NY Times Movie Reviewer Ignores Evidence about Effects of Media Violence

In his April 23 story, “Drawing a Line from Movie to Murder,” New York Times movie reviewer A.O. Scott turns a blind eye toward the evidence as he seeks to debunk people who argue that Seung-Hui Cho was influenced by the violence that pervades our popular culture.

Scott irresponsibly ignores decades of social science studies that show a direct correlation between the consumption of violent media (movies, television, video games, and music) and increases in aggressive actions and attitudes.

Scott's article is apparently an attack on Washington Post movie reviewer Stephen Hunter, who wrote on April 20 that the violence of movies “must feature prominently in the discussion” that is already occurring culturally in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Scott replies that only the “profoundly alienated, mentally disturbed” would be influenced by the “cultural interests” they share with “countless others who would never dream - or who would only dream – of committing acts of homicidal violence.”  

Then he turns snide.  “But movies, video games, television and popular music offer a sturdier soapbox for those with an impulse to turn calamities into symptoms.  Everyone knows, or can at least be bullied into pretending to know, that mass entertainment is responsible for injecting sex, violence and other pathogens into the eyes and minds of the young.”

Scott does acknowledge the possible impact of the ultra-violent movie “Oldboy” or the violent movies of John Woo on Cho, but then he writes: “Pious denunciations of movie violence can be expected to continue, even as it is unlikely … that any causal or correlative link between on-screen mayhem and its real-life counterpart will ever be established.” 

This sentence flies in the face of medical opinion and literally hundreds of studies showing that consumption of violent and sexual imagery has very real effects on the mind.  And not just deranged minds either.

In his fascinating book The American Paradox, Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, David G. Myers discusses studies going back to a 1972 Surgeon General's Report that confirm again and again that media violence leads to aggressive behavior in the people who watch it.  The American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics all concur on this point.  Studies were conducted on a variety of people, including typical college students, not mentally ill ones.  The link exists.  To call such evidence “pious denunciations” is flat-out wrong.

Scott concludes by celebrating the millions of people who will continue to be “entertained by spectacles of murder” and then going back to their “peaceful, sane, non-threatening business.”  He has the gall to juxtapose this sentence with, “That we know the difference between reality and make-believe is evident in the shock and horror we feel when confronted with the events like the one last Monday in Virginia.” 

Surely the hundreds, if not thousands, of people immediately stung by the events in Blacksburg will not find themselves “entertained by spectacles of murder” in the near future.  Scott's piece is a slap in the face to all of them.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.