Monday, June 21, 2010

I Don’t Believe It Anymore I’m Not Pretending I Do

This has been developing over the last several months.

When I sat down to write this post it was going to be about another story in today’s paper about a teenager being tormented by bullies in her school. As that piece was forming itself on the screen, details about the campaign of terror waged against one child, I changed my mind.

I decided to say instead, I just don’t believe it anymore. I believe that child’s oppression is the result of what her oppressors think and where they learned that from. And I think it’s clear where some of it comes from. Their behavior is the result of it.

I don’t believe the predominant dogma of media libertarianism, I won’t fall for it anymore. I don’t believe that we have to be fair to malignant media or its producers or those who sell it or even those who consume it. I don’t believe they deserve it, they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore. I’m not going to be their stooge or carry their water. I don’t believe that liberalism and a decent life can survive in a society that gives media carrying malignant content an absolutely free rein.

When you let just anything into the media stream you’re going to get seductive violent, sexist, hateful crap that will be seen by children and others who will learn to be twisted, mean, selfish, sociopathic units of consumption instead of people you would want to encounter. Not people you’d want to meet in person, not even on the other end of the telephone line or processing your online order. Even more troubling to think about, would you want the enemies of your children, or a potentially very violent school mate who they might not even know, to have their minds informed by the worst of media? Because they could very likely have that last one now.

And what’s true for you, as an adult, it is many times more true for your children and other children.

The clear fact that different media has different effects and so probably shouldn’t be considered the same kind of thing as a printed text, didn’t occur to me until sometime in the 1980s when someone told me that a couple in town habitually watched porn videos with their children in the room with them. I didn’t make the connection between having a machine to show movies in your house with it becoming not only possible to watch the most depraved forms of pornography and violence with the youngest children, but that, inevitably, it would often be done. I did know that none of the children in that family was older than ten and that they went to school with my nieces and nephews. Consider that. YOU might just turn it off, you might protect your children from the effects of the worst the entertainment industry offers but they almost certainly will be in school with children who have been imbibing it since they were in diapers. Would you want the friends of your children, their boyfriends, girlfriends to have their minds formed by the worst of media? Because that’s the situation we’re in now thanks to technology mixed with media libertarianism.

They are in your children’s schools, your children won’t be able to avoid them. And, don’t lie to yourselves, the chances are you children will be seeing the same commercial depravity that those young horrors are, if not in your home while you’re assuming they’re doing their homework online or in their friends’ homes.

You might want to listen to this interview with Nancy Carlsson-Paige about the effects of media on young children. In a piece she wrote with Diane E. Levin they point out some really horrific facts:

Children in the United States are swimming in a culture of violence which has its effects from subtle to deadly on every child. The violence comes in many forms--family abuse, violence on the streets, in the community, violence in the news. Every 10 seconds a child in this country is abused or neglected. Every 2 hours a child is killed by a firearm.

And then there is entertainment violence--every child's automatic membership in a media-saturated, popular culture that glorifies violence through images, actions, and models marketed to children via television, toys and other products, videos, video games, and Hollywood films. On television alone, children see 32 acts of violence every hour and over 1,000 murders a year. Teachers and researchers have been warning for more than a decade that this violent culture marketed to children has harmful effects, both in the present and for the long term.

I have pointed out a number of times, elsewhere, that between three and four women a day are murdered in the United States because they are women. It’s been stated that this is a lynching campaign against women, a terror campaign that kills many and robs all women of their full freedom. Media that feeds social misogyny encourages that violence. And we see the same campaign against children. Twelve children a day killed by firearms, I haven’t read enough yet to make any parallel to lynching but it is clearly a disaster that is killing more than 4,300 children a year. It’s not hard to imagine that the psychological effects on the rest of children can’t be good. And their turning 18 isn’t going to fix that.

The pretense of media libertarianism that began in the 1950s was that the product an unrestricted media would bring would be innocuous, that “studies showed” there wasn’t a correlation between media violence and violence in society. I won’t go into the character of those “studies” except to say they were junk science. And the media didn’t even believe it themselves. We’ve noted here before that the line of “no effect” wasn’t the same one they were selling to advertisers the entire time as they touted the ability of media to influence behavior. But all that was in a much different media. TV was under content codes, there were no home videos or computers. About the only thing that is the same is print and that was regulated for content too, especially graphic content.

I just don’t believe it anymore, I’m not willing to pretend I do. We live in a country where the Supreme Court has declared that the protection of children isn’t a greater interest than the entertainment of adults. The highest authorities in our country have abdicated adult responsibility on behalf of commercial media and its distributors. And in the name of freedom. Burning the village to save the village wasn’t a more ironic concept. In that, I think the judicial system has adopted and extended the same two ended lie that the media libertarians were pushing. Only they are embedding it into the law of the land. The rest of government is lying right along with them.

I especially don’t believe that there is any rational reason that a distinction can’t be made between text and photography and video and live performance. The founding fathers might have been ignorant of the potential differences, in 2010 there is no excuse for us to pretend we don’t know that.

Liberalism has been declining the entire time that media libertarianism has been rising. That isn’t any kind of paradox unless you mistook the reason for liberalism to ever have existed to begin with. Liberalism has been twisted into libertarianism along the way. The seductive message of liberty on behalf of Ulysses and other great works of fiction have made liberals forget that their purpose isn’t to be impartial. It made liberals forget that they have no business suspending judgement. The purpose of liberalism is to promote ends, it is to push an agenda and to oppose forces in the media that oppose that agenda. Equality, a decent peaceful life, an informed electorate, and a host of other benefits to the world are the real goal of liberalism. That’s what I still believe in. And pretending it was wrong for us to make distinctions even among books (which have no inherent rights) was among the stupidest acts of capitulation in this decline. Putting Last Exit to Brooklyn on public library shelves was never any serious concern of real liberals. The message of the book is hardly a promotion of womens’ rights, equality or anything positive. The content makes it entirely different from information about contraception and gender equality and safer sex or sex in the context of mutual respect and affection. It is possible to distinguish the necessary from the malignant, the positive from the oppressive. They should have let the illiberal junk fight it out on its own.

I don’t believe that all media is equal or that it should all be treated the same way. I believe that liberalism that has adopted media or corporate libertarianism has ceased to be liberal. I’m not buying those transparent libertarian lies anymore. I think it’s possible to make distinctions between malignant media and media that isn’t, I think that if we ever want a decent society it is necessary to come up with the processes for doing that while protecting media that is beneficial. If it isn’t, we are doomed to becoming a species dominated by psychopaths.

Media that promotes the opposite of equality and treating people and the world decently should be opposed, it’s not the equal of media that promotes good, it appeals to the worst in us, the most selfish in us. It’s selfishness is seductive and gives it power that media promoting unselfishness will not have. It should be opposed.