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Response to PUNISHER #1 Review

Perhaps not surprisingly, not a single PUNISHER defender has tried to debate the following argument from my original essay. I assume that's because it's so hot no one can touch it, much less contradict it. If you want to be the first to try, please feel free:

To Ennis and those who want to ignore the weight of psychological studies, I can only say, "Get a clue." Do you deny that people are influenced by parents, peers, school, and church? Do you seriously claim people don't absorb and regurgitate what they see and hear in songs, in videos, and on TV? Not to mention in every known form of advertising from Calvin Klein billboards to Pokémon cartoons? How is it possible that violence, alone among external influences, has no effect on people?

Friend Alex bravely entered the lion's den, with the folowing results:


>> Japanese (and Asian) popular culture is MUCH more violent and sexual than here in America, and yet they have some of the lowest crime rates in the civilized world. Why is this? <<

I'd guess it's because the Japanese have strong cultural prohibitions against acting upon their violent and sexual impulses. America doesn't have those strong cultural prohibitions. IOW, Japanese are taught to resist violent and sexual media influences. Americans aren't. That makes the media a problem in the US but not in Japan.

When I talk about increasing sensitivity, that's another way of saying strengthening cultural prohibitions. If people become more sensitive to the consequences of their actions, they'll feel more obligated to obey cultural norms. That, again, is what I'm calling for.

>> I suspect that it's because the seeds of violence aren't rooted in popular culture, but in the values we are brought up with (or not brought up with, as the case may be). <<

Who determines those values? Where do they come from? Why don't we and, say, the British have the same values? We were the same people 225 years ago, so why the dramatic difference in violence levels?

And I have to point out that you didn't answer the question. Answering a question with a question, as you did above, doesn't cut it. My question remains unanswered:

How is it possible that violence, alone among external influences, has no effect on people?

Violence is human nature
>> Eliminating all traces of violence from popular culture would not serve to eliminate violence from human nature, any more than making alcohol illegal would stop people from drinking. <<

You mean the way jawboning against smoking, drug use, and drunk driving has decreased these activities? Oops, these all support my position, not yours.

Reducing media violence would serve to reduce real violence, which is the goal. The media is one of many influences that create our cultural values. If your argument is that all humans are violent, you explain to me why Japan's crime rates are so much lower than ours.

I've already addressed this point, of course—in Is Violence Endemic to Humans? There I said:

>> Violence is endemic to HUMANS, not just western civilization. <<

But some societies tolerate it more than others. Some societies permit guns, hockey fights, boxing matches, violent movies, televised car chases, exploitative talk shows, political mud-slinging, demagogic evangelists, street demonstrations, strike-busting, dehumanizing jobs, ruthless layoffs, spousal and child abuse, date rape (until very recently), a "war" on drugs, police brutality, three-strikes laws, capital punishment, and so forth and so on. Others don't. Those that don't tend to have less violence.

>> "Things like nudity and sexual innuendo are not necessarily `for adults only' and even graphic violence, especially when it figures prominently in the narrative of a comic book as opposed to being gratuitous, is also relatively accepted." <<

I understand about Japanese media. I also understand Japanese crime rates are increasing. At the same time, the Japanese are seeing more of America's media products and adopting more of America's cultural values. Coincidence?

Again, explain to me why Japan's crime rates are increasing if the media or something isn't influencing Japanese culture.

>> Itto Ogami kills people for money! Furthermore, he is known to use his infant son as bait in many of his slayings (not that the tyke can't handle himself). <<

Samurais value honor but not human lives. Today's Japanese value honor but aren't known for championing individual rights. Could there possibly be a connection?

Why has crime dropped?
>> National Crime Statistics show that violent crime in the U.S. has dropped steadily over the last 20 years (in fact, in my city alone, Cincinnati, violent crime has dropped a staggering 44% in the last ten years). Why is this? <<

Could it be because people like me, Grossman, and Bill Clinton have complained about media violence, leading producers to tone it down in the '90s compared to the '70s and '80s?

Again, let's go to the postings:

A Latin View of American-Style Violence

Those interviewed saw distinct cultures of violence in the United States and Latin America. They saw a disturbing hyper-individualism at the root of the U.S. phenomenon, a cultural force that seems capable of generating destructive rage even at a time when crime rates and socioeconomic deprivation are shrinking. The Evidence Against Media Violence

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."

As for the numbers, the report found that youth homicide, robbery and arrest rates in 1999 were actually lower than they were in 1983, largely because of a decrease in the use of firearms by young people since the peak years of the mid-1990s.

But arrest rates for aggravated assaults remain nearly 70% higher than in 1983, and "self-report" studies, which elicit confidential reports by youths themselves, indicate that the rates of violent offenses have not declined in the last few years.

Mythical rise in crime?
>> Popular opinion would suggest the opposite, and moreover we are led to believe that 'violent programming' has created this mythical rise of crime. <<

It isn't mythical if you consider the last several decades. The decline in the last decade is a blip compared to that. Moreover, the crime rates have increased in the last year or so. And serial shootings are way, way up.

Bushman and Anderson describe the long-term rise in crime in Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation (American Psychologist, June/July 2001):

Scholars have been investigating media violence as a potential contributor to societal violence in the United States since the early 1960s. One possible reason for the early interest in a link between media violence and societal violence is that violence in the United States began to increase fairly dramatically in 1965, exactly when the first generation of children raised on TV began to reach the prime ages for committing violent crimes. Indeed, studies of violent crime rates before and after the introduction of television have shown similar effects in several countries (e.g., Centerwall, 1989, 1992).

>> Cartoons and other forms of popular media for children has been steadily made more 'family friendly' by eliminating all traces of violence (seen Bugs Bunny lately? Me neither <<

Network TV still shows the classic Looney Tunes. But—as you should know—no one's talking seriously about Bugs Bunny, Schindler's List, or the nightly news as the inspiration for violence. What they're talking about is media violence that portrays harm done gratuitously and without consequences in a realistic and copyable way. That includes everything from pro wrestling to video game shootouts to Punisher comics.

>> The violent crime rate declined 7% continuing the downward trend seen since 1994. <<

Then I'd echo President Bush Sr. and say, "Stay the course." When the rate declines to Japan's level, be sure to let me know. Maybe then we can declare the problem over.

Meanwhile, the key question is why the violent crime rates rose until 1994—at the same time violence in the media rose. I await your answer.

I'm waiting for your explanation of why the US is much more violent than other countries. Please make it good.

>> If Ennis were somehow making what the Punisher does seem 'reasonable' or desireable, I would say that it would verge on glorification. But I don't think that it does. <<

Why, because people are copying Castle? If he doesn't experience negative consequences, the story is glorifying him. Period.

>> I personally have found Ennis' version of the Punisher lacking, simply because his motivations have been completely unfettered by the complications of his former incarnations, which is what always made the character great. <<

I linked to a review that critiqued Ennis's storytelling, which complemented my critique of Ennis's message. This review said Ennis's version is lacking and I agree with it. So do you agree with us?

>> I think we both agree that the Punisher sucks, but for entirely different reasons. <<

Yes. I told you it wasn't worth reading. <g>

But the only thing you originally said was lacking was more violence. Is that still your position? Because I agree that Ennis's PUNISHER lacks both a moral basis and consistency with previous versions of the character.

>> I really don't see how you can defend Ennis' use of violence in 'Preacher' and condemn it in 'The Punisher'. <<

PREACHER generally shows the consequences of violence. I addressed the issue of consequences in my posting Violence, Greek Drama, and American Trash. In short, all violence isn't the same.

>> Jessie Custer forced Sherriff Root to tear of his penis and ram it up his own ass, mainly because Root was trying to do his job (namely, uphold the law). <<

Doing his job? Looks to me like Root was a rogue cop who was violating people's civil rights (i.e., threatening to blow them away).

>> No matter how much of a prick (pun intended) Sherriff Root was to his son, he didn't deserve to die of self castration. How is that better than Frank Castle shooting a bunch of mafia goons? <<

Any one of these differences is enough to distinguish it from a typical Ennis-Punisher killing. Combined, the moral effect is completely different.

Castle never tortures victims?
>> Castle never tortures his victims, unlike Custer, who seems to get a sort of odd satisfaction out of it (like the guy Custer left on the beach to count every grain of sand. <<

In PUNISHER #1, Castle lets a criminal burn. In #2, he shoots someone 30 times. How are those not examples of torture? This isn't just serial killing, it's reveling in serial killing.

Making a guy count grains of sand may be nasty again, but it's not deadly or even violent. In fact, you could argue it was a just punishment in that situation. The Punisher's punishments aren't close to being just.

>> Garth Ennis, having grown up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is no doubt much more familiar with the effects of violence than I suspect you are. <<

Based on what...the crime rates of Northern Ireland vs. the US?

In the book Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Ennis said he wasn't exposed to any violence in his childhood. His uses of violence in TROUBLED SOULS was "pure opportunism," he added. Oops. So much for that theory.

>> Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm assuming that you come from the United States <<

Yes, I do. From Palos Verdes, California, to be specific.

>> If that's the case, I don't care WHERE you grew up, but I'd say it wasn't as bad as Belfast. <<

Depends how you measure "badness," I'd say. But I'm guessing my particular suburb wasn't as bad as Belfast. So what? I'm speaking for the entire US, from urban inner cities to Indian reservations, not for myself.

More important, living through violence doesn't necessarily make you sensitive to it. If you're a callous individual, it may only make you more insensitive to it.

>> He sure doesn't seem to have any issues with media violence, and I wonder why not? <<

Your father? You want me to speculate on someone I don't know? Okay, let me repeat what the mountains of studies have shown: that media violence increases people's aggression, not just violence. Is your father completely non-aggressive in his everyday life? Because many men of his era are plenty aggressive.

The Irish know "true" violence
>> These are people who have seen the effects of 'true' violence first hand, and not through the lens of the news media or popular culture, and certainly not from the padded shores of America. <<

Ennis hasn't experienced violence firsthand, as he himself said. As for secondhand violence, my city has murders and other violent crimes. My girlfriend was raped, to give one example. An anonymous caller has threatened to kill me, and the Rodney King riots were just a few miles from my home. So I know as much about violence as Ennis does—more, perhaps, since I've studied it.

How valuable is firsthand experience, anyway? The citizens of Nazi Germany saw the effects of violence firsthand. How many opposed it and tried to save the Jews? How many joined in and perpetuated the violence against Jews?

As this argument shows, your point is lacking. Moreover, Hitler's regime was infamous for its propaganda against Jews. Is that yet another example of the media's influence? I guess not, since you deny the media have any influence.

So what caused the German population to turn against the Jews? If it wasn't the media, then what was it? Were all Germans born rotten? Or did Hitler corrupt them somehow without using the media? A secret hate potion in the water, perhaps?

While you're answering the other questions I've posed, be sure to answer that.


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