Does watching violent acts make us violent? As Western society becomes ever more media-saturated, this question continues to provoke heated debate. On one side are those who seek to reduce the role of violence in popular entertainment, and on the other are the defenders of free speech and civil liberties. Sissela Bok's Mayhem
is an attempt to assess the impact of violent entertainment and to provide strategies for reducing that impact. Her study is grounded in a historical examination of violence in entertainment--from the Roman gladiators through Renaissance theater to the current attempts to regulate the Internet. By placing the current debate in a historical context, she is able to dig beneath the hysteria of the present and find the deeper roots of our fascination.
In exploring the modern role of violence as public entertainment, Bok pursues the middle ground, refusing to advocate outright censorship, but also reluctant to simply deny that there is a problem. One of her solutions is to increase "media literacy"--helping children "...learn to take a more active and self-protective part in evaluating what they see." This seems to be an eminently sensible response, protecting freedom of speech while interrogating the place of violence in our lives. It is not the violent entertainment itself that is dangerous, but its passive consumption by an unquestioning audience.
This is a dauntingly complex issue, and Bok cannot offer easy answers or hope to please all her readers, but this is a thoroughly researched and compellingly stated contribution to an extremely important debate.
From Library Journal
Two leading intellectuals look at the impact of commercially motivated cultural production on today's media-saturated culture. In her methodical and readable book, Bok (formerly philosophy, Brandeis; now distinguished fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies) examines the shallow debates surrounding violent entertainments, especially on television. She fleshes out both sides of the issue, offering a rigorous discussion of the ill effects of violent shows and of censorship, and then advances nongovernmental solutions to curbing exposure to violent media. While packed with citations and rich in anecdote, this book is slim and serves to refocus the debate rather than advance any new position or findings. Still, as discussions of the V-chip and similar efforts continue, this may be the best primer for a serious debate. In his more interesting but also more demanding work, Bourdieu (sociology, College de France, Paris) critiques the effects of the medium of television on the practice of journalism and, by extension, on other professions, on government, and on all of society. The bulk of the book is made up of two lectures that Bourdieu delivered over his university's television station, which drew heated criticism from prominent journalists and brought this book to France's best sellers lists last year. Because of the origins of the work there are few citations, but Bourdieu didn't dumb down his language, and the sometimes polemical text demands concentration. Though he mostly refers to French examples, the morass of vapid pontificators on "news" talk shows and the pervasive self-censorship of the marketplace are all too familiar to American audiences. This insightful and disturbing work belongs in all academic libraries as well as subject collections in larger public institutions; Bok's work is recommended for most public libraries.?Eric Bryant, "Library Journal"
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