"Just because society has always had violence, does this mean the present level of violence is acceptable?" Readers respond to "The Myth of Media Violence."

By Salon Staff
Published March 18, 2005 9:00PM (EST)

[Read the story by Andrew O'Hehir.]

I just would like to say that "The Myth of Media Violence" article was incredibly well done. It was informative, interesting and neatly sums up exactly how I feel about media violence. I'm not a parent but I grew up with video games and have yet to see any violence effect on either myself or my friends. As the article points out, we are far more likely to refuse to leave the couch than we are to kill someone.

I enjoy "GTA" for the same reason any video-game player enjoys the game. It provides a perfect stage, a free-form universe where we can play however we choose. It's successful almost in spite of the violence. Just look at the sales of "Manhunt" if you don't believe me. That was a game every bit as violent as "GTA," if not more so, but its atrocious game play resulted in poor sales. Violence is not attractive. Good game design is.

-- John Shannon

I recently purchased my two favorite '50s TV shows on DVD: "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Annie Oakley." After watching them a few times I realized the following:

1. TV made me a liberal Democrat. The bad guys in these shows are the privileged nobility, the greedy cattle barons, corporate greed in the form of the railroads, and corrupt sheriffs and marshals. The good guys are the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, the small farmers and sheepherders, the brave newspapermen, anyone who fights for the little people against big money and power.

2. TV made me a feminist. Annie Oakley, best shot in the territory, and always ready to jump (literally) on her horse to save the day; Maid Marian, dressed in tights like the rest of the boys, hunting and riding and betraying her class for the good of all; Lois Lane, ace reporter, looking for a story, not a husband.

And all of these shows are incredibly violent by today's standards for kid TV. Thank goodness Joe McCarthy didn't notice the rest of the message.

-- Kathleen Schultz

Once again (remember "Grand Death Auto"?) I've seen Salon tackle the relationship between mediated images and violence, and once again, I've seen the standard knee-jerk anti-censorship line of rhetoric stand in for some kind of middle-of-the-road conclusion.

Why, why, is no one looking to science for the answer to this question? While everyone who commits a violent act cannot reasonably or truthfully claim that some TV show or movie made him do it, I don't see why we stable nonviolent people can't admit that imagery is extremely powerful and does influence the way people think. Remember when all those kids in Japan simultaneously had seizures while watching "Pokemon"?

I know from personal experience that kids who've been in my care -- who were admittedly, not angels to begin with -- suddenly added "air guns" to their arsenal of rebellious gestures soon after watching old cowboy movies. Is there no emergent cognitive or neuroscience that can tackle the impact that imagery has on developing brains? Working at a biomedical research university, it looks to me like our current models are almost ready to support that line of inquiry.

If images of extremely thin models and actresses can effect body-image disorders in females, why is it so ridiculous to admit that just maybe violent video games also work on the same level? They obviously play to a base-level drive that would be best not to feed in many, many psychologically unstable people. Ever notice how it is mostly male fans of these movies and games that refuse to believe that they may not be entirely harmless? If it's really just a game, why not play something else? Could the real problem be that we're so unwilling to let go of these just because they are fulfilling some sort of sick fantasy life we couldn't otherwise fulfill? Bootleg masculinity, anyone?

-- Jessica Graves

Point well taken: Media violence does not produce a nation of homicidal maniacs. However, a larger point seems to be missing from Andrew O'Hehir's analysis. What sort of culture are we fostering when we allow our kids and ourselves to think that most problems can be resolved by violent means?

Isn't it disturbing that we're so at ease with the use of "smart" bombs and "shock and awe" tactics when we obliterate our cartoon-like enemies in the real world? The most disturbing aspect of media violence is that we don't see the real human consequences of it. We don't see the actual physical pain and debilitating effects of a gunshot wound or a bomb exploding. We don't see the funerals of the scores of people who are killed or witness the grief of their friends and loved ones. In short, we become anesthetized to qualities that are as inherent to human nature as violence is: suffering and compassion. We also learn to oversimplify conflicts by seeing everyone as good or evil, with no room for understanding the thorny complexities of history, culture and upbringing.

We would do ourselves and our children much better service by voluntarily shunning violent media and spending that time in community building, peaceful conflict resolution, and learning about the world in all its diversity. Teaching our kids meditation and control over their impulses and desires also goes a long way in making them caring, thoughtful and peace-loving individuals.

-- Sami Hussain

The two assumptions O'Hehir presents as underlying the research on the media effects on violence (that we live in a particularly violent time and that our entertainment is uniquely violent) are essentially straw men, set up just to be easily knocked down. They have little to do with the real issues at stake.

Just because society has always had violence, does this mean the present level of violence is acceptable? Just because entertainment has always been violent, does this mean that such violence does not affect aggression and violence in the real world?

Yes, there is a popular industry built up around folks who attack the voluminous research (hundreds of studies, though not 1,000) showing a link between violent-media exposure and aggression. And yes, folks like Fowles, a writer and producer of violent comic books, and Freedman, who was paid to write his critique by Valenti's MPAA, have some academic credentials. But that doesn't mean the effects observed and recognized by the APA don't exist.

Does media violence cause crime? Probably, sometimes. It does cause increases in aggressive behaviors, aggressive thoughts and aggressive value systems. And sometimes, that's probably going to mean an elevated likelihood of committing violent crimes.

-- Laramie Taylor

This writer is trying too hard to justify games and movies that are much, much more violent than the historical pieces he references. Historically, the (not as violent or amoral media) entertainment was not as prevalent, and it was balanced by other elements in society that reinforced how unacceptable this behavior really was. And the pieces themselves were typically morality plays where violence was proved wrong.

Now these images are reinforced over and over again, and apparently teachers and schools don't have the will or ability to teach an alternate reality that is much more desirable in civilized society. The writer uses his own children as an example, a ploy I find laughable. Children of those that make their living by using their creativity and college-learned skills are not the ones I am worried about. I bet his kids are being carefully taught early on not to take these things too seriously, to place them in perspective. Most kids don't get that kind of attention to detail. The kids that may do damage to other citizens are not the "would be" Ivy Leaguers, veterans of play dates and early education, but less financially secure and emotionally deprived latch-key kids. Games and violent TV affect them differently.

-- Cat Lincoln

In arguing that "the media" -- entertainment and gaming -- is not likely the cause of violent crime, Andrew O'Hehir paradoxically ends up putting the blame on "the media" -- the news/titillation media. He doesn't make a big deal of this observation, but his article notes that violent crime has actually been decreasing over the last 20-some years, yet it's what our news, particularly local news, wallows in. We get the impression of a rising wave of brutality and murder, which have to be explained by something: maybe those awful games and videos the young folks like.

Mr. O'Hehir is right -- this topic cries out for actual numbers, for good science, if we are to make sense of things. And since the numbers indicate the "violence problem" is essentially bogus, it's time to put the focus on just why it is that people think we're being inundated in wanton slaughter and savagery.

As he noted, let's start with the serious media: the media that purport to give us the facts, rather than mere entertainment.

-- Cheryl Haaker

"The Myth of Media Violence" may have been a good book review, but you wouldn't know it from the author's misplaced rant against Hillary Clinton. O'Hehir comes across as defending at all costs the right of children to beat electronic prostitutes with electronic baseball bats, while savagely attacking anyone who would dare admit in public that she doesn't like it much, like Clinton did.

Hillary is not "triangulating." She's being honest. Normal adults are disgusted by "Grand Theft Auto." We're not saying ban it; we're not saying it is the root of all evil. But it is worthwhile to discuss the appeal of such games to children who should indeed, as O'Hehir suggests, read about the Byzantine Empire and hike in the Adirondacks instead.

Perhaps O'Hehir is right that Clinton should attend to more important issues than the well-being of American children. Perhaps. But it was certainly way off-base for O'Hehir to lambaste her, going so far as to rhetorically suggest she would like children to watch public executions, when he should have been writing a book review.

-- Jami Dwyer

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------