Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jeff's Books to Open Your Mind: Killing Monsters


My violent movie and video game reviews, generated comments from concerned friends and family indicating civilization (and also my sanity) may be doomed.

Fortunately, I’ve read Killing Monsters: Why children need Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make Believe Violence by Gerard Jones, and I know everything will be OK.

I've read most of the information presented in it before but, it was nice to see it all in one place.

Turns out most of the famous "violent media is bad" studies haven't been telling us the whole story of their experiments.

Everybody's heard about the kids shown a video of someone punching an inflatable clown who then go and punch a similar clown.
However, they don't tell you that there's virtually no correlation between punching inflatable clowns (or other play fighting) and real violence.

They tell you about how aggressive violent adolescents like aggressive violent movies and music,
However, they leave out the fact that this isn't a cause and effect relationship, but a correlation. (Romantic individuals like romantic movies, but the movies did not make them romantic.)
More importantly, they leave out the fact that the aggressive adolescents who watch the MOST violent media commit the LEAST amounts of actual violence.

They talk about the need to separate fantasy from reality,
However they leave off the fact that play fighting and action stories promote this by letting kids experience the emotions associated with these events in an environment they know is safe.
They also leave out that even without the media influence it happens.  Kids in native tribes play fake spear and bow and arrow games with each other.

They talk about the fact that girls move away from play fighting sooner than boys as another example of them maturing faster,
However, they leave out the fact that that's when girls transition into setting strong fashion "ins and outs" and forming cliques, it is often much more mentally aggressive than plain old play fighting.  (This makes me extra proud that my daughter is fully able to execute an elbow drop and a sleeper hold.)

They talk about the experiment where one group of kids watches Barney and the other Power Rangers, and the Power Ranger kids are all jumping and ninja kicking and play fighting directly afterwards.
However, they leave off the fact that when you go back to the two groups a little later on, the Power Ranger kids are much more social, happy and getting along better as a group. 
They also neglect to mention that the Barney kids turn to cannibalism. (OK , I made that up.)
They tell you about studies showing “watching violence makes kids agitated and aggressive”.
However, they don’t tell you that most of the "watching violence makes kids agitated and aggressive" studies are done the same way.  The kid is forced to watch the violent images, all completely unconnected and without any intervening information between them in a laboratory environment.  This has two major problems.
1)     This takes away the story component which is the most important, and beneficial part of any of these experiences.
2)    It’s the "forced to watch in a laboratory environment" part that causes the agitation and aggression.  The same results occurred when kids were forced to watch Mr. Rogers.

Parents groups and government cite the triumphs of the time when all cartoons were forced to be non violent, and even classics like Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry were edited down to incoherence to remove the violence, and how tragic it was when that all ended with syndicated cartoons like G I Joe and Transformers, chock full of violence.
However, they don't tell you that when the kids raised on the nonviolent stuff hit late teenage years there was a spike in violent crime in that age group, and a subsequent drop when the Transformers kids got older.
They also don't mention how every time in the 20th century when pressures were put on media to reduce the violence as much as possible, there was a surge in the popularity of Professional Wrestling, People need make believe violent storytelling, going all the way back to fairy tales and mythology.
Finally they leave out the fact that there was one generation that caused psychologists and sociologists great amounts of concern because the movies, pulp novels, and radio shows that were popular among kids were filled with lurid horror, violent vigilantes and evil gangsters.  That group is now the one we call "The Greatest Generation"

They tell you how horrible violent video games are.
However, they leave out the fact that video games partially get a bad rap because they are the newest media form.  Especially when studies show that they are actually better than passive entertainment, because they lead to creative thought, social interaction, and extend the age of imaginative play, which is also beneficial.
This is summed up by a great quote from the book "An 11 year old can learn everything about a tiger, but only a five year old can be one."  Good effects in movies and good graphic and storylines in video games can extend that ability.

They tell you that fictional violence desensitizes people to real violence.
However they leave out the fact that while possible, it’s very hard to prove, but more importantly, it's probably a good thing.  The news media is working overtime with sensationalism and overstatement to OVER sensitize people in order to boost ratings and make them too afraid to change channels.  (This effect is especially strong on children.) This can lead to depression, feelings of helplessness and inaction.  Again, experiencing the emotions in a known safe environment during "Fake violence" better prepares people of any age to have positive responses for real stressful situations.


Final points here:

Advertising people figured out ages ago that you can’t make people buy what they don't want.  They send research groups out to find out what kids already desire, and then package it in creative ways to sell it.  The anti-violent stories slant is all very much like the trend in the 70's to keep all sugar away from kids, which gave us a bunch of undersized underdeveloped kids.  Kids like sugar because their bodies need it.  Kids like fantasy violence because their minds need it. Kids are basically powerless, and power fantasies help them develop their minds and creativity.

Even the strongest studies show only a 10% correlation between video violence and real violence.  Parental actions have a whopping 50% correlation.  Therefore, unsurprisingly, it all boils down to being a good parent – i.e. sharing the action games and shows with your kids, talking about them, and presenting a positive image. 

Watching a very violent movie or video game with a kid who has seen you behave compassionately and non-violently is a way of sharing their fantasy and imagination time with them, both of which are really important.

The kids who shoot up their schools are very rarely the ones really into violent games.  They're the ones who are really into REAL guns, and who have parents who are either equally violent in reality, or just badly disinterested.  Many of the recent school attackers were obsessed with previous school shootings, the first ones with adult workplace shootings.


From the end of the book:

 The violent stories kids love show them the following lessons:
Achievement feels good
Goals are achieved through commitment
Clear choices must be made
Sometimes conflict is useful
Sometimes shattering old ways is necessary
Loss and defeat are survivable
Risk has its rewards
We can feel fear, but do it anyway
Monsters can be destroyed
Self assertion is powerful
Simply being me is heroic.

I'll get off my soapbox now so I can go and get beat up by my daughter on the PlayStation.

2 comments:

Linda said...

Thank goodness someone understands that correlation does not equal causation and as my professors in grad school said: advertisers and tv execs have been dreaming of a commercial that will make people do what they want, and they haven't found it yet. So why should we assume that cartoons should be any different.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx for posting, and lending some legitimacy to my ramblings given your chosen profession. Sadly I think the answer to your question is it lets parents dump responsibility and blame others for their shortfalls.