February 23, 2004

Title: Globalization, Mergers and Media Violence: What are the links with the Commercial Exploitation of Children?

For: SCEC 2004 Summit
New York City, February 13 & 14.

Over the past 50 years, thousands of conducted studies – public inquires among them – have demonstrated harmful effects from media violence. Many also demonstrate that media coalesce into a seamless, pervasive and increasingly centralized, homogenized and globalized cultural environment that is drifting out of democratic reach.

Particularly dangerous among these trends, is the growing reliance on violence in popular culture as a cheap commercial ingredient that sells well in a global economy and translates easily into any language. Many of these cultural commodities are aggressively marketed to children. As former U.S. President Bill Clinton pointed out when he ordered a government study into the Columbine high school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, young video game players are now encouraged to “get in touch” with their “gun-toting, cold-blooded murdering side” (CNN Interactive, June 1, 1999).

Evidence accumulates that our collective, immune system to violence is breaking down, yet strategies for change remain hamstrung by quaint and dated interpretations of freedom of expression. While it is essential to protect the basic integrity of the free press, careless extension of the principle to protect profit driven agendas of media conglomerates who now have a firm grip on the value systems of the next generation, is unacceptable. At least for anyone interested in advocating on behalf of peaceful co-existence, non-violent conflict resolution strategies or long term cultural and natural environmental sustainability.

Here is an example of why: The extent of the growing reliance on ideological child abuse in our contemporary, information based economy was underscored in a news item that appeared in The Globe and Mail , Canada’s national newspaper, on August 2, 2000. In an article on the latest in marketing research, journalist, Ann Chin, referred to what is known as “extreme youth marketing” which means, she explained, investigation into how to sell to “premoral youth”. Speculation on the long term implications of this particular aspect of unbridled capitalism, whether we think in terms of addressing youth violence, consumer driven value systems, health related problems such as obesity or long term environmental sustainability does not involve rocket science. Nevertheless, in society at large the dots remain unconnected.

Additional articles appeared in the same August 2, 2000 issue of this particular newspaper, begging for analytical integration with the article on the new practice of marketing to “premoral youth”. At a time when the attention of responsible parents and teachers was focussed on the upcoming new school year the question was posed as to whether or not “the schools” - not the media industries themselves, of course, - but the schools are failing boys. Reference was made to a school board official from Eastern Canada who echoed views shared by many academics throughout the country. Namely that boys, now socialized by action stories through the myriad of cultural commodities marketed to them from a very early age, are becoming less and less interested in the gentle narratives stressed by schools.

Sadly, the same myopia prevails on the subject of youth gang violence and warfare involving guns. The public debate about solutions consistently revolves around how young offenders should be incarcerated with tougher sentences. Toronto police chief, Julian Fantino, who in the past has pointed the finger at violent video games and other forms of popular culture in which gun ownership and use is glorified as causal factors has, more recently, stopped making such references. Instead, he is calling for an inquiry into the justice system, a call that has so far mustered little interest from the new Liberal government in Ontario and its election-bound federal counterpart. Fantino does, however, continue to push for legislative changes to halt repeat criminals and is now calling on community groups and politicians to hold a summit on public safety and security.

Today, problems involving public safety and security that go far beyond the community are especially pronounced following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Yet critical scrutiny on how the 270 plus terrorist films produced in the last couple of decades out of Hollywood alone, contribute to the growing global culture of violence, is still missing. If we are to build a peaceful world, safe for democracy, it is counterproductive to overlook and ignore the growing popularity, for example, of Rambo-like designer sun glasses and Nintendo war games among soldiers on any side of a particular conflict. For more insight into what I call “The Missing Links in the War on Terrorism” I encourage you to look at a new book I co-authored with my colleagues at the Center for Global Media Studies at Washington State University entitled, Terrorism, Globalization and Mass Communications. Marquette Books. ISBN 0-922993-04-1.

Clearly, strategies are required at all levels of government and in all sectors of society if these multi-faceted problems are to be adequately addressed. Educational initiatives such as media literacy courses in the schools continue to be needed but these must go beyond mere definition of the problems and not be confined to children alone. The adult population needs to better understand the links between our new information based global economy and the commercial exploitation of children. Of course, industry self regulation with appropriate codes of ethics and broadcast standard councils such as we have in Canada are helpful for the purpose of dealing with public complaints but legislation is also required, such as that which already exists within the province of Quebec and many countries in Western Europe. We need legislation that bans advertising directed to children, 13 years of age and under on the basis of research showing harmful effects.

Only when we begin to recognize the futility of short term, band-aid measures and endless inquires that end up collecting dust in the offices of academics and activists, will we begin to make progress toward sound, integrated public policy on health, early childhood education, community safety, national security and environmental sustainability.

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