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The Evidence Against Media Violence

Another response to The Evidence Against Media Violence:

>> "Surgeon General to Rob Schmidt: You are wrong!" <<


I think you meant to title this message:

"Surgeon General to Rob Schmidt: We agree completely!" Because that would be more accurate. Agreement is only to be expected, since his and my positions are based on the evidence, not on fantasies or denial.

>> Don't know if you are following this (though I suspect that you are), the Surgeon General's report on the effects of media violence on youth came out, and guess what? <<

I'm following it. I'm posting all the media violence news I find on my site at The Evidence Against Media Violence. Whether the news is really good or just mildly good.

>> Quoted from the report:

"...findings to date suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence." <<

From the LA Times:

The United States "is well past the 'nothing works' era with respect to reducing and preventing youth violence," the report concludes. "Less than 10 years ago, many observers projected an inexorably rising tide of violence. The recent marked reductions . . . appear to belie those dire predictions."

Nevertheless, "violent behavior remains alarmingly high" and "Americans cannot afford to become complacent," said Surgeon General David Satcher. "This is no time to let down our guard on youth violence."

More important:

No researchers argue that media violence is responsible for all society's violence. Nor do they say that exposure to violent films or music will turn children en masse into Columbine-style killers.

Instead, the contention is that exposure to media violence could push especially high-risk children over the edge.

The studies point to a spectrum of effects. Nightmares. Fear. A warped perception of the world as more dangerous than it truly is. Lack of empathy. Greater apathy about violence in society. And brains more primed to be hostile, aggressive, even violent, raising the risk that a hostile encounter will escalate.

"Especially high-risk children"...like Charles Andrew Williams, the latest in a long, long line of angry teenage killers? Guess what his media influences were? From the LA Times, 3/8/01:

He grew obsessed with Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana singer who killed himself in 1994, as well as the punk group Linkin Park. Over and over, he played the song "In the End," which features the lyrics, "I had to fall; To lose it all; But in the end; It doesn't even matter."

Williams also wanted to start a heavy metal band called Army of the Wicked. 'Nuff said? (His local newspaper reported he was addicted to Nintendo, if that helps any.)

>> "Indeed, the report says, media violence apparently plays no role at all in late-onset violence (children whose record of violent crime begins in adolescence) and only a minor role in early-onset cases (children who start engaging in violent behavior toward others before the age of 11). Even in those cases, exposure to media violence is only rated the tenth most significant risk factor by the report, behind poor parenting and parents who are themselves violent, and far behind poverty, substance use and natural aggressive tendencies in determining which children eventually commit crimes. <<

Several responses come immediately to mind:

1) I've spoken out against poverty, hunger, poor schools, lack of health care, and other social ills more than any pseudo-libertarian I've met. Not being a self-centered conservative like some, I'm well aware of America's and the world's major problems. As I've said many times, the solution is to admit them, address them, and ameliorate them.

Solving the world's fundamental problems is fundamental to the Democratic Party philosophy. It's barely on the radar screen for most conservatives and libertarians, who prefer smaller government and bigger profits to life, liberty, and happiness for all. If you have any doubts, ask "President" Bush what his priority is. Hmm, attacking poverty or...cutting taxes for the wealthy so they can buy more yachts and vacation homes?

Any questions?

If these conservative/libertarian types recognize our problems in passing, their "solution" is usually to let capitalists be capitalists. By letting the rich grow richer, their vague hope is that in a few decades or centuries, some of this wealth will trickle down to the poor, huddled masses. Meanwhile, they continue to rape the world of its clean air, its oil, its forests, its fresh water, its fish, and on and on.

Since I recognize the problems we face, I'm part of the solution. The people who don't care about these problems are part of the problem. Which group do you fall into?

2) Your characterization of the Surgeon General's findings refers to late-onset and early-onset violence. It doesn't say anything about the much broader problem of aggression. Most media researchers are clear in linking media violence to aggression, not to outright violence. Since it's unethical to do studies that let subjects commit harm, there's not much chance of linking media violence directly to real violence.

Nor is it necessary. If aggression increases violence and media violence increases aggressiveness, the indirect link between media violence and violence is established. Aggression causes many societal problems, among which are the occasional shooting.

3) Read what I quoted above: "The studies point to a spectrum of effects"..."brains more primed to be hostile, aggressive, even violent." Do all the studies measure all these effects? Do they even try? Do they measure other effects, such as selfishness, greed, ignorance, narrowmindedness, or intolerance? Because I've argued that the media contributes to all these negative effects.

Let's return to the fount of all wisdom, my essay on Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective. As I wrote, "By providing another perspective, multicultural products challenge our predominant myths." "Predominant myths" means all our major myths, not just our love of violence. It means our individualism, our selfishness, our pride, arrogance, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, and so forth and so on.

4) I'm not sure what the report means by "natural aggressive tendencies." Any aggressive tendency derives from both biology ("nature") and environment ("nurture"). Scientists generally say it's impossible to disentangle these two sources. The media is one huge source of environmental and cultural conditioning. So these "natural" aggressive tendencies stem partly from the media, just as the unnatural self-image problems in females do.

In short, my critique of media violence is only part of my overall critique of our cultural values. If you think I think media violence is our worst problem, or I blame everything on it, you haven't been paying attention. Go to America's Cultural Mindset and read a broad critique, instead of focusing on my PUNISHER review, a narrow critique. Then you'll see what I believe.


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