Not so Black and White: the Link Between Media, Celebrities and Violence

Not so Black and White: the Link Between Media, Celebrities and Violence
Creative Commons Licensed via Flickr

Creative Commons Licensed via Flickr

Violence is an endemic part of the world we live in. As a medium that often reflects this reality, media culture and its influence is a central part of contemporary society.

The release of Grand Theft Auto 5 at the end of last year was met with the usual concerns relating to the effects of video-game media on young players. The same week The Mirror ran a story linking the game Call of Duty to a mass shooting in Washington by an individual overdosed on this video game. In the past, horror films, particularly the graphic violence and gore of so called ‘torture-porn” film, such as Hostel or the SAW series, have also provided a convenient scapegoat and been put under the spotlight.

Another example of violence covered by the media industry was that which was inflicted on Rihanna 5 years ago by her boyfriend, Chris Brown. This incident which has not received as much attention as that of Rihanna’s, (perhaps because the victim was not a celebrity) was that involving Hip Hop artist Curtis Jackson. Popularly known as 50 Cent, the influential rapper was recently charged with domestic violence for allegedly beating his girlfriend and inflicting damages worth several thousand dollars.

It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that Rihanna would appear in a video that several groups have criticised for glamorising domestic violence by depicting it in the context of a normal and healthy relationship that is in reality, destructive. ‘Love the Way You Lie’, a collaboration by the R&B artist and Eminem, portrays a narrative of an abusive relationship; it’s most contentious lyric perhaps being “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts”.

It may not be the case that Rihanna is deliberately glamorising domestic violence but when young people, are strongly exposed to such representations of violence without additional context from other sources it can be damaging. Also, sadly when making a 4 and a half minute video often commercial aspects take a greater priority over social values. As a result, the message over simplifies the issue when it requires more complex exploration.

In contrast, the No More’ campaign in the United States, involving rapper Ice-T and actress Courtney Cox, demonstrates a positive and clear action against violence. Slogans include celebrities calling bystanders to avoid using excuses for inaction, including; No more “He comes from a good family” or “It’s just a misunderstanding”.

At the core of these issues there is a conflict over where responsibility lies.  Who should and can intervene effectively; is it parents, or wider society and the media? Can we say, definitively, that rap stars glamorise violence?

Due to a lack of role models or celebrities, gangs to a certain extent, can replace these relationships. This seems to be the opinion of Clive Lewis. Speaking to the Telegraph in 2007, the director of The Men’s Room, a charity working with black young men, said that black youths need better role models: “Black boys and young men desperately need a greater diversity of images and portrayals, showing that black men can be, and are, successful in a wide range of careers including business, teaching, the law and health care.”

Similarly, in 2008 a report by a teachers union concluded that children are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home.

The government’s own Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme to combat inner-city gang culture demonstrates how you can play a role in tackling this issue. Its efforts include work by emergency services where young people who come in with an injury such as a stab wound can be offered help to leave behind their former gang life.

In addition, employment advisers are working in the worst-affected London Boroughs, and have now assisted more than 1,300 youngsters – some as young as 14. Over 600 of these young people have moved into work, education or training. What this tells us is that engaging and exploring these issues with young people is critical to forming positive, rather than negative relationships.

What all these examples also suggest is that a united approach is, arguably, most effective with all levels of society and those in the media taking responsibility and subsequent action. By sharing responsibility and combating the issue collectively, a greater understanding and more effective approach to this particular issue is possible. Unfortunately, it is an issue that attracts unnecessary elements of sensationalist and distorted coverage which is anything but helpful. It is damaging, because it masks the complex effects violent media can have, while avoiding society’s responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable.

This blog was written by 99% Campaign team member Maxwell Dean

This blog was written by 99% Campaign team member Maxwell Dean

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