What we see vs What we do (+ a little bit of eminem stuff)

There has been a lot in the news recently about the dangers of TV violence on people who are susceptible to it. These panics are known as ‘Moral Panics’.
A moral panic is a term used to describe a sudden flurry of conservative attitudes towards the media (usually film or music) when something which is perceived as too shocking or graphic for general consumption is released to the public. For example, after the Columbine High School massacre, there was a moral panic which eventually centered around Marilyn Manson and whether or not his music had influenced the killers state of mind.

These sudden flurries of conservatism are usually focused on film rather than music, for example Robert Peters of Morality in Media, inc. says

However, at the moment there is a vast moral panic surrounding Eminem as can be seen here -------> http://petitiononline.com/antimm/petition.html

There are people who want him restricted, banned for the common good. Some of these people think that Eminem will make their kids rude and surly. Some of these people are convinced that Eminem is a danger to the nations youth, that those who listen to his music may undergo a fundamental shift in their temperament, not an overt change but a change for the worse nonetheless. Then there are others who think that the music will actually make people more violent or more prone to do drugs, or whatever.

I am studying the phenomenon of moral panics in Media Studies at the moment and I was wondering what you guys thought of it. I personally don’t think that there is a correlation between violence on TV and people acting violently in real life. People are thinking and imaginitive, they’re not, IMO, pavlovian dogs who respond to any external stimuli. However, there are plenty of people who feel the other way, that many people are susceptible to the power of violence, even if it’s just on a movie screen and this can influence them negatively. What do you think?

I’m curious as to your own position. You describe the position of others as being “that those who listen to his music may undergo a fundamental shift in their temperament”. Does this mean that you yourself accept that people may undergo a lesser, non-fundamental, shift in temperament?

Second, is it your position that art, music, literature, etc. have no (or little) influence on people’s attitudes and behavior in any area? Or is there something about violence in particular that causes you to think that it cannot be influenced in this manner?

While there may be no proof that exposure to violent media makes people more violent, I think there is good reason to believe that exposure to violent media desensitizes people to violence. This is a point that is often ignored, and it might be worth your time to look into it.

Yes and no. I don’t doubt that Eminems music may affect the way we feel temporarily. It might make you laugh or it might offend you or it might just bore you. I believe that whatever the effect, it doesn’t last. In that respect people may undergo a lesser non-fundamental shift in temperament but would return to normal immediately after they turned the stereo off. I don’t, however, think that his music alone could trigger a deeply fundamental shift in temperament, one which would be more permanent. For example if someone with no history of violent behaviour bought the Marshall Mathers LP (which is littered with violent descriptions) and at about the same time started getting into fights and acting out of character, I would consider his purchase of the album to be symptomatic of his increasingly violent temperament, a temperament which almost certainly has other root causes. I would not think that the album unleashed his hidden demons or even created him for them.

I believe that a violent media text, be it a film, a book, a movie or an album cannot directly influence someone to do something which would contradict their moral code. I simply don’t believe that a media text is suggestive enough to do that. We are conditioned from birth about the rules of society. We are told how to behave in a civilised manner and we are told repeatedly that violence is wrong. I don’t believe that 1000 violent movies are stronger than our moral code.

I completely agree that the amount of violence we watch desensitises us to seeing more of it. That’s why the scene where Travolta blows that guys head off in the car in Pulp Fiction is so funny. We can laugh at it because we know it’s not real. However, just because we are desensitised to the concept of watching violence does not mean that we take actual real life violence lightly. If we did it would indicate an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, something which I believe all sane people are capable of.

I will continue to say, that I don’t despise Eminem because I think he’s going to cause people to be violent. No no no.
Although, I DEFINITELY don’t think young kids who don’t understand the difference between fantasy and reality and young people like my sister should be listening to him.

I’m saying that yes, he DOES have a right to say what he wants. HOWEVER, he doesn’t have the right to be celebrated just because of that. That doesn’t mean we have to think it’s funny that he sings about killing his wife. I personally just think he’s pathetic, and people are just sucking his dick to the point it’s nauseating. He’s just trying to shock people, and while I’m not suprised their shocked, it’s like people are defending him because they don’t want to be branded a prude. Which is stupid. It’s also stupid to say he should be banned, he shouldn’t be allowed to make records, etc etc. The record companies can sell his album, so can the stores, etc. I don’t have to buy it.

Also, the fact that they call him a genius just because he’s controversial? That’s just stupid. I didn’t know it took a lot of talent to say “I’ma kill ya,” fifty times.

You seem to be postulating an either/or scenario. Either one listens to our moral code or the violent movies. Since you believe the moral code to be the stronger influence, you therefore believe that the violent movies will have none at all.

I would suggest that there is a lot of room for differences in degrees in our attitudes and behaviors. Even to the extent that one grants that the moral codes that we have been taught will have the stronger influence, this does not preclude other influences as well from having some effect.

I agree that a single media text cannot overcome “moral conditioning.” However, 1000 exposures to violent media would constitute its own moral conditioning. You can teach children that violence is wrong, but the kids will still play cops-n-robbers. Show them 100 music videos about killing cops and selling drugs, and the cops will become the “Bad Guys.”

Eliminate the basic grounding in “Violence is bad” and emphasize the “new” conditioning with violent media, and you’ve developed a child whose moral code supports, rather than abhors, violence.

I’m not sure how you mean the word “conservative” in this passage. If you mean it in the “wedded to the status quo/let’s take a step backward from here” sense, then I haven’t a quarrel with it. However, if you mean socio-politically conservative, then I think you are a bit off target.

I lean leftwards politically, and it is certainly my impression that when it comes to the “moral outrage at New Thing X” department, conservatives lead the pack. However, when it comes to “moral outrage over Old Way of Doing Things” the liberals have the lead. Eminem is a perfect example of someone who galvanizes both sides against him to some extent. While the “family values” pack decries his potty-mouth and violent imagery from the right, organizations like GLAAD are protesting his anti-homosexual rantings from the left. A recent example of moral outrage coming almost solely from the left would be the whole Dr. Laura TV show flap.

But if you argue this, you’ll also have to argue that the impact of the music I listened to in the 60s “didn’t last” – and, at least in my case, you’ll fail.

Granted, music wasn’t the only part of 60s culture that influenced the way I continue to think and feel about things today – but it was perhaps the biggest single part of it.

It doesn’t seem to me that you can have it both ways – i.e., positive influences last, but negative ones don’t.

It seems to me that, at any given moment, there are a plethora of “influences” from many sources raining down upon us. Your hope is that whatever “good” influences exist at that moment will overpower the “bad” ones. But what if there just aren’t that many “good” ones around in the first place? Then what?

“What you mean ‘WE,’ paleface?”

The fact of the matter is that a great many people, from infancy up until adulthood, are NOT “told how to behave in a civilised manner” or given strong guidance about “the rules of society” – and have little hope of being told this. So now, we’re going to happily ADD to the negative influences already present in these folks’ lives and not worry a thing about it?

I’m a person of pretty liberal leanings myself, but I’ve always found the argument that “if you don’t like the violence on TV or its influence on children, then just turn the TV off” to be fatuous.

That’s fine for MY kids – and you can bet I’ll do that. But what about the kid next door my kid plays with, or the other kids in school, whose parents aren’t as responsible? Yes, you try to watch who you kid plays with and rubs up against, but you can only do so much in that regard. And yes, you try to instill your own values as carefully as possible – but sometimes the competition, particuarly if it acquires the patina of “forbidden fruit,” can be pretty formidable.

We’ve got a whole generation of kids who are getting a significant percentage of guidance on how adults behave generally and settle their differences specifically from watching the WWF. Some parents actually take their kids to see this spectacle in person, for God’s sake.

I wish someone would explain to me why it’s silly of me to be just a wee bit concerned about this. We reassure ourselves that kids all know it’s just a show and the violence isn’t real, but I’ve never seen any concrete evidence that this is so. Beyond the violence or portrayal of it, it’s the overall attitude that concerns me. A steady diet of big hulking guys putting the very worst possible aspects of human interchange on display is not, in my view, a good thing.

I don’t think we can just say, “Well, parents need to be more responsible for showing their kids the path of righteousness” and imagine we can now wash our hands of any concerns about the WWF and other such influences.

Same deal with Eminem. I’d also like to be convinced that the majority of Eminem’s audience doesn’t incorporate large portions of what his lyrics portend into their own way of thinking.(And remember that the majority of his audience is likely drawn from the same “trailer park trash” culture pool that he is. Where are all the positive messages that allegedly counteract Eminem’s rantings coming from?)

If I incorporated large portions of the messages contained in the music I listened to as a teen and young adult in the 60s and early 70s into my way of thinking, why would that suddenly no longer be the case today?

Good point. I’d have to say that I agree but the way in which we are affected depends upon attitudes and behaviours which are preconceived. The degree to which we are affected depends on those preconceived attitudes, the media can’t do it all on its own.

It has been observed that men who came from homes in which they witnessed domestic abuse, namely the father beating up the mother, then they are less likely to think that it is wrong because they are confronted with it all the time day in and day out and have just gotten used to it. If, subsequently, they saw a movie about domestic abuse and wife beating, even if the husband is portrayed as the bad guy (which he almost certainly would be) he could be seen, at least by our guy, as either a victim of an unfairly prejudiced society (prejudiced against wife beaters that is) or he could feel that the husband has simply done nothing wrong at all. This would be because he had witnessed domestic violence from birth, in real life.

However, if a guy who has been brought up to despise wifebeating but his favourite movie centered around that very topic, I postulate that his attitude would not change permanently. Even if he saw the movie a hundred times the chances are part of his attraction to it would be the revulsion to what was happening to the victim which he would have felt when he watched it the first time. However, his ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality would mean that he would be able to pass judgement on what he was seeing and find it repellant.

Every time we watch something we, as an audience, pass judgement in it in some way. We either approve of what we see or we disapprove. We do it all the time, even though we might not even notice it consciously (why not try it? See if you can catch yourself judging people when you see them on tv, even if it’s just a little). This is because we as an audience are active. We can think critically about what we’re seeing and decide whether or not it’s immoral. If we as an audience were passive (ie, just soaked up what we saw like a sponge without thinking about it) then I would agree that the media would be able to affect how we behaved and what we considered to be moral or immoral. However, I don’t think the description ‘passive’ seriously applies to anyone. We aren’t Pavlov’s dogs. One can’t just ring a bell and make them salivate. We think about what we see and judge it according to what we already know from life experience.

I don’t think that will happen purely on the strength of the video. It might happen if their friends tell them so, in fact there is a good chance that it would. However, a music video, however persuasive, is still nowhere near as powerful as a real life experience. We as an audience will remain detatched from it because it is not happening to us directly.

Ah, but the crux of my argument is that because the ‘violence is bad’ message was developed through real life experiences, it is infinitely stronger than the ‘cops are bad’ or ‘violence is good’ message. Basically, if someone sees something which they think is immoral they will not be encouraged to do it by what they see. However, as IzzyR pointed out, there are other attitudes and perspectives. That is why I’m giving the example of domestic abuse. If something wasn’t ingrained in you as immoral when you were a child then if you see that in a move you would not be passing judgement on it, after all why would you? However, even in those cases, listening to Eminem talk about raping women would not encourage you to do it because it is simply too inconsequential to be deemed a catalyst for a rape. The only exception I would give to this would be if someone was seriously screwed in the head.

I don’t think I made myself clear on this. What I mean by impact was the direct emotions you experienced when you first listened to the song. If you think of your favourite song, one which might hold an emotional attatchment for you, then it might well cheer you up but that’s not the sort of effect I’m talking about. I doubt you are still walking around today experiencing the exact same feelings you felt when you first heard (insert’60s record here). The effect I’m talking about isn’t the same as the impact I think you’re talking about. Besides, the music of Eminem and 60’s music are totaly different. Eminem openly advocates extremely violent crimes in his music and that just didn’t happen in the sixties. The corrupting effect of Eminem’s music, if it exists which I don’t think it does, didn’t exist in the sixties no matter what was said at the time about Elvis’s stage act or the Beatle’s lyrics, ‘bigger than Jesus’ claims etc…

I disagree. Whilst I don’t think that a positive influence would have much more effect than a negative one, it would be more likely to have an impact because it wouldn’t be found to be immoral.

I’m merely talking about the influence of the media. Whether a movie is good or bad, it is still just a movie and people are very good at distinguishing between the two.

What makes you think that the kid nextdoor would be affected by what he sees? I mean, I wouldn’t want any kids I may have in the future watching the Exorcist but only because it would scare them to death and give them nightmares. I don’t think it would have any effect on what they viewed as immoral.

Were they violent messages? Eminem’s ‘message’ is, if we take them at face value, to “Rape sluts, do drugs, make fun of Gay clubs” (I can’t remember what song that is from, sorry). If your favourite sixties bands had been saying that would you have done it? I’m guessing you wouldn’t. So why would anyone else?

BTW - Sorry for the lateness of this reply but I’ve been very rushed and I’m still rushed at the moment so please excuse any typo’s, grammar errors etc… 'cause I haven’t got time to proofread.

TheVoiceOfReason wrote

I think that’s a bit naive. Billions of dollars per year are spent on advertising budgets. The core concept of advertising is that words affect behavior. Do you think that money is spent in vain?

Personally, I’m a big Eminem fan. The last time I heard a new artist that I thought was truly amazing was over ten years ago. And as any fan with a bit of intellect could tell you, it’s not because he uses four-letter words and violent references in every other verse. There’s a lot of depth and cleverness and understanding of human nature in there.

The fact that I’m a fan is a bit ironic, perhaps even hypocritical, since I think crap like WWF and Jerry Springer should not be available for consumption by kids as it’ll lead to bad results. And I feel the same way about Eminem. It’s like pornography. I don’t think it should be illegal, but it should be kept from kids. There need to be several gatekeepers: the record companies, the record distributers, but ultimately the final gatekeeper needs to be the parents.

Ironically, if you’re into Eminem, you know that parental responsibility is something he talks about again and again. One lyric that comes to mind:

Perhaps not, but because the media can’t do it all, does this mean we should be unconcerned about any impact the media have? As I said elsewhere, influences on our attitude and behavior come from a variety of sources. When it comes to those influences that most of us would identify as negative ones, it seems to me we ought to be looking at all of them, even if any one of them doesn’t constitute 100% of the influence.

Let’s say in this mythical movie of yours, the wife-beater is actually portrayed as the good guy, and/or let’s say that, at the movie’s conclusion, he has suffered no consequences for his actions. There would be a great deal of public outcry about such a film, and rightly so. And the effect on your viewer would certainly be a matter for concern, as such a film would simply reinforce his own “preconceived” notion that wife-beating was perfectly OK and, in fact, the way of the world.

A similar outcry is accompanying Eminem’s music, because the actions his lyrics portray do not result in any adverse consequences. And as I’ve tried to say, I’m concerned about the effect such a presentation has on those who have had little opportunity and or guidance in real life that has enabled them to form “preconceived” notions about what is moral.

You seem to think that nearly “everyone” has had an adequate amount of such real-world guidance or influence, and that this will stand them in good stead against any adverse portrayals in the “non-real” world of the arts. If this were true, we wouldn’t need a criminal justice system, would we?

As you later say, “We think about what we see and judge it according to what we already know from life experience.” And if someone’s “life experience” has been largely negative and he or she is fed further negativity via the media, what then? It reinforces, and in some cases may well enhance, feelings already present.

In saying this, I’m not pumping for some kind of Hayes Code that was imposed on motion pictures in the 30s. I realize that life is messy and that the good guys don’t always win. But I think it is OK to actively speak out when media or the arts portray something we believe is beyond the pale and has the potential for harm.

Of course, the prevailing thought is that an unrelenting diet of pretend violence desensitizes us to violence in the real world, and I can’t help but believe there’s something to this.

Obviously one’s real-life experiences are paramount in shaping our thoughts and actions, but I don’t see how you can say they obliterate any and all influence from other non-real-life sources. If one’s real-life experiences are to some degree in harmony with these non-real-life sources, then we have an even bigger problem.

Do you honestly believe that the kids who shot up Columbine High School would have acted in exactly the same way if they had grown up in a media vaccuum, with no exposure to TV violence and/or whatever musical influences may have been visited upon them?

In a great many ways, I believe I am…but that’s another discussion.

Indeed it did not, which is why the argument I’ve heard that the Eminem flap is just the latest manifestation of what was said in previous generations against Elvis, The Stones, The Sex Pistols or whomever doesn’t hold water. There is certainly a major difference in content in what each of these artists were saying, and it’s fatuous to pretend there isn’t.

What makes you think he would not be? As was subsequently pointed out, if what we see in the media has no effect on us whatsoever, then advertisers have wasted trillions of dollars over the last century. And those advertising dollars have been spent, in most cases, specifically for the purpose of galvanizing their target audience into taking action.

Of course I wouldn’t have. First of all, a band that said such a thing would not be my favorite band, because I came from a loving home in which I learned from experience and by example that this is not the route to a happy life.

All well and good. However…

Because he or she was NOT raised in a home like mine. Because he or she was taught by first-hand example that violence is the preferred way of solving problems between human beings, and that human feelings (and sometimes human life itself) are cheap. I’m sure you’ll agree that a great many children are raised in homes such as these. They grow up angry and mean-spirited, and their own “favorite bands” usually reflect this.

The most benign thing we can say is that such bands or artists reinforce feelings that have already developed, or give such kids “permission” to engage in these thought patterns. My belief is that such artists may in fact intensify such feelings.

This is exactly what I meant about the 60s music I grew up on. A variety of different influences caused me to reach the conclusion that this notion of everyone trying to love one another and live in peace was a pretty good idea. The music I liked best reinforced this idea – indeed was in many cases the primary point of origin for it.

So my question remains, why would it work that way in my case – but not work in the opposite direction with someone else? In both cases, our “real-life” experiences and influences and our “non-real-life” ones would be in harmony.

What pisses me off generally is that, whenever violence in the media or untoward influences in music or art are brought up, everyone repeats the mantra “Well, parents simply have to take more responsibility for their kids and what they’re exposed to. They simply must intervene and provide more guidance to counteract these influences.”

Then we sort of dust our hands off and stroll blithely away, imagining that we’ve disposed of that little unpleasantness handily and that there’s nothing more that need be said.

The obvious fact is that the kids who are most at risk for coming to harm through these influences are exactly the kids whose parents are LEAST likely to take more responsibility for them, and LEAST likely to intervene in any positive way.

That being the case, the only avenue left is to attack the problem at the source, which is exactly what those who decry Eminem’s negative messages – or who speak out generally about other negative influences – are doing.