Despite the common misconception, violence on television does not translate to real life violent crime. In fact, the opposite is true … violence on television breeds fear. Try this experiment out: Ask the next five people you encounter if the violent crime rate in the United States has increased or decreased in the last 20 years. The majority, if not all, will conclude that violent crime is up, but the reality is, violent crime has dramatically decreased since the 1990s.
The worst violent crimes, including murder, rape, assaults, and violent robberies decreased almost 50 percent from 1993 to 2012 (Uniform Crime Report, 2013). Why do most people assume that violent crime is increasing? According to Caroline Schulenburg, the amount of violence on television’s prime viewing times (8 p.m. -10 p.m.), increased dramatically from 1998 to 2006, including percentages of programs with violence and incidences of violence within programming containing violence. Each day Americans flip on the television, and according to a report issued by The Nielson Company, in 2009 Americans spent an average of 151 hours per month watching television or 4.87 hours per day, which is an all-time high.
The violent crime rate is declining, but gun sales are at record levels. The FBI reports the number of firearm background checks increased from roughly 9 million applicants in 1998 to roughly 20 million applicants in 2012. Twenty million Americans are not trying to buy guns to commit violent acts; they are trying to protect themselves from violence.
The perception of violence in the United States, by the average American, is based upon what is seen, but the majority of Americans have never experienced “real-life violence,” even though they still have a concrete concept of what violence is.
Where does this concrete concept come from if the majority has no experiences in violent crime? The concept comes from what people see and hear every day and if they are not experiencing violent crimes personally, then they are forming their ideas from what they see and hear on television (4.87 hours per day). News coverage on television is one violent disturbed story after another, mixed in with child abductions, rape, murder, and corruption. The amount of violence on the news would be enough to scare people by itself, not including the overwhelming amount of “entertainment” programming containing violence.
Violence on television and the influence it plays in American daily lives, will continue to be studied and analyzed for many years to come. The impact of violence on television has disturbing tendencies that play a significant role in American life. The amount of violence and sexual content on television programs is potentially dangerous to the mental health of the viewer. Studies have only scratched the surface of televisions’ impact on human perceptions of reality, but it is in the best interest of the American public and the global community to continue to question the impact of television in our lives.