Friday, May 4, 2007

Media Representations, Violence and Response

A person on my friend's list on Livejournal, posted about violent media leads to violence. I didn't respond there because, well, you've got to choose your battles and I doubt I could have said anything to change her mind (and, as a matter of fact, since I originally wrote this, I did respond and, lo, I did not change her mind). I am also going to act as though the idea that violent media leads to real violence is largely a dead issue, because it is. At best, no bad research finds that amongst children under 12 years old that there's a weak correlation between media violence and real violence. Likewise, studies of actually violent people – or, at least, people who are violent enough to get put in jail or prison for their violence – massively underconsume media of all sorts, including violent media. When studying people who are actually violent, the correlation is between not consuming violent media and violence, and the general trend is the more media a person consumes the less likely they are to be violent. (For what it is worth, I think that the reason people who consume more media are less violent, or in prison less, is due to the fact that media consumption is a form of consumption. People who can afford to consume anything in quantity tend to be rich, and both have less reason to be violent and have better lawyers when it does happen.) So, in my book, the issue is largely dead.

What surprises me is how tired and worn out this argument is! Plato wanted to outlaw theater because writers and actors were “liars”. Augustus did outlaw theater, because it promoted “immorality”. The Roman Catholic Church forbade whole swaths of musical types – mostly things involving rhythm – on the grounds that music leads to sex (or, perhaps, that music leads to dancing that leads to sex). You take any time and you'll find people who want to stop other people from making the “wrong” kind of art – they'll want to shut up hip hop artists, burn Harry Potter books, stop kids from playing those new fangled video games.

In short, what they want to do is elevate their personal aesthetic tastes to the level of morality. As a sort of secular humanist, scientific materialist, atheist transhumanist, libertarian consensualist (read: as the intellectually autonomous person known as Chris Bradley) this sort of thing annoys me, and it annoys me because virtually everyone wants to do it, regardless of their political beliefs.

So, you'll have socialists railing against the injustices of capitalist media, you'll have capitalists wanting to outlaw socialist literature, religious folks wanting to forbid secular music, liberals wanting to stop those violent video games, etc., etc. The elevation of a person's person sense of aesthetics to the point of absolute morality is nearly ubiquitous!

I wonder why that is – why most people feel their own aesthetic choices should be universal. I KNOW there's a lesson in there, somewhere, but I'm having a devil of a time sussing it out. Of figuring out why art gets people so fucking pissed off, so pissed off that they feel the urge to engage in tactics ranging from emotional blackmail to legislation to burning books? Of why they feel that audiences are empty vessels into which artists do nothing but pour their own biases and ideals?

I don't know, but I want to know.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

News & the Fnords & Jon Stewart

I don't really pay that much attention to the news. I browse the BBC and the local paper's website but I read few stories. Up until about a year ago, I was a huge news addict. I'd read, easily, two hours of news a day and was very up-to-date on almost everything. But after several years of that, I saw the fnords and realized most news was literally deception and the more I read, the worst off I became. Garbage in, garbage out, after all. No amount of reading false data would get a good result, I figured, so I stopped. One of the best thing I did. Better to read books and, at least, get something resembling scholarship.

However, as I've said before, Jon Stewart makes me laugh. Hell, he makes a lot of people laugh. However, according to this article (that I found on the PunkAssBlog site), Jon Stewart is as good as the news. I quote:

“There have been a couple academic studies recently of those shows, where researchers study the actual news content in those shows compared to the broadcast news media,” said Rick Swanson, Ph.D., a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “They discovered there was just as much actual news content – news information – given by “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” as there are in the actual news media broadcasts. And so, believe it or not, students are learning just as much about the news as they would be if they were watching a mainstream news outlet.”

The study, completed this year by Julia Fox, a telecommunications professor at Indiana University, showed that “The Daily Show” had about as much hard information during the 2004 presidential campaign as the average nightly news broadcast.

Huh. The article goes on:

“In an absolute sense, we should probably be concerned about both of those sources, because neither one is particularly substantive,” Fox continued. “It’s a bottom-line industry and ratings-driven. We live in an ‘infotainment’ society, and there certainly are a number of other sources available.”

It's been obvious to me for a while that the "news" is nothing of the sort. Still, it's nice to have someone with a lot of letters after their name confirm the obvious.

This is particularly fascinating for me because, out here in the blogosphere, we live in a news saturated environment. We all post stories and talk at great length, and great passion, about them but the truth seems that they're largely void of content worthy of the effort we put into them! And, worse, out here in the blogsphere, we are largely aware that the news sucks and we still do it!

Jon Stewart's way is better. He makes me laugh. Because, let's face it, the news doesn't contain much information but it is very funny. Especially if you like black humor.

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