This weekend, the New York Times featured comments on the debate over violent media in its Sunday Dialogue segment. The letters were written in response to one penned by Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
A couple of the responses were thoughtful and incisive; others, not so much. Here are the highs and lows…
From Chris Ferguson, associated professor of psychology and communication at Texas A&M:
“…as media violence has become more prevalent, societal Violence, including youth violence, has declined to 40-year lows…
…Together, the evidence paints a picture pointing away from, not toward, media violence as a contributor to societal violence. We know that after societal tragedies, it is common to blame media in a cycle of moral panic. We know that advocacy groups, though well intentioned, are often a part of those moral panics. So too, unfortunately, are some scholars.”
From Gabe Rottman with the ACLU:
“Censorship, especially in the name of protecting children, is never surgical. It will always limit the legitimate free speech rights of adults and, in this case, children. Consequently, it must be resisted.”
From Murray Forman, associate professor of media and screen studies at Northeastern University:
“Despite their tender age, children regularly demonstrate sophisticated interpretive skills pertaining to media, violence and social attitudes and behaviors. Determining whether or not they are desensitized to violence is important work, but the majority of children who are exposed to media violence do not act out or mimic what they see. Let’s try to learn a bit more from and about them before imposing restrictive policies.”
In his response James P. Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense Media decries America’s “culture of violence.” Though he claims not to want to “see the media used as a scapegoat,” he proceeds in doing just that.
He also cites a recent Center for American Progress poll commissioned by his own shop, which discovered, “77 percent of parents believed that media violence…contributes to America’s culture of violence.”
Well, okay, but 77 percent of American adults also believe in the existence of angels. Putting the word “percent” in a sentence does not turn it into a statement of irrefutable scientific evidence.
In it, a child is playing a video game which simulates shooting a poor, sad teddy bear. Its dead eyes beg the child to feel something, anything! Another teddy bear frowns in the foreground while next to it we have an inexplicable cartoon skirt shot of a second child.
Paired with the title “Mayhem on Our Screens,” here’s a
subtle indication of where the editorial and artistic staff stands on the debate.The .gif the NYTimes created to illustrate the story online (it appears the Times has recently discovered .gifs, marking an unfortunate moment in the timeline of this web & comedy tool and perhaps signaling its ultimate demise).
Nothing about the debate or the responses printed this weekend are particularly novel. Rather, it’s more of the same, as Professor Ferguson wrote. Just because we can see the moral panic coming, doesn’t mean we can stop it. What we do need to stop, are censorious actions taken during its crest.