The new movie Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the tracking and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden, has received several Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), but it’s attracting another kind of attention as well: several writers, including Jane Meyer at The New Yorker and Peter Maass at The Atlantic, have accused it of condoning or even glorifying the use of torture by US intelligence agencies.
In January, American Vice-President Joe Biden met with video game industry representatives in the wake of the tragic events at Sandy Hook to discuss the possible relationship between video games and gun violence. Five days later, President Barack Obama asked the United States Congress to fund more research to study the potential link between violence and video games, noting that “We don’t benefit from ignorance”.
This week, the Students whom I work with at Golf Road Junior Public School had an amazing opportunity directly related to our work together in studying Media Literacy, specific to Television and Film Media. After being approached by Media Smarts, I was connected with the CBC who wanted to engage with and film a class focused on Students’ perceptions and opinions on Violence within popular films.
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.
The video game sector is the fastest growing entertainment industry and second only to music in profitability. Global sales of video game software hit almost $17 billion U.S. in 2011. 
As concerned adults, we also need to recognize when our anxieties about media violence are used to sell us on blanket censorship, ideology, and a variety of products.