Sunday Dialogue: Mayhem on Our Screens
The New York Times - 01/25/2013
Ms. Linn’s impassioned argument against media violence — and against the National Rifle Association — is surely well intentioned, but several underlying assumptions weaken her case.
Ms. Linn does not differentiate between forms of representational violence. In the same way that an actual gunshot to the face is significantly different from a punch in the nose, media portrayals of violence are not homogeneous, nor are their influences alike.
She also states that children are the “targets for marketing violent media.” While this is undoubtedly true to some extent, her assertion does not account for the fact that children are more likely to be curious eavesdroppers, looking in on the representations of violence that are oriented toward older and arguably more mature audiences. Despite being relatively toothless, ratings systems across different media products are evidence of industry awareness that not all content is child-friendly.
Finally, 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.
Roxbury, Mass., Jan. 23, 2013
The writer is an associate professor of media and screen studies at Northeastern University.