12 November 2013, 12:29

Level of gun violence in US movies doubled since 1950 - study

Level of gun violence in US movies doubled since 1950 - study

The level of gun violence in the top-selling Hollywood films of 2012 has been rising, and it now exceeds that in the most popular R-rated films for adults, a study published in the December issue of Pediatrics found on Monday.

According to the study funded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, gun violence in American films rated PG-13 has more than doubled since 1950. This is a rating by the Motion Picture Association of America indicating that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The study looked at a sample of the top 30 films since 1950. It found that gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985, when the PG-13 rating took effect, and it now surpasses the violence in R-rated films, which cannot be watched by young viewers unless they are accompanied by an adult.

Violent encounters with guns occur, on average, more than twice an hour in the best sellers, according to researchers Brad J. Bushman of Ohio State University, Patrick E. Jamieson, Ilana Weitz and Daniel Romer of the Annenberg center.

They examined 945 movies, counting the appearances of overall violence in each five-minute segment, NYT reports.The seven top-grossing films in 2012 were all rated PG-13, and five of them were action movies featuring violence, including James Bond film "Skyfall" and superhero franchises "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man." The study included animated films, and it made no distinction between acts of aggression and self-defense.

The study, however, did not explain why PG-13 rated films were showing more scenes of gun violence.

Dan Romer, one of the authors of the study and director of the Annenberg Center's Adolescent Communication Institute, said. “Violence sells.We recognize that, and the movie industry realizes it.” So he believes movie studios were “taking films that have a lot of violence and putting them into the PG-13 category.”

The authors called for changes to the ratings system, which, according to some of its critics, is tougher on sex than on violence.

"It's disturbing that PG-13 movies are filled with so much gun violence," Dan Romer said in a statement. "We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make guns use appear exciting and attractive. We treat sex as R, we should treat extreme gun violence as R," he added.

"We just think that violence, especially the kind being shown with guns, should be thought of a little more critically," Mr. Romer said.

A spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America, which oversees the domestic film ratings system in partnership with theater owners, declined to discuss the study.

The debate about violence in films and entertainment reignited in 2012 following a spate of shooting rampages - including one at a Denver-area movie theater during a showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." But not all researchers share gun-related violence concerns. Chris Ferguson, who studies media violence and is the chairman of the psychology department at Stetson University in Florida, says it is not that critical. "The real question for me is, 'So what?'" Ferguson said.

He said the recent report offers no data that connects an increase in movie violence to an increase in real-world violence. Furthermore, while violence in movies has been growing, youth and gun violence in the United States has been declining. He believes the study distracts people from more probable causes of gun violence like poverty, educational disparities and mental health.

According to Ferguson, increasing movie violence reflects how community standards change over time — which isn't necessarily a bad thing. While movies of the 1950s were very tame, those of the 1920s were much more violent.

"We're certainly on a liberalizing trend," said Ferguson. "But I'm not sure people really want to go back to the 1950s with Lucy and Desi sleeping in separate beds."

PG-13 movies took in $5.7 billion at the box office in 2012, according to Box Office Mojo — more than 50 percent of total box office revenue while accounting for only 18 percent of titles.

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