I guess we’re doing the “violence in media” thing again

So amid the handwringing and anguish over violent political language — which almost certainly had nothing to do with Loughner’s attack on Rep. Giffords but maybe might inspire violence in the future, hey, it could happen, you can’t prove that it won’t — more than a few people have drawn the obvious comparisons between violent imagery in a campaign poster, violent imagery in a TV drama, and violent imagery in a video game.  Hey, I can play!  And so can Bill Gardner:

(Also?  Best academic blog title EVAR.)

Not surprisingly, it turns out that incidence of simple and aggravated assault began a sharp nose-dive in about 1993 with the release of DOOM, and incidence of rape began a sharp nose-dive in about 1991 as the WWW started to take off (you may also know this period as The Day Porn Became Free).  All of this is based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics Victimization Survey, rather than the fetid imaginings of sweaty-palmed demagogues.

Gardner is cautious about implying causation:

So, does that mean the experimental social psychology studies have been done wrong, and that media violence has no effect? No, and No. It is entirely possible that if we hadn’t had violent videogames during the last 15 years, the assault rates would have dropped even further. That said, the Figures above suggest that the effects of violent videogames on actual violence may be small relative to other social forces that have reduced rates of assault and rape, and similarly for the effects of pornography on sexual aggression.


So what do we make of this? It’s plausible to me that, as Austin suggests, the effect of violent rhetoric is something like the effect of violent videogames or pornography. The data suggest, then, that if media exposure to violent political rhetoric has an effect, it’s likely to be harmful, but if so the harm may be small.

I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that both increases in media and rhetorical violence and decreases in real physical violence come from the same root cause, which I’ll wildly and irresponsibly speculate to be a greater cultural willingness to confront and grapple with (whoops!  Violent imagery again) violent acts and their consequences.  Of course, I also wouldn’t be shocked to find that increased fake violence is offsetting behaviour for decreased real violence.  Either way, I’m a bit surprised that this still comes as a surprise.

2 Responses to “I guess we’re doing the “violence in media” thing again”

  1. January 13, 2011 at 09:10

    Between the Cazadors and the Mutants, I’m more concerned with getting killed than killing.

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anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW


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