Historicizing the media eﬀects debate
MetadataShow full item record
Cronin, T. (2014) Historicizing the media effects debate. In: Conboy, M. & Steel, J. (eds.) The Routledge companion to British media history. London: Routledge, pp. 85-99.
Looking back over the last two centuries it would seem that debates over media eﬀects are inextricable from the rise of mass media. As far back as the 1850s lurid popular ﬁctions, sensationalized newspaper coverage and blood-soaked, spectacular and thrilling entertainments had all found purchase within a growing urban culture. Social commentators of the era saw these ever more sensational popular entertainments as a clear symptom of social and moral decline and argued that such depictions were likely to incite further instances of immorality and crime (Murdock, 2001). However, it was the arrival of cinema that prompted the development of media eﬀects research as we know it today. So while in the early days of cinema public fears circulated around the potential for the darkness of the movie theatre itself to lead to crime and immoral behavior (Currie, 1907; Fosdick, 1911; Kuhn, 1988; Butsch, 2002), and the very real danger presented by the highly inﬂammable ﬁlm stock (Kuhn, 1988; Czitrom, 1992; Merritt, 1976; Vorspan, 2000), these soon gave way to a perception that the ﬁlms themselves might be “injurious to public morality … to encourage or incite to crime, or … lead to disorder” (Kuhn, 1988: 20). Indeed many writers at the time claimed that moviegoers were likely to imitate the crimes they witnessed on screen (Butsch, 2002). For example, Hugo Münsterberg, a professor at Harvard, argued that the intensity with which the plays take hold of the audience cannot remain without social eﬀects … it is evident that such a penetrating inﬂuence must be fraught with dangers. The more vividly the impressions force themselves on the mind the more easily they must become starting points for imitation and other motor responses.