An Exhortation On Values

A Review Of Media Violence Alert

By Erica Albanese

"TV violence is everybody's problem. You may feel assured that your child will never become violent despite a steady diet of television mayhem, but you cannot be assured that your child won't be murdered or maimed by someone else's child raised on a similar diet."

-- Dr. Brandon Centerwall, from the book Media Violence Alert


First of all, if you're getting ready to open up your mouth to discredit what you haven't even read yet, what you are certain is going to be yet another crusty, dry, treatise on censorship by some stuffy republican who finds Air Supply "cutting-edge", please hear me out before doing so. And you can relax for the time being, too----nobody here is trying to take away your "rights."

In Media Violence Alert (2000), an informative and concise collection of five essays by a variety of insightful contributors that was put together by the Center For Successful Parenting (, Dr. Brandon Centerwall, M.D., M.P.H., documents in his essay "Television Comes To South Africa and Mcbride, Canada" that it has been proven in every single society in every single country in the whole wide world---from India to Indiana---that crime rates more than double within ten to fifteen years of the introduction of television to any society.

Wow! Why the fifteen-year delay, you ask? Because crime---rape, murder, assault---is an adult activity, and since television's greatest influence is on children, the time frame is indicative of the gestation period between when violent images are first perceived until when violent action is conceived. Basically, it's the length of time between how long it takes for the brutalization of a three to five year old to reach prime crime age.

It's common knowledge that children learn by mimicking, so it shouldn't be surprising to find out that within two years of introducing television to any group of children, two things will happen: the children's creative capacity will decrease by at least 22 percent and rates of biting, kicking, hitting, etc., will more than double. (Gee, I bet a third thing will happen, too. I bet a new strain of "learning disorder" will evolve out of virtually thin-air. And that a ton of parents will eagerly medicate their children with a chemical compound strikingly similar in make-up and effects to that of cocaine …...)

The most effective essay in Media Violence Alert was Lt. Col. David Grossman's twenty-six page opus entitled "Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill." Grossman, a former army ranger, West Point professor, and the author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost Of Learning To Kill In War And Society , drops the metaphorical bomb in an utterly brilliant presentation of the shared paradigm between the military's conditioning process and that of the media's.

In a nutshell: after the first few major wars the United States military was simply aghast at man's inherent lackthereof ability to just simply kill another man upon command, a "flaw" that was indicated by a scant fifteen-percent firing rate among soldiers and one that prevailed even after informing the troops that they were in fact only shooting at designated "bad guys." Apparently, just as "pesky" environmentalists are destructive to the lumber industry, a respect for life is destructive to the death industry, so since humans aren't born with an innate instinct to murder the military constructed one to install. And instill it they did: the firing rate by the time of Vietnam was well over 90 percent.

Grossman attests that militaries use one of three types of conditioning to train a man to kill: brutalization, or inculcation of values; classical conditioning; or operant conditioning. In brutalization, or the inculcation of values, a person's existing norms and values are broken down so that a new set of values, which embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life, can be accepted. To the young soldier this is more commonly known as boot camp; to the young child, unable to discern between their reality and media reality, this comes in the form of any violent or graphic media footage in scenes from cartoons to "E.R." to video games.

Classical conditioning, once best demonstrated by Pavlov's dogs, who learned to salivate from the sound of a ringing bell, can now be illustrated just as well by the student's reactions at Jonesboro high school upon being told that someone had just shot a bunch of their little brothers, sisters, and cousins in the middle school: they laughed. We have a generation of people who associate violence with pleasure, and no, not because they're parents didn't love them or they listen to Judas Priest: these kids were conditioned ten to fifteen years ago in a culture that propagates it, long before they were old enough to buy albums.

Operant conditioning is a very powerful procedure of stimulus-response that is responsible for 75-80 percent of the shooting on any battlefield. When people are frightened or angry, they will do what they are conditioned to do, hence life-saving procedures such as fire drills and self-defense courses for women featuring simulated attacks. It should be of great interest to know that the United States Military has licensed a slightly modified version of the Super Nintendo game "Doom" and are calling it MACS, Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulators. To train people to kill.

Is it effective? You tell me: Michael Carneal, a fourteen-year-old from Paducah, KY, had never fired a pistol in his life when he stole a .22 pistol from a neighbor, took it to school, and opened fire on a prayer group as they were breaking up. Firing at a group of screaming, running kids, he hit 8 of them with 8 shots---5 in the head, 3 in the upper torso. Grossman, who also not only trained the Texas Rangers, but the Texas State Patrol, the California Highway Patrol Academy, and a battalion of the U.S. Army Green Berets, reported that when he informed the Green Berets of this child's "achievement", they were stunned: nowhere in the annals of military or law enforcement history can an equivalent accomplishment be found. Witnesses testified that Michael stood and shot with a blank look on his face, never moving his feet. He was playing a video game. Michael came not from a "broken" home but rather an affluent family, where "combat simulators" played a common role in his childhood curriculum.

Grossman aptly calls this conditioning and desensitization AVIDS---Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which works a lot like AIDS: it alone does not destroy you, it destroys your defense against otherwise non-fatal situations that come across your path. In fact, he often testifies as an expert witness in cases where kids are facing the death penalty, fighting for mitigation on behalf of that child. To paraphrase, his expert ass can be found trying to convince ignorant you not to sentence a child to death since the culture that you propagate actually conditions kids to kill, but since you consider yourselves to be such "experts" on the matter yourselves---so "morally" convictive about what's "right" and so truly abreast of what is "really" going on with people these days (when you're not glued to your TVs, that is)---that you can't see the forest for the trees.

Other noteworthy contributions to Media Violence Alert were "Surfing The Dark Corners", an epistle on moderating adolescent internet exposure by John Lovin, a representative of Medical Society Alliance and Global Electronic Marketing, and "Protecting Our Children From Frightening Mass Media", by Dr. Joanne Cantor, Ph.D, professor and author of "Mommy, I'm Scared", the latter of which I found to be particularly interesting.

"Protecting Our Children" explores the psychological effects imaging can have on children, stating that even a brief exposure to a single disturbing television program or movie can instill intense fear in a child, producing severe anxieties and often long lasting psychological scars. (Additional testimony from both my sister-in-law and I strongly indicates that it really, really cannot be stressed enough how much the scene in "Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan" where the slug-like creature slithered into some extraordinarily unenviable man's ear would have looked better on the cutting room floor. Neither she nor I can recall anything else about a movie we each separately saw almost twenty years ago except for that one beyond disturbing scene. In fact, let's just move on, shall we?) And I'll just somehow try and squeeze Dr. Cantor's crucial warnings that a scene doesn't have to be necessarily violent to frighten and scar children, that news programs are often the biggest culprits of this crime, and that parents should utilize the site for a complete content review on video games and movies in somewhere else.

In the least compelling piece of all, the "Honorable" James Payne, a juvenile court judge, manages to lump a whole bunch of information that feels redundant at this point in the book into a paltry five-paged essay entitled "Surveying The Long Term Effects Of Media Violence". Payne bears witness only to his own broad generalizations as he trumpets the obvious as if a personal discovery: believe it or not, but teen offenders tend to watch violent movies, play violent movie games, and listen to violent music.

Initially I wasn't even going to dignify this comment, but then in the back of my head I vaguely recalled that Dr. Centerwall had laced his sermon with a dig on "gangsta rap." Yes, as powerful and influential as music is, music is characterized not by blindsiding the subconscious with crippling images and doctored associations, but rather by statements, poetry, exclamations, confessions, stories, thoughts, and rants set to various sounds. Therefore music is more akin not to visual media but to written media (except for crappy MTV), and likewise cannot be categorized as a conditioning agent just because the words aren't pretty or you don't agree with what the artist is saying---which appears to be the real "problem" behind our media's periodic witch hunts. (Why, when I'm not busy muckraking I listen to tons of music----folk, gospel, industrial, blues, disco, pop, "gangsta" rap, you name it, from Celine Dion to Eazy E. Unlike imaging, which inhibits creativity and has scientifically proven in study after study to impair imagination (among other things), songs are like books in that they are metaphors and that they challenge the parameters of the imagination.)

When "parents" argue that their kids won't be desensitized by Mortal Kombat just because they themselves weren't desensitized by Pong twenty years ago, it is a psychological "code blue" that someone's careless and lazy. Such a parent generally shirks situations requiring education and personal discipline, deeming the underlying theology of anything that requires such an unwelcome behavioral change "heretical", and in the most pathetic cases, "unconstitutional". Logic unfortunately dictates that such desensitization---chiefly characterized by the act of rewarding participants for head-shots and other bloodshed in life-like (or "virtual") scenario---simply wasn't occurring twenty years ago, hence negating any "historical proof" that such games have no impact on the players. Sadly, this myopic "argument" usually only reveals a parent's personal lack of desire to grow up and to put the welfare of their child first. And none of this even addresses the myriad other areas of desensitization, especially the blatant objectification of women in these video games, let alone the media at large.

Which brings to mind the first of two remaining serious faux pas that the Media Violence Alert committed:

First, the damaging effects of media violence is only a small part of the big picture.

We currently have a nation full of "depressed", weight and youth obsessed, materialistic druggies and trendies who were---"crazily" enough---raised on a media that has steadily informed them that they are not good enough on their own, that to be "fat" or "old" equates being systematically ignored, unloved, or mocked, that everything is a "need", and that not only is alcohol simply mandatory for a "good time" but smoking is forever cool even though it's (of course!) "not". And the kicker: you will still be forever defective no matter how much you "smoke" or "buy" or "diet" etc., which is why even celebrities confess to suffering from this epidemic dis-ease.

Second, the media is multipotent in it's exertion of mind control and it's power to desensitize, and simply removing violence (or even just it's connotation with pleasure) isn't going to solve much of anything except that people won't physically harm each other as much.

They may be "alive" but they still won't like themselves, which hardly constitutes living; Hell, just look what our culture has done to the female population (or let me guess -- that's just another made-up problem, too, right?) In fact, in college I socked it to society in yet another one of my mesmerizing, incendiary discourses, this time on the relationship between pornography and the desensitization of it's viewers towards the issue of sexual assault. In the studies, rape scenes were thought to be "exaggerated" by the commentators after viewing the porn, although "totally disturbing" upon just viewing the crime alone. To summarize the issue, in an increasingly global society the supposition that we are in control of all of our thoughts is becoming more and more doubtful (of course they're "ours", but who put them there? Here's a good exercise: find out what three-year olds think is really important, then backtrack to when you started to stray from that.) After all, if the media didn't affect us then why is Superbowl Sunday notorious for being the "busiest" day of the year for domestic abuse centers? My former co-worker once said it best when she mused that if the overriding consensus was really that 'television can't possibly affect people', then "why would so many companies pay out the ass for commercials?!", to which I say "touché!" Whether this conditioning was intentional or not is irrelevant at this juncture.

We have pinpointed the most influential source of the problem: there's no need for this toxic hysteria to continue.



© 2001 Text by Erica Albanese

© 2001 "TV holding knife" animation by Ron Kaufman