Cinematic Violence and Society — Bollywood in Pakistan. my research article printed in the Research Journal of the London Conference on Film and Media Studies, 2012

This study aims at examining the possible relationship between increasing violence in Pakistani society and its excessive portrayal in popular Indian movies, ardently watched in Pakistan during the four decades (i.e. 1970s, 80s, 90s & 2000s). Firstly, five top grossing films selected through popularity charts and youth polls were analyzed from each of the four decades under study (following sampling techniques of Shipley & Cavendar, 2001). 1 Then Violence Index (as per adapted George Gerbner’s Formula, 1976) 2 was calculated to identify and compare the trends in the defined time period. Subsequently, four samples of one month issues of the largest circulated Daily Jang __ from each decade (1976-2006) __ were carefully content analyzed for crime news as an authentic daily record of social crime scene.

Results show that violence has increased both in Pakistani society and Indian movies during the forty years sampled but the increase is curvilinear rather than linear in nature. The very fact reflects that the impact of media messages on society is rather slow, gradual and subtle unlike the hypodermic needle or magic bullet theories of yesteryears. Besides there is a broad observation that strikingly popular Indian movies (which actually fill the cinematic vacuum in absence of sufficient quality local films) play a major role in transmitting patterns of conduct and defining role models in Pakistani society. Above all the desensitization effect of excessive violence in movies on mass audience is also identified widely.

Crimes and Violence is one of the major themes that have dominated the silver screen world over since its advent in the late nineteenth century, and thus raise researchers concerns about its damaging effects on vulnerable sections of society. In about three thousand studies conducted over the last four decades (1976-2006), researchers have identified that incessant and excessive exposure to onscreen violence often leads to antisocial and aggressive behaviors when complemented with hostile surrounding at home and in society.

Violence implies extreme form of verbal or physical aggression that has a significant risk of injuring their victims.
Crime, on the other hand, refers to breach of law. It is thus any act that breaks a criminal law.
Criminal acts are broadly divided into violent offenses (against persons) and nonviolent offenses (against property).

According to Social Change Theories (2011), “Change in external factors does not automatically produce social change. Rather when people redefine situations regarding those factors and thus act upon revised meanings, i.e. alter social behavior, and then there is social change.”

Stossel (1997, pp.1-14) added that change in attitude and behavior expresses only occasionally and is seemingly quite erratic so seems to be true in our results that correlate rate of crimes in movies and reported news.3
Besides as Jarvie (1970) pointed out in his study that film often depicts popular reality and project popular view of the issues and its implications than the reality itself which might contribute to the social reality but in an extremely slow and subtle manner.4

The current study heavily relies on Culture and Learning Theories assuming that onscreen violence might incite certain vulnerable segments of society to react violently especially when they come across similar situations as portrayed in fictional world of films. As Bandura (1986) indicated that most of us especially children learn and adopt behavior following striking role models both in real world and media.5

Moreover this study also investigates Inhibitory and Disinhibitory Effects of learning theories in the justification of criminal violence both on and off screen, hypothesizing that people learn and adopt deviant and even criminal behaviors as a ready reaction and quick solution to social injustice when they observe reward and positive reinforcement for deviant actions in media. Even when majority of viewers might not turn criminal in reaction to exposure to violent films, they might get converted into either desensitized or fearful human beings since they possibly take onscreen depiction of violence as a representative reality of its age.

The objective of this study is to evaluate if there is any correlation between the fictional world of violent crimes in highly popular Indian films and factual world of criminal violence in Pakistani society.

Motion pictures are declared the most lethal weapon of propaganda that can influence culture, perspectives and attitude of its viewers in a subtle but certain manner. Indian movies have wide appeal and addiction in Pakistan. Bollywood celebrities are equally worshiped by Pakistani fans and Hindustani rituals and fashion fads are readily adopted by local public as their own. In this scenario, one cannot overlook the possible detrimental effects of these violence ridden movies and TV Programs on the sense, sensibilities and behavior of Pakistani viewers especially in the context of the numerous studies conducted by various researchers such as Blumer (2000), Hauser (2001), Surgeon General’s Reports (1972, 1982, 2001), George Gerbner, (1976), {Singer and Singer (1981), Bryant Carveth and Brown (1981), Atkini (1983), as cited by Zuberi ,(1992), Huesmann, Lagerspetz and Eron (1986), Gosselin and Deguis (1997), Thersea Webb (2009), Vivian, Allyn and Bacon (2009) to name a few. These studies, adopting diverse research methods including content analysis, field surveys and lab experiments, have unanimously condemned films and TV for spreading aggression, propagating ‘mean world syndrome’ and above all desensitizing heavy viewers to real life crimes and violence.

1. Is there any correlation between the rate of violence in Indian movies and rate of crimes in Pakistani society as gauged through news coverage across the four decades (from 1970s to 2000s) in this study?
2. Is the Social Crime Scene has any relevance with the depiction of violence in films?

Content Analysis is adopted as a primary method in this research study as Kelinger (Dominick, 2005, p. 141) 6 identified the fact that these types of studies require analysis of movies and reported news in a systematic and objective manner to quantify the two variables.

To gauge the changes in frequency and depiction of violence and crimes both on and off screen during last four decades, a year’s worth of movies and newspapers were sampled from 1976 to 2006__ the period under study. Following the sampling model of Shipley and Cavendar’s study (2001), top five blockbuster movies were arbitrarily selected to analyze one year’s worth of films in each decade over a period of four decades. These movies were sampled from and other authentic websites and examined for their portrayal and prevalence of violent themes and acts. Since the second part of the study deals with reported news to evaluate if violence and crime rate increases in Pakistani society over a period of time or not, one month’s newspaper for crime reports were analyzed as a reflection of social crime scene in a sampled year from each decade.

Eventually, findings of the two studies were compared statistically to evaluate if one can anticipate a link between the real and reel life crimes and violence across four decades or not.
Violent Crime that is our subject of concern in this study is taken seriously since they include offenses against people. It includes homicide (murder), aggravated assault, forcible rape, robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, auto-theft and arson which also come under the category of traditional or street crimes.

The present study adopts the definition of violence used in Fazal Rahim Khan’s study conducted on Violence in the Dramatized Entertainment of Pakistan Television.7 This definition further broadens the horizon and scope of our study and includes both:

Overt Expression of Physical Force
Dowd (2006) defined is as “the force (with/without a weapon) against self/others compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt/killed or actually hurting/ killing” as sampled in Cultural Indicator (CI) research as well.8

Verbal and Symbolic Violence
Verbal or Symbolic violence includes “verbal threats/abuse or gestures. This might be psychologically and physically injurious to a person such as yelling, shouting, showing off weapons to threaten, mostly used as a symbol of power” (Signorielli, Gross & Morgan,1982). 9 The inclusion of verbal and symbolic violence widens the scope of our study in comparison to CI and other such studies that were confined to acts of physical force only.

Violent Incident
According to the CBS definition, “one incident is not absolutely synonymous with an act rather it might include brief breaks in the violent action, as in a protracted chase scene, interrupted by pause for regrouping and reloading etc”

Overall this study fosters the results of around more than half of the British, American and local studies that contradict mass belief regarding the direct, necessary and sufficient detrimental effects of media violence on social crime scene.
On the contrary, it strengthens the rational revelation that media violence in nexus with several other personal, psychological and socio-economic factors in the environment might contribute to the formation of a volatile generation that often lead to a dangerous society as reinforced by other studies such as Berkowitz (193l), Geen and O’ Neal (1969), Frederick and Stein (1973), Josephson (1987), Bushman (1995), National TV Violence Study (1996-97) and Anderson and Dill(2000), Anderson and Bushman (2002) to name a few.

Eventually, it is vital to realize that even small statistical effects of media violence on aggressive behavior can have crucial social consequences due to the fact that it affects almost everyone across a large population, influence individuals psyche gradually and leaves lasting impressions on unconscious mind subtly through repetitive and continual exposure to onscreen violence over a period of time .Thus any single incident of violence in reel or real life can trigger the pent up emotions and results into extremely volatile reactions as evident in various recent incidents of brutality such as Sialkot lynching of Butt Brothers, Killings, stoning and burning of snatchers and burglars by mobs in Karachi, Lahore and other cities of Pakistan and violence during Lawyers’ Campaign in Pakistan to name a few.

Thus even a negligibly weak positive correlation of +0.20 between the incidences of violent crimes in movies and news reports found in the current study may be taken as an indication of serious social implications in the long run and inferences are to be drawn with caution in the wider perspective.

1. Is there any correlation between the rate of violence in Indian movies and rate of crimes in Pakistani society as gauged through news coverage across the four decades (from 1970s to 2000s) in this study?
Apparently the two factors do not show assumed direct and immediate link between the number of incidents in films and news reports during four decades for e.g. 1990s represents highest number of incidents in news reports i.e. 370 whereas it shows the lowest rate of violent scenes depicted in sampled films in the same period i.e. 62. Similarly, the decade of 2000s exhibits second highest number of violent incidents (i.e. 360) in reported news, with second lowest no of violence scenes on silver screen i.e.76. Subsequently, rest of the two decades of 1970s and 1980s reflect relatively lower figure of violent crimes as reported in Jang newspaper i.e. 76 and 275 compared to higher number of violent scenes calculated in the top five popular Indian films i.e. 80 and 94 respectively.

Percentage or Prevalence of Violence (%P)
Is the Social Crime Scene has any relevance with the depiction of violence in films?
Apparently the two media (Indian films and Pakistani newspapers) show somewhat peculiar and characteristic trends as far as prevalence of violence is concerned. While %P (percentage of hours containing violence in films) consistently decreases through four decades i.e. (from 29% in 70s to 25% in 80s and 16% in 90s) , it consistently increases in the real world of crimes news reports ( from 1% to 2% between 70s and 80s and 18% in 90s) with an exception of the last decade during which it decreased prominently from 18% to 3% in newspapers while raised markedly from 16% to 23 % in movies during the same period.

However, the findings indicate one possibility that the effects of media and film content are slow and gradual and it might take more than a decade to change the mindset of a generation as discovered by Psychology Professor, Leonard Eron’s longitudinal study (1960) by observing effects of violent TV on its subjects with eleven years gap in two stages from age 8 to age 30. 10

It was found that the heavy onscreen violence viewers were more likely to commit serious crimes, treat their families rather aggressively and punish their kids seriously than the non-viewers but the media violence took more than a decade to exhibit its effects in the conduct of its viewers. Lefkowitz’s follow up study ‘TV Violence and Child Aggression’ (1971) endorsed that exposure to intense TV violence and crimes led to aggressive behavior by the age of 18 especially in boys and so did the Centerwall’s research (1981) that noticed the dreadful TV influence on South African village within 12 years of its advent in the region.

Thus it seems that Indian movies affect rather than reflect the social reality especially that of the neighbouring country such as Pakistan, which we attempt to analyze through news and crime reports of a popular Urdu Daily Jang, spreading over 20 to 30 news pages (since number of newspapers’ pages are markedly increased in the last two decades). Moreover, a large number of real world crimes and violent acts remain unreported or simply sweep under the carpet, while the same acts and incidents are in focus and highlighted when projected on silver screen which are usually 2 to 3 hours long.


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