portrayed murder, suicide and self-mutilation, many of Shakespeare’s plays revel in violence, torture, maiming, rape, revenge and psychological terror, and some of the most popular books of the 19th century were “penny dreadfuls” that delivered blood, gore and other shocks to the lowest common denominator.
No one knows better than the communications industries that children and youth represent a huge market, due to both their own spending power and their influence on family spending decisions.
While parents may find certain representations of violence wholly appropriate for young people, there is a wide continuum of content that exists online and in the media. Anything from a cartoon cat having an anvil comically dropped on his head to video images of real life injuries and deaths can be accessed online by children and youth.
It is difficult to set down in a definitive way what effect media violence has on consumers and young people. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main issue is that terms like “violence” and “aggression” are not easily defined or categorized. To a child, almost any kind of conflict, such as the heated arguments of some talk-radio shows or primetime news pundits, can sound as aggressive as two cartoon characters dropping anvils on one another.
Media violence has been taken up as a public policy issue by a number of Western countries. Central to the debate has been the challenge of accommodating what may appear to be opposing principles—the protection of children from unsuitable media content and upholding the right to freedom of expression.
Political and constitutional issues, forest fires, poverty, sexual abuse and drug addiction appear to be the only topics relating to Aboriginal communities that are reported in the news. Coverage of cultural activities may be found now and again in local media, but you have to pay close attention to find this.
Early in the history of Canadian television, when southern television began to bombard the airwaves in northern communities, Canada’s Aboriginal people made the connection between cultural survival and the ownership and control of media.
Generations of North American children have grown up watching “cowboys and Indians” films and TV shows and reading books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little House on the Prairie. Popular films and novels reinforced the notion that Aboriginal people existed only in the past—forever chasing buffalo or being chased by the cavalry. These images showed them as destined to remain on the margins of “real” society. Such impressions and childhood beliefs, set at an early age, are often the hardest to shake.
There’s significant evidence that media education can counter unrealistic media representations of men’s and women’s bodies. For example, a 2010 study found that showing the video Evolution (which was created by Dove to show how media images of women are manipulated) significantly reduced negative effects on confidence and body satisfaction of young girls when they looked at pictures of ultra-thin models afterwards.
It is called the “Highway of Tears”: an 800 kilometer stretch of highway in British Columbia where more than a dozen young women have disappeared since 1994. The same thing had happened before in the same place – almost twenty young women disappeared or were killed there between the late Sixties and the early Eighties – but until recently these crimes have received little media attention, perhaps because the majority of victims have been Aboriginal women.