Another response to my PUNISHER #1 review:
Rob, I read this in today's New York Times, thought you might be interested.
Raw Rap and Film May Stir a Fuss, but Hist'ry Shows 'Twas Ever Thus
By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 — The first English novels, by Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson in the 18th century, were filled with debauchery, and the London establishment was convinced that this new form of literature was debasing the country's youth.
In the 19th century cartoons and vivid drawings were in fashion in the popular press. Illustrations of Jack the Ripper's crimes were said by the high-minded in England to be contributing to crime. "Imagine," intoned Punch magazine in 1888, "the effect of gigantic pictures of violence and assassination by knife and pistol on the morbid imagination of an unbalanced mind."
In the United States at the turn of the 20th century the first motion pictures were offered in peep shows at penny arcades. The arbiter of moral values and culture at the time was Anthony Comstock, organizer of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Working with the postal authorities, he sent agents into arcades to arrest teenage boys looking at pictures of women in bloomers, pictures less risqué than those on billboards and in newspaper ads today. By the time he died in 1915, Comstock was responsible for the destruction of 160 tons of literature and pictures.
This pattern of adult dismay over youth culture is being repeated today in the debate here over violence in the movies, television, music and video games.
"Every generation believes that the one coming up behind it is being corrupted by popular culture," said Francis G. Couvares, a social historian who is dean of freshmen at Amherst College.
Todd Gitlin, a professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University and an authority on the 1960's, said that the phenomenon of adults' anxiety over their children's culture was deeply rooted in the human psyche, in the adults' denial that the culture of their own generation could become passé.
"Every culture passes sooner or later, but we don't want to believe that what we like is just provisional," Mr. Gitlin said. "This is in the human condition. I can't help but think it has always been so."
It was certainly true throughout the 20th century. Ragtime, vaudeville, jazz and burlesque. Movies about gangsters and fallen women. Dime novels and comic books. Elvis Presley and James Dean. Playboy and Penthouse. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
All of them caught on with young people and were deplored by their parents. And the politicians of the day often tried to restrain them in the name of preventing youth from going to hell in a handbasket.
The Federal Trade Commission, in a report last week, carefully avoided the content of culture and limited itself to examining the marketing of entertainment rated for adults. The commission found that a vast majority of films, recordings and electronic games, including movies whose R rating specifies that children under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, were advertised to appeal to children. One studio even convened focus groups of 10- and 12- year-olds to test an R-rated film, the commission reported.
At a Senate hearing on the topic the politicians denounced the content of the entertainment as well as the marketing.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, declared that the shootings last year at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., indicated that "the violence our children are being bombarded with by the media had become part of a toxic mix turning some of them into killers."
Lynne V. Cheney, whose husband, Dick, is the Republican candidate for vice president, said of the lyrics to one rap song: "It is despicable. It is horrible. This is dreadful. This is shameful. This is awful."
Senator Ernest F. Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, noted that this was the 21st hearing the Senate Commerce Committee had held since 1960 on violence and the media. Before 1960 other committees considered the matter. In today's light the topics of some of those examinations seem so tame as to be laughable.
At a memorable moment in a 1954 hearing on whether comic books contributed to juvenile delinquency, Senator Estes Kefauver held up the cover of one comic book and said to its publisher, who was the witness: "This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman's head up, which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?"
Yes, the publisher replied, explaining that it would be "in bad taste if, for example, the severed head was held higher, and blood was shown dripping from it."
The latest television commercial for American International Group, the giant financial conglomerate, makes light of the notion in the 1950's that Elvis Presley was a corrupting influence on young people, and underscores just how much the limits of culture have changed.
At one point in the commercial a heavy man with a Southern accent says, "This town will not put up with the vulgar body movements of Elvis Presley." Then a woman in 1950's garb with two small children at her side yells out in disgust: "I saw him gyrate his body and wiggle his hips! He should not be on television!"
The commercial ends with a shot of Presley onstage before a huge audience, and the voice-over proclaims the conglomerate's slogan: "The greatest risk is not taking one."
In modern America, political intervention at the national level never reached the point of censorship, but in some cases it had a considerable effect on the culture.
In the 1930's politicians put so much pressure on movie studios that they adopted industry codes that led to the demise of movies glorifying gangsters, like those with James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, and movies like those starring Jean Harlow in which the heroine was a so-called wanton woman.
By current standards the moral outrage arising from photos of women in bloomers and comic books and gangster movies is hard to understand. In an interview, Mrs. Cheney, a former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said that looking back at Elvis, "it all seems so innocent."
But she argued that matters were much worse today. She mentioned "Kill You," a rap song by Eminem. Although he spends long stretches on his album "Marshall Mathers LP" telling listeners not to like him, not to act like him and not to expect him to act like the person in his songs, "Kill You" contains images of the rapper raping and killing his mother.
"It's hard to imagine how it could be much worse," Mrs. Cheney said. "We've reached some sort of outer limit here that I don't think other cultures have had to deal with."
Historians and sociologists — all of whom of course are adults — tend to agree with Mrs. Cheney that the depiction of violence in today's popular culture is worse than what has come before, though they disagree on whether it leads to violence or the extent to which it might.
"I hate this stuff," said Mr. Gitlin of N.Y.U. "It's disgusting."
Erich S. Goode, a sociologist who teaches criminology at the University of Maryland and who has written widely on what he calls "moral panics" of earlier years, said: "There is a qualitative difference in the kinds of threats children face today, and I think culture is a big part of it. To parents today, the threat from the media seems to be something they can't stop. It's not like telling their kids not to take candy from a stranger."
David Nasaw, who teaches cultural history at the graduate center of the City University of New York, said, "The more freedom to consume children and adolescents have, the more difficult it is for parents to regulate what they see and what they hear."
The question that needs to be asked, said James B. Gilbert, a social historian at the University of Maryland, is the extent to which each generation's culture exceeds the prevailing standards of the day.
"The things you see today are unbelievably vulgar," he said. "But are they more of a shock compared with the standards of the day than, say, rock 'n' roll in the 50's was compared with the standards of that day? I'm not sure."
"People accept the idea that times now are worse," he added. "I think you have to be awfully cautious of that."
>> In the 19th century cartoons and vivid drawings were in fashion in the popular press. <<
My response to that would be: How many people of that era read the daily paper? How many could read, period? Today's children are saturated with maybe a hundred or a thousand times as many media impressions as people faced then.
And what if the "high-minded" were right? Last-century England had moderate levels of crime and moderate levels of media violence compared to the present-day US. Crime rates and media violence both have increased since then. The correlation is clear even if causality isn't.
>> "Every generation believes that the one coming up behind it is being corrupted by popular culture," said Francis G. Couvares, a social historian who is dean of freshmen at Amherst College. <<
A couple of responses to that. One, every generation may be right. Centuries ago, I doubt anyone imagined such things as a world war, a Holocaust, or a nuclear bomb. Two, even if previous generations were wrong, there always may be a turning point. Artists "back then" were fighting to be free from society's restrictions. Now artists have ultimate freedom, so where do we go from here?
>> One studio even convened focus groups of 10- and 12- year-olds to test an R-rated film, the commission reported. <<
I read all about the FTC report. I posted a response in Highlights of the FTC Report on Media Violence.
>> Lynne V. Cheney, whose husband, Dick, is the Republican candidate for vice president, said of the lyrics to one rap song: "It is despicable. It is horrible. This is dreadful. This is shameful. This is awful." <<
She may be right. With the possible exception of someone like the Marquis de Sade, artists generally fought for more freedom, even if it's just the freedom to swivel one's hips. Rap artists are fighting for something when they protest conditions in the inner city. But how does calling women "hos" or gratuitously "offing" people help any cause?
A: It doesn't. It's destructive, not constructive—unlike other kinds of artistry. It belongs in the same category as bear-baiting and minstrel shows, which also were destructive rather than constructive. Which is why they're no longer around.
Comics censored in '50s
>> Senator Estes Kefauver held up the cover of one comic book and said to its publisher, who was the witness: "This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman's head up, which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?" <<
Hey, sounds like a good idea for a PUNISHER comic!
As I've said before, censorship isn't the answer. I don't even think media violence hurts much—especially when it has consequences, as it usually does in horror movies or comics. Worse is gratuitous violence—the kind favored in PUNISHER.
>> Then a woman in 1950's garb with two small children at her side yells out in disgust: "I saw him gyrate his body and wiggle his hips! He should not be on television!" <<
One could argue that the sexual revolution went too far if it was the cause of the soaring rates of teenage and unwed pregnancies. Fortunately these trends have reversed themselves.
>> In modern America, political intervention at the national level never reached the point of censorship, but in some cases it had a considerable effect on the culture. <<
>> By current standards the moral outrage arising from photos of women in bloomers and comic books and gangster movies is hard to understand. <<
I think we still have too many movies and other products glorifying gangsters and outlaws. We've always had poor people, but they didn't always turn to crime, gangs, and drugs. Why not? Could they possibly have gotten the idea from...the media products that promote toughness and rebellion?
>> "We've reached some sort of outer limit here that I don't think other cultures have had to deal with." <<
>> "There is a qualitative difference in the kinds of threats children face today, and I think culture is a big part of it. <<
>> "People accept the idea that times now are worse," he added. "I think you have to be awfully cautious of that." <<
We do? A lot of negative social indicators are at all-time highs—or were five or ten years ago. Historically speaking, America has never been more violent.
See Mythical Rise in Crime? for more information.
The debate continues....
>> Plenty of people read the daily paper, particularly at the time of the Whitechapel Slayings. <<
"Plenty"? Not exactly the definitive statistical data we need. The most impressionable people are childern, and I'm guessing the vast majority were illiterate then. As for adults, I'm guessing only the majority, not the vast majority, were illiterate.
Don't forget there weren't any free media like radio or television then, and even free access to publications (in schools and libraries) was limited. The masses were poor and didn't spend a whole lot on tabloids or the like. These people, like the poor of any age, probably were more susceptible to violent influences too.
As for the impact of static, black-and-white drawings, I think I'll quote my site for the nth time:
>> For one thing, neither World War I nor World War II, nor the Holocaust, nor the creation of the nuclear bomb were instigated by media violence. Is this really what you're suggesting? <<
I'm suggesting the unthinkable became thinkable, which means the world's cultural values shifted. How do you think cultural values shift?
I'm not a student of early 20th century media, but as I recall, newspapers were far more biased than they are now. They thought nothing of advocating we should beat those nasty Huns or Japs. That's where the phrase "yellow journalism" came from.
Is that media violence? You tell me. If not, it had an effect similar to media violence, by desensitizing people to humane values and encouraging naked aggression.
>> I find that claim wholly rediculous, not to mention devoid of merit. <<
Feel free to reconsider your position.
Does media violence cause war?
>> Was the battle of Thermopylae caused by media violence too? I'll be sure to let the Spartans know that... <<
Possibly. Greek culture was semi-violent, especially compared to pacifistic cultures like Switzerland's. Where do you think people got their violent urges from? Could it be from the religion, the myths, and the stories? Weren't those the media influences of that culture?
The Greek mindset may have been similar to the American mindset today. On an intellectual level, they realized war and violence were wrong (Violence, Greek Drama, and American Trash). On a practical level, they kept fighting wars and striving to dominate people (rival cities, neighboring tribes, slaves). It was a culture in conflict—which may be why we embrace them so heartily as our ancestors (Greek Lies, Historic Truth).
The point is that culture and the media are a reflection of each other. A culture produces media, which in turn influences the culture, which in turn produces more media. This feedback loop occurs in every culture, I'd say.
If the culture is violent and its media products are violent, then you have a problem. What you don't need is people encouraging extremes in media violence and media violence encouraging extremes in people. That's a recipe for a society where freeway, postal, and school shootings are all-too-common concepts.
>> Do I think that violent or sexual material will turn our nation's children into mass murderers and rapists? No, I don't. <<
The question is whether you think it will make our nation's children more socially or sexually aggressive. The evidence that it will is clear.
>> But by the same token, I don't think its appropriate to take an 8-year old to see 'The Exorcist'. <<
Not appropriate? Why not? The only reason it would be inappropriate is if you admitted the media might influence someone. Is that what you're saying?
>> Adults should have the freedom to choose what they want and don't want to see. <<
They're free to choose. But what's the dividing line between a child and an adult? What's the difference between a child and a mentally disturbed adult?
Vertigo imprint a solution?
>> DC has done the right thing in creating their Vertigo imprint, which allows them to create mature, intelligent, and thought provoking material, which is not 'dumbed-down' to make it accessible to younger folk. This is the tack I would take with the Punisher. <<
The Marvel Knights line is supposed to be for more mature readers. And how is creating a Vertigo line, having MPAA ratings, or putting stickers on CDs and video games different from what I've been saying? Instilling sensitivity and giving people tools is what we're talking about.
>> I also find it amusing that here we are debating an issue of the Punisher, which in all honesty is rather innocuous, meanwhile, nobody would bat an eyelash if a ten-year old kid walked into a bookstore and purchased a copy of the Marquis de Sade's '120 Days of Sodom' <<
That would be an interesting experiment to try. I bet some booksellers (assuming the clerks actually noticed the merchandise) would do something. I bet they'd also do something if the 12-year-old tried to buy Penthouse. And if they didn't do something about the 12-year-old, they would if it were a 10- or 8-year-old. Maybe something as innocuous as asking, "Is your parent here? Does he or she know you're buying that?" But something.
>> But still, my point being that purient literature is seen as 'OK' as long as it looks like 'LITERATURE'. <<
I don't think many people would distinguish between the Marquis de Sade and Punisher comics in your hypothetical example. Too bad there's no way to test it. But I'll assert for the record that the issue is content, not format.
>> Hip hop is still finding its footing, and I wouldn't be surprised if a decade or two down the road we see hip-hop evolve past all the anger and rage that has so characterised it. <<
But according to you, violent and misogynist rap lyrics have no effect on people's behavior. In fact, I could go around calling your African-American wife a 'ho and it wouldn't affect anyone. That words like these degrade women is a liberal concoction, right?
I bet your 'ho—I mean, your wife—would agree with me on this point. Am I right?
"Violence...must certainly be harmful to children"
>> I guess my problem with your argument is that I don't understand how you can justify violence in one context but denounce it in another. <<
>> Violence, even with consequences, must certainly be harmful to children, right? <<
Nope, because the primary harm is showing kids they can be violent without consequences. The presence or absence of consequences is a critical factor. Again, see my posting Violence, Greek Drama, and American Trash.
>> Kids young enough to be harmed by media violence are probably too young to get the idea of 'consequences'. <<
Yes, that may be true for younger kids, which is why we generally discourage them from watching Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. It helps to be old enough to appreciate the lessons and morality of these movies.
>> Anyway, I'm not so sure the violence in The Punisher is without consequences. Frank Castle, as portrayed by Ennis, is a cold, calculating monster...certainly he's no hero. <<
So what are the consequences? Feeling peeved because someone's violating his trademarked act? That isn't exactly a meaningful consequence.
>> now he's a machine hell-bent on destruction, and I think this is far more frightening a consequence than any other in the book. <<
He may be "bent on destruction," but a consequence would be his actually being destroyed. Let me know when that happens so I can buy the comic and enjoy it.
>> I don't think the book is glorifying the Punisher's actions. Would anyone really want to be like that? <<
To be cool and tough and get your way and never take "shit" from anyone? **YES**.
>> It's a great step forward for the book, as for the first time I really find myself questioning the Punisher's cause. <<
I think that says more about you than about the comic.
Have you ever read other vigilante-themed comics? I mean comics that actually deal with the issues of vigilantism? The best ones may be Marvel's FOOLKILLER and DC's VIGILANTE.
"A serial killer in a costume"
>> he is now a serial killer in a costume. I think this is pretty brilliant. <<
Again, let me know if the Punisher faces any consequence a serial killer usually faces.
>> I was at the CAC when the police raided the gallery and removed Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs. I guess you could argue that censorship never reached the national level, but it sure reached the local level. There's something gut-wrenchingly WRONG about police officer's raiding an Art gallery. <<
I agree. As I've said, no to imposing censorship. Yes to increasing sensitivity.
>> People will always be angry at 'The System'. Still, this doesn't explain why 'Fight Club' tanked so fiercely at the box-office (despite featuring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton) <<
I didn't see Fight Club, naturally. Maybe it tanked because the '90s was a kinder, gentler decade. Maybe it lacked something totally unrelated to its violence quotient. If comparing "crime rates" to "media violence" is next to impossible, comparing one movie to anything is flatly impossible.
Some astute person:
>> "We've reached some sort of outer limit here that I don't think other cultures have had to deal with." <<
>> Uhmmm, nope. Come on. The Filipinos fucking ATE PEOPLE for christ sake. <<
You're not thinking multiculturally. If indigenous people practiced cannibalism (these reports are usually exaggerated), it was a normal and accepted part of their culture. However much we disdain it, they didn't feel the same way.
In contrast, we don't feel the Columbine killings and Central Park wildings are a normal part of our culture. We consider them deviant and aberrant. If they reflect the media's influence, we consider that deviant and aberrant also.
The speaker is correct. Things like slasher movies and crush videos, where people squish small animals for entertainment, are at the outer limits. They're more extreme in our culture than cannibalism was in Filipino culture. Few if any societies have ever accepted this much deviation from the norm.
Cannibalism not relevant
Besides, we're talking the dominant culture (American) in the entire world, not some small, insignificant culture of an isolated backwater. The only thing comparable that comes to mind is the decadence in the latter part of the Roman Empire. It's a troubling analogy, since we all know what happened to the Roman Empire. (And if you're wondering, yes, the gladiator fights were Rome's version of media violence.)
I don't think we're going the way of Rome, but it's not because media violence is harmless. It's because songwriters, poets, artists, novelists, film producers, activists, teachers, politicians, preachers, and a whole host of people—like me—are working to counter the destructive effects of our violent culture.
Some astute person:
>> "There is a qualitative difference in the kinds of threats children face today, and I think culture is a big part of it." <<
>> Nope again. Obviously somebody forgot to remind the writer of just about every previous period in human history when children were used as slave labor, religious sacrifices, prostitutes, cannon fodder...need I go on? <<
No one forgot. Unfortunately, there are too many variables here to sort out scientifically. One point, again, is that things like slave labor and religious sacrifice were the norm in societies that practiced them. People learned these things were the norm and learned they should continue practicing them.
How is that relevant to our debate? Again, the present media violence doesn't represent our cultural ideals. It teaches people to violate our ideals, not to honor them. Which is good if you're talking about rebelling against the establishment, but bad if you're talking about rebelling against common humanity.
My grand answer, encompassing all of history, is this: Life has been nasty, brutish, and short. Filled with violence, abuse, and callousness. It's gotten better, ever so slowly, over the last umpteen millennia. We've become more civilized.
Except during the last 50 or 100 years. We've seen more genocide, more war, and more extreme violence (from Hiroshima to Jonestown, from suicides to suicide killings) than ever before. A lot of it (e.g., Soviet communism, Islamic fundamentalism) is explicitly tied to dislike of the American system. People don't want unlimited freedom if it means the unlimited freedom to rape, steal, or profit from others.
Media violence is on the leading edge of American culture. It's sweeping the US and the world. People are as mad as hell because we're raping, stealing, and profiting from them. They're mad in America's poor neighborhoods, on the dole lines in England, and in undeveloped countries around the world.
Send kids to New Delhi?
>> I have a theory that every child over 12 should be instantly shorn of all body hair, forced to wear a dirty loincloth, and then made to beg in the streets of New Delhi for rupees for 12 months straight. Then they can come back to the US and we'll see if they're still bitching about how bad their lives are. <<
At least they'd be safer there than in the US.
But you seem to be drifting from the point of this debate. Yes, I agree people should be more sensitive to the plight of the poor. So? How about if we put people in an urban ghetto where all their neighbors have guns, drug dealers are on every corner, the schools are rotting to pieces, and the nearest job is 20 miles away? Then they could experience real violence and not the make-believe variety.
How about if we put the Punisher in the body of a 12-year-old who isn't strong enough to fight back, who feels he must join a gang or deal drugs to survive? What would big, tough Frank do then? I'd love to see somebody write that story.
>> Yeah, we do. Because this means we're becoming a bunch of spoiled brats. <<
And what causes that, exactly? Could it be the Reagan-era philosophy of "me first," fueled by America's unwavering commitment to shove consumer capitalism down everyone's throats? As touted most fiercely by free-market zealots called libertarians, I might add?
But wait—that would involve media advertising, which is a far more pervasive cultural influence than media violence. Yet, according to you, nothing in the media affects people's behavior. Not violence, not advertising, nothing.
Hmm, quite a conundrum if you ask me. When you explain your theory of spoiled bratdom, I hope you'll make it all clear.
Some astute person—oh, wait, it's me:
>> A lot of social indicators are at all-time highs—or were five or ten years ago. Historically speaking, America has never been more violent than it was in the last half of last century. <<
>> I don't know why you fail to address that crime in the US, violent crime in particular, is at its lowest point in 30 years. <<
"Why" is because I haven't answered all your messages until now. 30 years is a bit high; try 5, 10, or 15. And I'm addressing cultural attitudes that go back at least to Columbus's arrival, and really to the advent of Christ and before. The last 30 years is almost inconsequential.
Violence 2,000+ years old
You think I'm kidding? Search my site to see how often I mention Jesus or Christianity. Jesus was good; his Christian followers perverted his message. You can trace our violent culture all the way from there, through the various Popes and colonizers like Columbus, to the present.
And how does this tie to media violence, exactly? Simple. In the '60s, we actually begin to question 2,000+ years of status-quo thinking. We realized minorities and women might be equal to the rest of us. The rich and powerful might not have all the answers. Etc.
The media—from John Lennon's "Imagine" to The Smothers Brothers to MASH—contributed to this movement. They arguably led the way. Now the media have swung back in the other direction. They're teaching us to win or lose. Survive or die. Punish or be punished.
Just look at the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Survivor. They and media violence are part of the same attitude. We're back to teaching people "me first," "what I want is what matters," and "give it to me or else." I.e., selfishness, greed, and violence if the selfishness and greed aren't satisfied.
These are the wrong messages for the new millennia. Our culture will be violent as long as our fundamental values are greed and selfishness. Change the values and the violence will end (or decrease to the rate of the Swiss or whoever).
>> I'll ask you again. If violent media is turning our nation's children into sociopaths, why aren't the statistics bearing this out? <<
Because it's impossible to prove a link between something as big and amorphous as "crime rates" and any other social factor. Now I'll ask you again: If the media has no influence over people, why is America more violent than almost every other country? Why has America's violence increased over the last 50 years? How is it possible that media violence, alone among external influences, has no effect on people?
. . .
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