Thursday, May 24, 2012

Violence on TV

Elli likes to watch videos in the evenings.  We generally try to keep it to a minimum but plunking her down in front of the computer is just so much easier than entertaining her personally.  Recently she has taken to watching the Simpsons and her reactions to the show have been really fascinating.  There is a lot of sentiment out there that violence on TV begets violence in real life but I don't know that this is true.  Elli takes the extreme cartoon violence totally in stride but flips out over the situations involving suspense or social conflict.

When Itchy and Scratchy are on the Simpsons' TV they decapitate each other, stuff bombs down each other's throats, toss each other in acid, and commit any number of other heinous crimes.  However, they are always whole and hearty five seconds later so it is abundantly clear that these acts have no impact.  Elli watches them and thinks they are a bit funny and it seems to affect her not at all.  This is not the case when there is an element of suspense, though, like when Homer got his arms caught up inside vending machines.  Elli was really panicked and upset at the thought that Homer might have to have his arms chopped off to get them out; he is a real character and the event felt like it would be permanent so it got her excited whereas an anvil on the head simply does not.

The other thing that got her very emotional was watching conflict between Homer and Marge.  There is plenty of other conflict in the show that didn't usually get her worked up but the shows where marital stress was being highlighted were really troubling for her.  When Homer was spending lots of time with Lurleen the aspiring country music star and Marge was freaking out over it Elli had real trouble dealing with it.  I had to explain the basic idea behind marital agreements to her to try to calm her down as she understood that Marge was extremely angry but obviously couldn't understand the reasons why.  She knew that there was a credible risk of them breaking up but the idea of infidelity isn't really something she fully understands yet; I don't know exactly how much of that I should explicitly explain!

What this really tells me is that you can't talk about violence on television or in media in simple body count terms and expect to understand what effect this has on kids.  The people making the shows obviously wanted the scenes that Elli found disturbing to have emotional impact and the scenes with random decapitations to be humorous and they succeeded.  The creators can choose their level of emotional impact without needing to resort to violence at all; this is something we can certainly observe in the way that adults watch tearjerker and action films and are sometimes rendered nonfunctional by the first and bored by the second.

Media can very obviously influence our emotions and attitudes but watching Elli watch various shows has really taught me that simple ideas about what those shows entail are often completely missing the point.

1 comment:

  1. The Simpsons is sort of an adults' cartoon. Why isn't she watching Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer?