The gruesome sight of the body of four-year-old Horace Millen at the beach at Dorchester Bay initially led those who had seen it to believe that it was the work of a grown man or an adult. Little did they know that such savagery was the handiwork of a boy barely out of childhood. He was sent to a reform school prior to the incident for beating up younger children and using an astounding degree of unnecessary physical force.When people began speculating about the kind of background this child might have that led him to commit such unspeakable acts of atrocity, one thing that came up was his penchant for dime novels.Sordid tales of killing and violence leapt from the pages of these dime novels, and many believe that these tales emboldened him to commit the crimes himself.From the first example of Jesse Pomeroy, recent history has had its share of child killers and child criminals. There is the Heath High School shooting where Michael Carneal, just fourteen years old, opened fire at a group of students praying and killed three female students while wounding five others. Two years later, in 1999, the Columbine massacre took place wherein two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed twelve students and a teacher, and wounded twenty four others, before turning the guns on themselves and committing suicide.Just this year, on April 16, 2007, in Blacksburg, Virginia, a Korean-American by the name of Cho Seung -Hui went on a killing spree that was to become the deadliest shooting rampage in America. After the smoke had cleared, the death count was 32 bodies.
Much speculation has taken place as to what might have caused children to behave in this manner. Of course, several factors came into play: mental illness, family background, a history of child abuse, teen-age social stratifications (particularly in the case of Columbine and Virginia Tech) and a host of other factors that contribute to maladjustment. However, ever since the case of Jesse Pomeroy, an accusing finger has been particularly directed towards the media. It has been said that the surfeit of violent images depicted in it that could have triggered psychological responses in the child-perpetrators.
Indeed, there is no dearth of cases and examples to prove that there is a causation between media violence and violent behavior. In an article entitled "The Impact of Mass Media Violence on US Homicides", Phillips (1983, p. 560) presented "what may be the first systematic evidence suggesting that some homicides are indeed triggered by a type of mass media violence." Just a year before, he came out with another paper, with the following findings:
Violent, fictional television stories trigger imitative deaths and near fatal accidents in the United States. In 19877, suicides, motor vehicle deaths and non-fatal accidents all rose immediately following soap opera suicide stories. The U.S. female suicides increased proportionally more than male suicides. Single-vehicle crashes increased more than multiple vehicle suicides.1
Several years after Phillips came out with his seminal studies, new researchers came out with evidence to support his conclusions. Cornstock2 found "a very solid relationship between viewing anti-social portrayals or violent episodes and behaving anti-socially." Even more compelling, Huesman and Erron3 published a 20-year follow up of 400 children and discovered that heavy exposure to television violence at eight years old was associated with violent crime and spouse or child abuse at age 30 and this is true for all socio-economic levels and for all levels of intelligence. More careful than her predecessors but presenting evidence equally noteworthy, Sheenan4 found that the question of the young being more vulnerable to the effect of media is a complex and difficult one to interpret precisely. The