When Life Imitates Art

Most Americans believe a link exists between media and actual behavior. That's why:

  • 83 percent of Americans wish the entertainment industry would voluntarily cut some of the sex and violence from television, movies and music lyrics. 1
  • 87 percent of entertainment industry leaders feel violence in the mass media contributes to violence in society. 2

And get this. Major medical associations have linked the violence in television, music, video games and movies to increasing violence among young people. "Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life," explained the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in July 2000. "The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors in children." 3

Maybe the health community's diagnosis will prompt producers of damaging entertainment to clean up their act. But until then, we need to be very careful about what we allow ourselves to watch and listen to. Examples of teens who didn't make wise choices are numerous, and some of them are frightening. Here are just a few:

In 1999, Mario Padilla, 17, was found guilty of killing his mother and sentenced to life in prison without parole while his cousin and accomplice, Samuel Ramirez, 16, was given 25 years to life. Both boys say they were influenced by the film Scream. In a taped confession to police, the boys said they killed and robbed Gina Castillo to get enough money to buy costumes like those used by the killers in the movie. They also told police they intended to wear them when killing several of their classmates. Padilla also said he partly blamed watching television for what happened. "I have been watching television since the age of 7 — movies, drama, comedy, suspense and horror movies. It's ironic how people say, Do not let your kids watch TV at that age,' because it really does affect them. All I would do was fantasize how to do things I could not do." 4

On November 15, 1999, 9-year-old Jennifer Wood of Pahokee, Florida, died by hanging herself with a shoelace. Investigators believe she was reenacting a scene from The Man in the Iron Mask. Her parents said she had become captivated by the death of a princess who hangs herself in the movie (a 1998 film rated PG-13). Her mother stated that she had found the girl acting out the movie's death scene twice before. "Ever since she was 4 years old, she would act out what she saw in movies," said Carmen Wood. "She would play parts from Anastasia or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But she always knew the difference between pretend and reality. Until now." 5

These are just two tragic stories pulled from recent headlines. We could list dozens more. Are they extreme examples of how lyrics can impact attitudes and behavior? You bet. But such tragedies prove that "harmless entertainment" can be anything but harmless. And while most of us will never take action on the harmful messages we ingest, we can be sure that those messages are affecting our attitudes and emotions.

1 USA Today, 8 June 1995.
2 The Associated Press, 30 April 1994.
3 The Associated Press/CNN.com, 26 July 2000.
4 Reuters, 23 July 1999.
5 The Associated Press, 15 November 1999.

Background Information

Journey of No Return
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When Not To Discipline
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When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

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