The portrayal of children in the media and its impact upon young people has been a hot debate in the mediated public sphere for as long as it has been occurring. Whether its a book, film, tv show or video game, any text in the media that portrays young people or is watched and enjoyed by youth can have a profound impact on their ‘looking-glass self’ (Cooley, 1902: pp 152), their behaviour and their understanding of what is ethically right and wrong.
To begin, there is the oh so infamous case of Ms Miley Cyrus. Teenage Disney star turned whatever you’d prefer to call her now, Miley may have lost a lot in the way of respect and dignity but there is no denying her all-time high level of influence on her youthful audience because of the music video for her most recent single, Wrecking Ball (2013). As comical as it may seem, the effects of this music video on young people is far spread and indisputable. One simply has to look at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University in Michigan, USA for proof, where the 40 year old sculpture of a wrecking ball created by artist Dale Eldred (1973) was removed in 2013 for safety purposes following over 200 incidents of university students parodying the music video by stripping naked and mounting the statue whilst being filmed by peers (McKay, 2013).
The second case study I’m going to look at is that of the Chucky horror series, and in particular Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking, which has been plagued by accusations of inciting violence in children and as the direct “inspiration” for two murders, that of Suzanne Capper in December 1992 and James Bulger in February 1993. In the Suzanne Capper case, the 16-year-old was held prisoner for a week, brutally tortured and then set on fire and left to die by teenager Bernadette McNeilly. Throughout this time McNeilly “assumed the character of Chucky” by mimicking certain violent scenes from the film and continuously repeating the phrase “I’m Chucky, wanna play?” whilst torturing Capper. After McNeilly admitted in court to having repetitively watched several films from the Chucky series as a young child, one lawyer from the prosecution stated in an interview, “if you asked me whether this material in these minds had some effect on what happened, I would have to say yes” (Foster, 1993).
Despite the fact that it is impossible to ethically prove the link between the media and its effects on young people, the evidence is all there. No, watching a film or music video is not going to make every kid re-enact the scenes in those texts. But it would be heedless to say that the chances of a young person committing these acts before watching these texts were not lower than they were after watching them. I’m not suggesting that children should be completely protected from these subjects, because most kids know about these subjects from quite young ages and turn out just fine (myself included). But I do believe that the media should take this issue seriously because children’s over-exposure to certain subjects can have very real consequences and not every young person who views this content is going to turn out ‘just fine’. Take this video as another example, do you think what these children are doing is ok?
(On a quick side note, these effects can also be hilarious!)
1. Cooley, C.H. (1902), Human Nature and the Social Order, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, pp 152
2. Cyrus, M (2013), ‘Wrecking Ball’, in Bangerz, RCA, New York City
3. Eldred, D (1973), Untitled, Spencer Gallery of Art, Michigan
4. McKay, H (2013), GVSU forced to remove campus wrecking ball sculpture due to Miley Cyrus parodies, Fox News, New York City
5. Foster, J (1993), Horror fiction became reality, The Independent, London
6. Torres, A (2012), I’m Sexy & I Know It: Kid Parody, Youtube.com
7. Kardnyal, S (2013), Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version), Youtube.com