Nowadays, it is hard to turn on a television program, catch a movie or buy your younger sibling a video game without encountering a warning for extreme violence. Everyday, our lives are exposed to violence on the screen, whether it is in the latest Sopranos episode or even watching the six o’clock news. For quite a while now, people have been demanding that stricter censorship be placed on the media, especially those programs and video games that can easily be obtained by the youth, due to their feelings that this violence can influence people to “act out”. However, this is not a new idea. Back in ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato believed that exposure to the emotions of the arts (especially drama) would encourage people to act out violent emotions portrayed in the drama.Order now
As documented in his work The Republic, Plato believed strongly that the perfect life was comprised of total balance and harmony in one’s mindset and that any stimulated emotions would result in an imbalance. The first theorist to challenge Plato’s idea was his well-known student, Aristotle. Aristotle felt that exposure to the strong emotions of the arts had a positive psychological effect on people because it gave them a chance to let out any emotional frustrations that they might have bottled up inside. I concur with the ideas of Plato, being that the media has become such an influential authority in our society, and the constant exposure to violent behavior within the media is creating numbness to it, especially within our children, who are less able to distinguish between factual and fictional. Our society, beginning with a child’s parents, should become stricter with
Limiting exposure to violent visual entertainment, and only allow a moderate, if any, amount of violence to be seen by impressionable children and young adults.
Drama had only recently developed in Ancient Greece when Plato began speaking against it, however it was already a popular part of Greek tradition. The somewhat violent plots that were also deeply entrenched in religious and family tradition, showed morbid situations; such as Oedipus Rex in which a son kills his father and marries his mother. Plato perceived the dramas as dangerous, because he felt that they created confusion, miscommunication and ignorance. He also felt that the entire world’s evils came from a defective sense of reality and that these dramas promoted that. For example, take a young child who grew up somewhat isolated from the outside world and whose only outlet to our society is through the media.
His steady contact with violent programs (which in the end, show a happy conclusion no matter what happens throughout) may convince him that this type of behavior is normal and accepted. Plato was concerned especially about the influence that drama and even pornography would have on children, because he felt that their minds were not developed to the full extent in order to differentiate between the right and wrong that they see in the dramas. Many people will be quick to agree that a child should not watch a rated R action movie, yet they still allow them to view a Saturday morning cartoon in which the main character gets “run over” every episode and still comes back the next week. This can create a faulty understanding of reality to a child, as well as an unsuspecting adult, because it does not clarify that death is final.
What about the movies that emulate and perhaps glorify the lives of drug dealers and gangs? Are they encouraging one to participate in this type of lifestyle by making it seem “cool” and their answer to their life situation or are they simply depicting “reality” of what goes on in today’s inner cities? These questions are similar to an old saying: which came first, the chicken or the egg? The skewed perspective portrayed by movies, television, and video games can create a lack of sensitivity to emotional and/or physical harm. It may even cause them to want to emulate the kind of lifestyle they are seeing, thinking that it is a reflection of “real life”. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the best dramas were those which an ordinary person greatly misjudges, because this allowed the ordinary people who viewed it to realize the error and make it a “moral learning experience Ð’- a moral laboratory in which we can see our inner urges acted out and learn from the tragic consequences.” (Rosenstand, pg. 52)
I agree somewhat with Plato’s views on censorship, since you never know exactly how someone will react to viewing a violent situation and whether they will be able to use their common sense and judgment to refrain from “copying” the actions of the characters. There have been many examples of copycats who have gotten their ideas from watching a violent film, but many will still argue that the majority is simply coincidence. In the end of the thriller Scream, Billy makes an important comment to Sidney, telling her not to “blame the movies! Movies don’t create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative!”.
However, a point that must be understood is that even though Aristotle was for the viewing of emotionally charged dramas, he also advocated a moderation of these violent stories. “We should remember that the drama that Aristotle recommended as beneficial was not available twenty-four hours a day, as it is on a TV set; Greek dramas were originally performed once a yearÐ’….” (Rosenstand, pg. 55) If Aristotle were around today, he probably would advise about the effects of being overly exposed to the elements of moral decay in the visual entertainment and suggest a need for censorship as well. Viewing a documentary on the Civil War in a student’s classroom is one thing, since those are factual events that took place in our society’s history, but allowing a child to play the video game Mortal Combat on a daily basis is unnecessary and does not provide an educational experience or an emotional outlet when constantly employed as a means of “entertainment”.
Plato felt that censorship was necessary, especially for children’s materials, because he didn’t trust people to distinguish between right and wrong on their own. In order to avoid a complete and rigid censorship put on by our society’s government, parents should on their own monitor what their children are exposed to. I believe that the parent should decide what amount of violence, if any, they want their child to be exposed to and regulate that amount strictly until that child has reached an age in which he or she can determine between fantasy/reality, good/bad. Parents should also explain that the “reality” that is depicted in films, television programs and video games are not necessarily how real life is conducted.
Parents with young children may want to compare it to a fairy tale, such as Hansel and Gretel, to illustrate a moralistic point. I feel that in order to reduce the chances of violent behavior later on in a person’s life, they need to be taught, as a child that the way they see disagreements and issues being handled in violent entertainment is not the appropriate manner of solving them. This way the child will grow to understand and refrain from acting out the emotions represented in their favorite action movie or video game. In summary, I feel that after reflecting on Plato and Aristotle’s views on the problem of over stimulation of the emotions by drama, I found that I have been influenced by both of their opinions. Both philosophers made valid points, which should be recognized by today’s society.