The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Saturday, April 05, 2008

MLK Day

I don't celebrate the day of King's death. That would seem to be celebrating the work of his killer. I find myself annoyed that McCain, who originally voted against the establishment of MLK's birthday, seems perfectly happy to celebrate the day he got shot in the throat.
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My favorite show "24" (although if their next season is as bad as their last, I"m changin' my vote) won't be back until next year, with the exception of a 2-hour movie in the fall to bridge the gap between seasons. I am disturbed that so many people seem to have gotten their ideas about the efficacy of torture from watching this nonsense, which is about as realistic as "The Man From UNCLE" when it comes right down to it. That suggests that the artist must be even more cautious of his effects on the culture than I had previously thought. I've defended much violence in media on the basis that
1) Parents should control their children's viewing
2) violent images can be purgative--I know how my own tension levels drop after watching hapless teenagers slaughtered in the woods.
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But recently, I came across some info that makes me wonder if I've been too naive. Apparently, some video-games are so good at simulating violent experiences that they actually improve a player's capacity for real-world violence. Police reports of a recent school shooter indicate that he entered rooms, swept the corners and double-tapped the victims with the efficiency of a SWAT officer. That...is disturbing. If these games can be used as training for military and police, and it is known that simulations help officers and soldiers overcome psychological prohibitions against killing...then it would stand to reason that we may have a problem here. I'm not at all sure how to balance the need for public security against the need for freedom of expression. I really don't. But this info genuinely disturbed me.
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What is your opinion about violence in the media, and its effects upon or relationship to violence in society?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

And if McCain ignored the anniversary of MLK's death, what negative thing would that show about him?


--Erich

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"What is your opinion about violence in the media, and its effects upon or relationship to violence in society?"

I'm wondering about that, as a Quaker writing a screenplay that looks as if it may need more violence than I put in the first draft.

One of my college professors was Albert Bandura, who did research on the impact of media violence on children; I remember that connection as definitely being present.

And I don't think even adults are immune to the effects - desensitizing toward violence, desensitizing toward violence against particular kinds of people, "TV plot" misunderstandings of torture and terrorism, "mean world syndrome" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mean_world_syndrome). But at the same time, stories that are just about nice people doing good things have severe limitations, right?

Frank said...

McCain said:

"Well. I voted in my first, I think it was my first year in Congress, against that," McCain said. "Then I began to learn. And I studied and people talked to me, and I not only supported it, but I fought very hard in my home state of Arizona for recognition against a governor who was of my own party…"

I think McCain can be forgiven for having to learn about Dr King since the Senator was a guest of the Hanoi Hilton for the whole of Dr King's public career.

And it was unlikely that he knew at the time what a gift the man actually was.

Brian Dunbar said...

What is your opinion about violence in the media, and its effects upon or relationship to violence in society?

I think that graphic violence in the media desensitizes people to the real deal - and we're poorer for it.

That said - I enjoy a good slasher flick, and I enjoyed (in a cringing way) the D-Day scene in Private Ryan; kudos to the sound guys - it _sounded_ just like a day at the range.

I don't know what to do about it, really.

About the kid who cleared the room like a pro - is it possible he would have been dispassionate about it regardless of how many shoot-em-up video games he'd played?

Anonymous said...

I am skeptical about the impact of video games and the media with respect to violence. Violence has been around as long as mankind has been around and video games and the media have been around far less than one percent of that time. I would suggest that today's media no more cause today's violence than Shakespeare's tragedies spurred the violence of that time and Jack the Ripper would never have been written if there were not real acts of violence to base it on.

Marty S

Frank said...

Steve

Police reports of a recent school shooter indicate that he entered rooms, swept the corners and double-tapped the victims with the efficiency of a SWAT officer.

I don't know where this incident took place, but I suspect the real problem was that the shooter faced an unarmed population.

Do you think this guy would have done as much damage if he had tried taking on a police station instead of a school? His "SWAT" skills would have been put to a real test had he tried.

In fact, how many times has a random shooter like this chose a police station to perpetrate his mayhem?

Hmmm, let me think.....

suzanne said...

I'm in agreement with Marty
there never wil be an end to violence
but I sure do wish
nations
large groups of peple
would figure a better way
to solve differences

especially when the animosity is centuries old

I realize part of the problem is that damn old bugaboo - colonializing

the divying up of africa into "nations
by the colonialists
irrespective of agers old tribal animousity
STINKS
and is at the rot of many a present day
large scale violences

I refused my sons guns
when they were little
despite the fact that they transformed
every available phallic item'in to one fingers/twigs/ popsicle sticksuntil the day my eldest said
witheringly around the age of 6
"Mom, you think I can't tell the difference between reallity and imagining?"

went right out and bought
water pistols

Frank said...

suzanne

but I sure do wish
nations
large groups of peple
would figure a better way
to solve differences


We have. It's called politics.

Anonymous said...

Frank,Suzanne:

We have found another way, but its not politics, its economics. The Soviet Union fell because of economics not war. At least part of that was due to economic warfare on our part. We had military projects in the sixties and seventies like the anti-missile system who's primary purpose was to make the Soviets spend money they didn't have to keep up with us. Right now the economic weapon is being used against us. I am actually afraid that things can get bad enough here that we are the ones that resort to violence and start the next war.

Marty S

Steven Barnes said...

I personally wouldn't have thought much about McCaine ignoring the anniversary of his death, so long as he celebrated the day of his birth. Can't speak for others.

Steven Barnes said...
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Steven Barnes said...
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Steven Barnes said...

It wasn't the boy's dispassionate attitude in the shooting. It was literally the technical proficiency--the KNOWLEDGE of how to do it properly. This was what disturbed me--the commentator suggested that his kill percentage and accuracy was higher than a trained police officer in a similar situation, and that it was due to the realistic nature of his practice sessions. This is what I found disturbing, and it is a totally different argument from "desensitization."
#
The "is an armed society a polite society" or "if there were more guns there, it wouldn't have happened" is an entirely different discussion, and one I don't have a strong opinion about.

Steven Barnes said...

As to MLK being a gift...having lived through that era, I remember clearly radio commentators and editorial writers and politicians reviling King while he was alive. And remember who it was who supported him. In general, those who supported Vietnam were against the Civil Rights movement. It was WAY after the fact that King was universally praised. Rabble rouser, Communist, pervert...I can't begin to list the crap I heard. And trust me...it wasn't Liberals hurling the invective. Conservatives acknowledge King today, but they were late to the party.

Steven Barnes said...

Nor do I think adults are immune to the effects of violence in media. What people don't discuss is the positive effects. In other words, the potential for venting frustration and stress. Without factoring this in, it would seem that violent entertainments have either a neutral or negative effect only, and I think that's bullshit.

Kukulkan said...

"What is your opinion about violence in the media, and its effects upon or relationship to violence in society?"

I think that violence in the media has many effects on society. Although I don't claim my experiences are universal, I do believe they are representative of men. During my teens and early twenties I had a great deal of physical energy that needed release. Many men of this age need to compete/strive/measure against other men. In short, men (especially young men) are inherently prone to violence. Moreover, young men need an outlet for that violence. When I was a young man, I wrestled and learned to shoot (I also played the flute in band and sang in a chorus). That is how I vented my extra energy. As we become a more sedentary society, young men will still need to a way to release their aggression. Video games may be a way for some young men to release this aggression. Similarly, some studies indicate that there is an inverse relationship between availability to pornography and violence against women. For some men though, violent video games may have an opposite effect -- they will desensitize the susceptible. However, I think that there is probably something already wrong with the young men who cannot distinguish between the violence of a video game and real violence. I also have heard commentators suggest that school murderers who played first person shooters were more effective than ordinary police officers. I would not be surprised in the least if this were true. The U.S. Army has released a free first person shooter as a recruiting/training tool and it uses FPS games to train real soldiers. The U.S. Army would not be using FPS games as a training tool if there wasn't some effectiveness. Moreover, being more effective than a police officer is not a very high bar. Ordinary police officers spend very little time training with their weapons. We pay police officers to become competent with their weapons, we don't pay them to become pistoleros or snipers (I'm talking about ordinary police officers here, not SWAT since the scool murderers were not compared to SWAT officers).

So, my basic views boiled down to a sound bite: media doesn't change who we are, it simply refines or purifies inherent traits.

Kukulkan said...

Well, this was timely. I found this link on Slashdot: http://www.itnews.com.au/News/73410,computer-games-make-players-less-violent.aspx

Basically a study found that playing World of Warcraft decreased stress in the young adults who played it.

Josh Jasper said...

double-tapped the victims with the efficiency of a SWAT officer

I don't think of SWAT officers are "double tapping" people. Are they really taught to do that? Who knows where this kid learned that.

If you want to know what can most easily cause people to become inured to violence, the Milgram experiments are still classics. Most people need an authority figure to tell them that it's OK to hurt or kill.