Toni Burke (21) has been convicted for the murder of Michelle Stokes (18) and her trial has again highlighted the alleged link between watching violent films and listening to violent music and committing violent crime. During the week long hearing at Nottingham Crown court jurors were shown evidence revealing her fascination with at least two violent films.
Burke had written in her diary that she was “absolutely obsessed” with the film Resident Evil, which is about killing zombies. This compared to extracts in the same diary that she had written about the murder itself. She wrote she had heard: “The screaming, the sound of her skull being ripped apart. The thud when the crowbar went through the bone, the bubbling sound of the blood rushing out and the sound of her choking on her own blood.”
Burke also liked the Brad Pitt movie Fight Club and she wrote in her diary that the film “describes what life is actually like for the rest of us”. Burke was also a fan of the shock rock band Slipknot and wrote that she agreed with the lyrics of the band’s song “People Equal S**t”.
But academic research remains inconclusive about the effects of exposure to such hard hitting material. Dr Rhona Jackson, Programme Leader at the University of Derby’s media studies unit said that American and British opinion differed.
“In America there is a belief that people are definitely influenced by violent films and that the effect is always negative. But in this country research has always been inconclusive. It has never been proved that it has actually happened.”
Dr Jackson said there was a considerable body of work that suggested those people who murder having watched violent films would probably have committed the crime anyway.
“There are a lot of other factors to be taken into account, such as the person’s social and domestic context,” she said.
Even without a definitive academic view however, many people have been willing to believe there is a link. Film director Oliver Stone was sued after claims that his 1994 movie Natural Born Killers – about a young couple’s violent crime spree – prompted two other people to embark on a copycat killing. The case was dismissed by an American appeals court in 2002.
Dr Jackson said that she was unaware of any other cases that linked Fight Club and Resident Evil to acts of real violence. But she knew many people had seized on comments by a judge that the killers of Jamie Bulger had watched Child’s Play 3 (see the video below). She said, “There was absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson had seen the film. But the trial judge said he thought that it was likely they had which contributed to the popular belief.”
Columbine – was Marilyn Manson to blame?
On April 20, 1999, two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, massacred 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. A further 24 people were injured in the attacks. In addition to shootings, the complex and highly planned attack involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks converted to bombs placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and bombs rigged in cars.
Among other things the two boys happened to be Marilyn Manson fans and it was not too long before the Christian Right and other concerned groups began to blame Marilyn Manson for the culture of hate that led to the attacks.
In his 2002 film Bowling for Columbine filmmaker Michael Moore interviewed Marilyn Manson to see what he thought about the massacre.
Read the article and watch all three short videos before answering the questions below. This is a conversation lesson and its main purpose is for you speak about the issues that it presents you with. It is therefore important that you understand everything at least generally and you use it to help you form your own opinions.
As you read and watch make notes and spend a few minutes clarifying exactly what you think before entering the discussion as directed by your tutor.
1. What factors usually lead people commit violent crimes?
2. In addition to the suggestion that violent crimes may be caused by violent music and film are there any other forms of media that may lead to acts of real violence?
3. What kinds of people could be influenced by such media?
4. Assuming Jon Venables and Robert Thompson had seen Child’s Play 3 was it the film’s fault that Jamie Bulger was murdered? Explain your answer.
5. How far would you agree with Marilyn Manson’s point of view? Explain your answer.
6. Based on the clip how would you describe Slipknot’s live show?
7. If there is a direct link between violence in the media and acts of real violence under what circumstances can it occur?
8. Based on the information you have been given what was the real reason that Toni Burke killed Michelle Stokes and was it connected to Slipknot, Fight Club or Resident Evil?
9. How do you feel about each of the crime discussed in this lesson – particularly Jamie Bulger’s?
Finally revisit your answer to Question 1. In each of the cases discussed was some element of violence in the media (music / film or TV) to blame?
* You need to prepare these questions for conversation during your next online / face-to-face session with your tutor.
© Bowling for Columbine (2002) & Lincolnshire Echo (2004)
© This lesson was edited and produced by Omega Support Services (2014)