Good to be Bad

Good to be Bad
Method to Our Madness

Tom Rhodes | 31 Oct 2006 11:00
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Media violence and its effect raise many troubling issues. For those of us that enjoy violent games, we are stuck with transferred guilt. Does our consumption cause murder and mayhem? And, if it does, would it be, as the film Equilibrium posited, "a price [we'd] gladly pay?"

Maybe violent media, while not affecting all, affects some. If this is true, we should be seeing a great increase in youth-related violence and crime.

Not so. MIT Professor Henry Jenkins compiled data relating to videogames and violent crime and found that, "According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low." And, while school shooters are often gamers, youth in general play videogames at a high rate, with about 90 percent of boys (the vast majority of shooters) partaking. Similarly, studies proclaiming an impact on aggressiveness from videogame playing can be criticized for a multitude of reasons, from methodology to the conclusions themselves. For instance, most find a correlation, rather than a cause-effect relationship, which could mean "aggressive people like aggressive entertainment."

Furthermore, studies suggest that, even in primates, a distinction is evident between play fighting and actual violence. Similar to the way past generations enjoyed playing cowboys and Indians but were aware of the difference between that and real shootouts. Life and death are not so easily affected, and children, though they are impressionable, still understand that one is play and one is real.

Adults are similar in their ability to disconnect reality and fantasy. It has been estimated that 51 percent of women have had rape fantasies. Conversely, 44 percent of men have had fantasies about dominating a partner. But would any of these people actually enjoy being raped or raping in real life? Assuredly a very small percentage do, but most are just using their fantasy life to arouse themselves. Such fantasies, while common, don't mean that they impact reality in any real way (other than having an uncomfortable conversation with a lover about how you want to spend that evening).

But why do we crave violent media? It's ingrained in not only our current culture, but past literature and entertainment. One need only flip through Shakespeare to appreciate that violence and death were par for the course in theater productions and books. Even with this, we appear to be living in one of the least violent times in world history. The murder rate in medieval Europe was eight times higher than that of today.

This, however, doesn't stop the crusade to purge our society of such entertainment, sometimes forcefully.

We Don't Need No Thought Control
The Center for Media Literacy has produced several articles on media violence. One, by Temple University Telecommunications professor George Gerbner, proffers that the alternative to our current system is "elected or appointed representation in either advisory or policy-making capacity over the programming policy of TV systems." In other words, Congressional veto power over what people get to see.

Curiously, the article also says that Congress should use anti-trust and civil rights powers to crack down on the systems that "impose violence on creative people and foist it on the children of the world." The funny thing is, there is already regulation in place blocking obscene content from all free-to-view-and-listen networks: The FCC, as a regulatory body, can impose heftier fines on network TV and radio than ever.

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