ResearchAsh BallComment

Mediated Violence

ResearchAsh BallComment
Mediated Violence

Does violence in media make us more violent? Are heavy metal music and video games responsible for students shooting up their schools or committing suicide? In this blog I'll be discussing pieces of media inspired by school shootings and ethics of glorifying these types of acts.

Does violence in media cause violence in the real world? I would really like to say that media doesn't affect us and I admit that I was pretty biased while researching this topic but I was mistaken. I couldn't actually find a study that agreed with me. We are definitely influenced by media. We may all react to different media in different ways but the fact is that we are still reacting to it. Of course this can mean different things for different people.

Children, for example, are incredibly influential and will often try to recreate anything extraordinary they've witnessed on TV. My 4 year old nephew was permitted to watch Maze Runner and for weeks afterward he would pinched everyone, saying he was the monster from sector 7.

Some people listen to heavy metal and are energised by it to the point of getting physical. This is why at concerts you'll see circle pits. Some observers see this violence as disturbing. To heavy metal fans this is an emotional outlet in a controlled environment. It can also represent a sense of community. This doesn't mean the violence stays inside these arenas. Most of these people won't get violent in public. But there are always exceptions. 

In the documentary film Bowling For Columbine a man protesting that Marilyn Manson's Music and video games were to blame for the shooting is shown stating that "Does everyone who watches a Lexus Commercial go out and buy a Lexus. No! But a few do"

To be fair a lot of people will buy a Lexus regardless of whether they've seen a commercial or not. The same goes for mass shootings. Although media can give us violent urges, most people don't want to kill each other. It's not laws that hold us back from killing each other, it's our own sense of morale. 

When it comes to people who commit mass murder, there are many factors that lead them to these extreme acts. Although media plays a part, it's not significant enough to be a trigger for actions of that extremity.

Media creatives have tried exploring and shedding light on why someone might commit these atrocities. But what are the moral implications of creating media based on these extreme acts of violence? Here are a few pieces of media that were inspired by school shootings.

Super Columbine Massacre RPG, the movie Elephant and Jeremy by Pearl Jam.

Super Columbine Massacre

This game is designed to replicate the mass shooting that took place at Columbine High School, 1999. In the game you play as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. You navigate through the school planting bombs and deal with individual confrontations with other students in which you decide whether to kill them with a gun or bomb. 

"After spotting police from the library window, the game version of Klebold and Harris take their own lives. When they die, the screen rolls through a photo montage that includes the crime scene photos of the dead shooters and images of students running, crying and consoling one another taken from newspapers and television stations. Then images of Klebold and Harris from early childhood to high school pop up on the screen."

The game received almost only negative feedback despite having tens of thousands of downloads. The creator claims that his reasoning behind the game was to initiate conversation on the event as he felt he related to their experiences. Columbin, a surviving victim of the event played the game and stated that-

"It didn't make me mad, just kind of confused me. It kind of reminded me of that Elephant movie, but in video-game form. I think I get what he was trying to do, at least in part...Parts of it were difficult to play through, but overall, I get the feeling it might even be helpful in some ways...I don't think it's bad to discuss."

My initial reaction to this was disgust, however I can understand his reasoning for creating the game. And in all fairness, the fact that the creator related to the shooters but only created a game rather than shooting up a school is a much more constructive way to deal with his issues.

Also loosely based on the Columbine shootings is the film Elephant. The film tracks the lives of a few characters, including the two shooters, over the course of the days leading up to and including the shooting. The characters, apart from the two shooters, aren't significant to the Columbine event and provide a chance to separate the two from each other. The final scene is more on par with the Columbine event. The shooters use explosives to lure students from distant parts of the school. One of the shooters also sits down for a drink in the cafeteria, which was allegedly observed in the security footage of the event. The director also plays on the fact that video games were given a lot of blame for the event by taking camera angles similar to that of many Third Person Shooter games as well as showing one of the shooters enjoying a shoot em up game the prior to the shooting.

In response to the films likeness to the events at Columbine, the director stated:


I have my ideas why Columbine happened, but that's not this film. I wanted a poetic impression rather than dictating an answer. I wanted to include the audience's thoughts."

On January 8th 1991 Jeremy Wade Delle arrived late for his English class at Richardson High School. The teacher asked him to get an admittance slip from the school office. He later returned with a pistol and shot himself through the mouth. Eddy Vedder read a story about this in the paper and used it as inspiration to write the popular song 'Jeremy'. The song describes the teen being neglected by his parents and getting violent with the other students and staff. The film clip is even less subtle than the song. At the end of the clip it shows 'Jeremy' entering the classroom confidently, he reveals a pistol and places it in his mouth. The shot then cuts to the other students cowering with blood splattered clothes.

This song however, is not even remotely accurate to the original event. There is no evidence that he was the victim of parental neglect. There is also no evidence of him getting violent with staff or other students. The lyrics themselves are either pulled from Vedder's own experiences or just his general interpretation of Jeremy's motivation. The only real reference to Jeremy Delle is the name 'Jeremy'.

The film clip, on the other hand, is a little more accurate with the addition of the classroom scene but was widely misinterpreted when added to mainstream TV due to censorship. In the classroom scene they zoomed in on the actor so that the gun wasn't visible and cut the shot of him with the gun in his mouth. By showing him walking confidently into the classroom then cutting to the students cowering gave the impression that Jeremy was shooting the classroom rather than himself.

Jeff Ellis, a student present on the day of this event later wrote a confessional blog on his experience that day and the success of Pearl Jam's song. In it he states that when asked whether he knew Jeremy, he would respond that:

There was a time when I would lie and say yes. I used to skip classes with him. I used to joke with him. Sometimes, he seemed somewhat sad but certainly never suicidal. By killing himself in a public school at the age of 15, Jeremy became the type of legend that I spent my entire youth dreaming of being. While I was trying to establish some sort of persona for myself by sending out stories and poems, Jeremy was a household name. By claiming to know him, I was trying to steal a little bit of his legend for my own.

The truth of the matter was that I never met Jeremy Delle. I probably passed him in the hall several times during that semester but I would never have been able to pick him out of a lineup.

In the cases of these pieces of media, the creators had the intent to create conversation on the tragic events that have taken place at these schools. Unfortunately these intentions haven't been made perfectly clear, resulting in a confused and often negative response from the public. Perhaps these creators need to be wiser in the way they interpret events in their work. I also think it unnecessary to involve censorship in this situation due to the confusion surrounding the 'Jeremy' film clip.


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