into the minds and lives of young people through the mass media. The term "Mass media" refers here to the Internet, radio,
television, commercial motion pictures, videos, CDs, and the press
(newspapers, journals, and magazines) - what are referred to collectively as
broadcast and print media. Their impact on the minds of our youth has been
hotly debated. I believe media portrayals
which glorify gang behavior do little to help reduce our youth's interest
You may recall our discussion of the role economic deprivation plays in
the formation of gangs. The point of that discussion was that, being
economically deprived, some youth will venture into illegal ways of earn an
income. Movies and videos which show gang members enjoying
the fruits of their illegal activities (i.e., drugs, sex, a nice apartment
or house, money, cars, power, guns) suggest, in some children's minds, ways
to reach the goal to which most American's aspire - financial
success and all it entails. The ways in which that income is earned
often entails the use of violence.
Before the age of eighteen, the average American teen
will have witnessed eighteen thousand simulated murders on TV. While
staggering in number, more disturbing is the effect this steady diet of
imaginary violence may have on America's youth.
Over the past forty years, more than three thousand
studies have investigated the connection between television violence and
real violence ... Though none conclude a direct
cause and effect relationship, it becomes clear that watching television
is one of a number of important factors affecting aggressive behavior. (Fanning,
By watching mass media portrayals of gang member behavior, some children learn
of illegitimate ways to acquire goods and services. They learn how to lay in wait
to "hit" (execute) someone. They learn what a drive-by-shooting
looks like - how it's done and how to possibly get away without getting caught. If they watched American History X, they learned how to
If you didn't see American History X, here's what it shows - in full color and in
all its gory detail. A Skinhead (a Caucasian gang known for its
ideologically-based hatred of African-Americans and other minorities) is shown forcing an African-American youth
to lay face-down in the street perpendicular to the curb. The youth's mouth
is then forced open and pushed down until the curb is in his mouth. The
skinhead then stomped on back of the young man's neck, fracturing his jaw,
shattering his teeth, and breaking his neck. (Read
an opposing point of view.)
I mentioned earlier that the impact of the media on the minds of our youth is
hotly debated. The debate goes like this ...
There are those who believe only children who are predisposed to violence will be
stimulated by it when shown in the media. Some believe otherwise
non-violent children learn to be violent by watching violence, particularly
when it is observed without the supervision of someone who explains that
certain kinds of violence are inappropriate and wrong. Finally, there are
those who believe violence in the media releases one's feelings of anger and
violence by providing catharsis (in this case, a purging of one's own anger).
Which is right? I think they all are. I believe there are children who
are raised in violence and who, when they observe violence or other gang
activity in the media , view the media portrayal as confirmation of what
they already know. If you have a problem just put your fist in it and it
will go away.
I also believe there are unsupervised children who, fed a constant diet
of television and rap music violence, begin to emulate it, particularly if
there are others who are doing the same thing. Every child wants to be
accepted. If I am rejected by the "good kids," perhaps the
"bad kids" will want me if I act and think like they do. And there
are those who feel frustration and anger who, after a media portrayal of
violence, feel purged of such feelings.
When I read about the relationship between violence in the media and
violence among our youth I extrapolate the findings and think of them in
regard to gangs. When it comes to the portrayal of gangs and gang members, the
mass media sometimes go into great detail. They portray the language, dress, body movements, and look of a gang
member - male and female. They show, in explicit detail, the crimes
gang members commit - how drugs are sold, how to " shoot up"
(inject drugs intravenously), how to free base,
how to rape someone, how to stab or shoot someone, how to settle disputes
using violence. The list is very long. The problem is that it is the wrong
list in terms of socializing our youth into acceptable, legal behaviors.
The impact of media portrayals of gangs and the activities of their
members help us understand why gangs form, but sometimes gangs form by
following in the footsteps of others.