Why yes. Yes they do.
In my role at the McLuhan Program, I am frequently asked that perennial mass-media chestnut, do violent videogames and song lyrics cause violence in youth? The latest came today. So if you are a journalist or a stringer, sent out by an editor or producer to get the answer to this question from that guy at the McLuhan Program, I’ll save you the nickel.*
Usually the unfortunate reporter who is sent on this assignment is relatively young, and I always turn the question back – did you experience so-called violence in video games and/or song lyrics when you were a teen? Did they induce you to violence? Do they induce you to violence today? Then why should we expect that there is any direct causal connection between media violence and violence in youth?
A better question probes the ground: Why is it that people in authority – politicians, police officials, educators – invariably turn to the relatively simplistic apparent causality between violence in pop culture and violence in youth? For example, as people like Hillary Clinton in the United States decries Grand Theft Auto for corrupting the morals of impressionable minds – oh yes, it was the sex that caught her attention, not the violence – attention shifts away from other, well-documented systemic and societal conditions that tend to engender youth alienation and ultimately, youth violence as an aggressive quest for imperilled identity. Things like systemic racism, lack of funding for recreational and vocational opportunities for youth, lack of decent employment opportunities for new immigrants – many of whom have skills, education and professional experience, otherwise they wouldn’t have been allowed to immigrate under Canada’s points system – years of negatively aggressive responses, lip service and occasionally deceit from authorities, that have destroyed community trust, and any sense of optimism or hope of reward for working within "the system."
By redirecting attention, and the general social discourse, from structural societal problems to the ills of pop culture, these difficult, systemic issues are largely made invisible, or at least diminished in their importance through the magic of moral relativism. Thus, it can be said that violent videogames and song lyrics “cause” invisibility.
Additional comments: In every age, it is the case that the pop culture of the time is said (by the elites) to cause the moral decay of society. When I was a teen, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” was considered scandalous. Comic books rotted the mind. And so forth. In Mozart's time, it was The Magic Flute that caused moral turpitude, at least according to the movie.
I will agree that the continual exposure to violence as post-hypnotic suggestion via the hot medium of television (e.g. news footage from the war zone du jour, professional football and hockey, the ravings of Fox News commentators) conditions adults’ minds to accept the normalcy of violence – violence as an assumptive ground – and thereby makes it easier to perpetrate the "politics of violence," especially when coupled with the "politics of fear," a.k.a. institutional terrorism.
Feel free to quote me on this.
[Technorati tags: youth violence | videogame violence | violent song lyrics | youth alienation]
*Note to those who were socialized into a mobile world: At one time, mobile telephony was accomplished through the use of stationary telephones, strategically located throughout the city, and in public buildings. When an individual was mobile, s/he could pause at one of these stations and place a telephone call. Yes, this was clearly inconvenient to do from a moving automobile, but it generally worked out well. The cost to use these devices was originally a nickel, cash, flat fee, per call, regardless of call duration. That cost rose over the years to a dime, and later to a quarter, prior to these stations being largely discontinued, except in transportation hubs. The few that remain usually require a prepaid calling card. The reference to “saving you a nickel” came from the time when reporters were usually out of the office to get stories, and had to resort to pay telephones for conducting interviews. Yes, I am being partially facetious; the other part is a deft shift of ground in probing the effect of mobility, being able to observe that, in effect, pay phones enabled mobile communications, demonstrating that the (formal cause) effect precedes the (efficient) cause.