March 22, 2004

Amnesty International appeals to Hollywood to limit violent portrayals against women.

Amnesty International is to be congratulated for launching their 2004 Campaign addressing Violence Against Women. As chairperson of Canadians Concerned About Violence In Entertainment, I was pleased to contribute in February as an invited speaker at a Toronto Metro Hall Forum, coordinated by the local women's chapter of Amnesty, on the subject of media violence and how it fuels violence against women. On March 6th, an article appeared in THE GLOBE AND MAIL about Amnesty's appeal to Hollywood producers to stop portraying violence against women in films. It was emphasized, however, that they were NOT calling for any kind of "censorship".

While Amnesty must be supported for focussing attention on the problem at a time when links between violence in popular culture and violence against women, or anyone else in society for that matter, are disappearing in news coverage of murders, youth gang violence and schoolyard bullying, much more needs to be done by us all. The gap in policy, based on how we respond to rising evidence of real life violence and how make believe violence contributes to it, must be closed before we are likely to see any meaningful change for the better. Newspaper reports on studies showing evidence of harmful effects from violence in popular culture continue to proliferate but, beyond calls for ever more beleaguered, overworked, confused and poorly informed parents to exercise more vigilance over their children's media habits, no recommended solutions appear to be in sight.

On March 13, we were given a scientific report in THE GLOBE AND MAIL on how MRI imaging techniques employed for medical diagnostic purposes have yielded evidence that when a video game player participates in simulated violence, his heart rate and blood pressure rise and brain cells that normally counsel empathy are shut down. Furthermore, the images are burned into his long-term memory. All of this behaviour modification is taking place daily at your local video arcade where children are being taught, as they score points for making heads roll, that killing is fun.

Pleading with industry to clean up its act is, for the most part, a waste of time and breath if anyone is expecting tangible results. It does little more than offer up a benign, public relations exercise in which one is "being seen" to be addressing the problem. Consider the analysis of past performance history presented in the widely acclaimed Canadian film, THE CORPORATION. In both Joel Bakan's book it is based on, and the film itself, we get an excellent explanation, with concrete examples, of how the modern corporation is recognized in the law as a person. One of its perceived rights is freedom of expression. Yet, in psychological terms, the corporation tends to behave like a psychopathic individual, incapable of quilt, shame or remorse and extremely skilled at manipulation and deceit. Nowhere are these behavioural deviancies more prevalent than in the cultural industries.

The review for THE GLOBE AND MAIL which also appeared on March 6th, of the latest, over the top, blood soaked video game just released in Canada, although banned in New Zealand, entitled "The Manhunt" says it all. "Nobody normal could prepare for what awaits them...The player is to assume the persona of one James Earl Cash...At no point in the game is it made clear whether Cash is a good guy or bad guy, but he is a killing machine on a manhunt...Perhaps the scariest fact of all: Manhunt is so user-friendly that any sharp 12-year-old could navigate through the entire game in one sitting. Be afraid." Andrew Ryan concludes.

When I was interviewed about this video game, myself, on CBC News World for all of about 90 seconds on March 11th, before being cut off due to lack of time, apologists explained that Federal NDP leader, Jack Layton, went on longer than expected in the news hour - not that he had anything to say about the growing crisis of media violence, himself. Let's hope that he and other policy advocates, intent on alleviating the problem of misguided youth due to lack of after school programs and jobs, can stretch their imaginations beyond media literacy programs that focus exclusively on skill development for the production of ever more creative, over the top, bloodfests for entertainment purposes. Skills that is, that will, in turn, land them lucrative work in either the $30 billion a year video game industry in the U.S. or its $33 billion a year pornography industry.

It is time we all stopped pussyfooting around the problem of ideological child abuse and how it fuels our economy, like an elephant in the room that no one is prepared to acknowledge exists. What we need are calls for some real action from government in regulating what the cultural industries are at liberty to do with our children's health and value systems. Anything less is tantamount to fiddling while Rome burns.

To learn more about what YOU can do to become part of the solution to the problem join C-CAVE today and get involved in the numerous upcoming activities and emerging plans for action.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chairperson, C-CAVE
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication