May 7, 2008

When Violence Is TV

Justin Katz

It would seem that the manifest circle whereby violence on TV produces violence in life is complete:

An afterschool fight that drew 50 to 60 student onlookers in front of Roger Williams Middle School was posted on the Web site YouTube, making Providence part of a growing phenomena in which teenagers use technology to publicize acts of violence.

When the police arrived Wednesday around 3 p.m., they saw three to five girls punching and kicking someone in front of a large crowd of students from Roger Williams as well as a nearby high school, Cooley Health & Science Technology Academy on Thurbers Avenue. ...

"Kids live in cyberspace where popularity is based on page views," she said yesterday. "We're creating a generation of kids who live in virtuality, not reality. They see themselves as the producers of their own hit shows."

The act of videotaping allows teenagers to distance themselves from violence, turning them into passive observers rather than participants who feel the victim's pain, she said.

It's long been my sense that adults underestimated the risk of steeping children in advanced technology. As I've said before, for my generation, by the time we'd gotten to Mortal Kombat, we'd logged hours on games that were clearly games, whether Super Mario Brothers or Pong. Now, not only can kids control a virtual beating, they can become the producers of reality TV violence. It's wonderful to be able to actively produce things — videos, music, and so on — that once required corporate resources, but there were mollifying restrictions that came with accessing those resources.

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A young guy in Providence literally had his testicles kicked to a bloody pulp a few nights ago. Both were ruptured and rendered useless. This morning a young woman was stabbed in the chest and had her face sliced open on Messer Street, broad daylight. She is scarred for life and has internal injuries. I've been doing this for a while and the recent violence is the worst I've seen.

Posted by: michael at May 7, 2008 4:49 PM

YouTube has some very nice postings such as historical events and old TV shows or parts of them.
It is unfortunate and absurd the STUPIDITY of anyone including teenagers who post acts such as beatings or parties where alcohol is served to or by underage people where INCRIMINATING evidence is there for ALL to see including parents, school officials, law enforcement and others. Certainly people don't think before they do these postings!

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at May 7, 2008 5:34 PM

in my day comic books were held to's human nature.i saw some really bad stuff happen in my neighborhood in the fifties,a period when evryone thinks it was all Ozzie and Harriet time.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 7, 2008 6:06 PM

It's different now, Joe. These are senseless acts of violence, no motive.

Posted by: michael at May 7, 2008 6:09 PM

Michael-I think you have a point-I often worked unmarked patrol 12M-8A in Chicago in the 70's and 80's and there was a lot of violence,but most of it was for a reason-good or bad,but a reason nonetheless.I loved that shift-not much traffic;a target rich environment because the illegals weren't looking for us; and no nosey civilians around.People out at those hours were generally in their own world.I do remember a few senseless killings in my neighborhood,like the guy beaten to death for a dime on the corner of my block,or a local psycho who split a guy's head with an axe for not giving him a light(and that individual was walking the streets three years later)-there will always be the maladjusted individuals among us who just like to hurt people.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 7, 2008 8:46 PM


My point isn't that violence has a scapegoat; it's that there's something more fundamental going on, here. Comic books are clearly not real, in that it would take psychological abnormalities to see them as real. Animation technology, by contrast, is getting to the point at which a first-person shooter game can be extremely realistic.

Now add to that the instant online lottery of fame online, and you've got a dangerously blurring line between life and virtual reality, between a human being with whom one should be empathetic and a computer-generated automaton that will come back to life with the next reload.

Posted by: Justin Katz at May 7, 2008 9:16 PM

Justin-i understand you even though I don't play video games.The new"virtuality"of the digital world can indeed remove the distance that books,comics,or film(and theatre) carry as part of their medium.Particularly with regard to the written word,there is a time lapse needed to form the picture of the thought presented.even in film there is a distance.The whole world of online relationships is changing human interaction radically.Writing letters for other than documentation of certain facts is becoming almost a curiosity in our society.I didn't think you were looking for a scapegoat-rather you were observing an evolving phenomenon.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 7, 2008 9:55 PM

Corporate restrictions are not cool. Corporations never protected us from violence.
I think the problem is with kids seeing thuggish behavior get rewarded, learning the lessons that might automatically makes right. For example, we love to wring our hands about negative campaigning, but time and time again, negative campaigning is rewarded at the polls.
When kids see violence, thuggery and dirty tricks win for adults, no wonder they decide to follow that example.

Posted by: rhody at May 8, 2008 12:39 AM

As an avid gamer (amongst other things), I always like the point out that youth violence is DOWN at historic lows. Even since the advent of Doom, Halo, Grand Theft Auto (GTA), youth violence has been declining or staying low.

Compares when games were released to the declining crime rate. While I would never claim that games reduce violence, I wouldn't say they increase violence either.

Posted by: george at May 8, 2008 4:28 PM

Justin, you said, My point isn't that violence has a scapegoat; it's that there's something more fundamental going on, here. Comic books are clearly not real, in that it would take psychological abnormalities to see them as real. Animation technology, by contrast, is getting to the point at which a first-person shooter game can be extremely realistic.

I say that the war in Iraq, which is opposed by better than 70% of the U.S. populace, is even more realistic than animation technology, and is a lot deadlier. Maybe we should end sanctioned violence and then go after make believe game violence.

Posted by: OldTime Lefty at May 9, 2008 11:38 AM
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