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Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment Hardcover – April 13, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201489791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201489798
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,089,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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"
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on September 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Violence is as American as apple pie. The book considers media violence, its impact, and problems of censorship. Romans feasted on violence. Communal violence was connected to sacrifice. Vicarious terror can be pleasurable. There is the matter of catharsis, a therapeutic good.

Heavy TV viewers, (therefore viewers of media violence), believe that the outside world is filled with threats. Middle class families have an inordinate fear of kidnapping. Children are kept in lockdown.

Numbing absorption in media violence may cause an inability to feel the pain of others. There is something the matter with learning not to feel a thing. Children need to develop their souls.

As stated, the book deals with problems of censorship. Parents, of course, may use the on and off button to control the television viewing of their children.

The author does an adequate job of dealing with the topics presented. The book is fairly academic, (but is free of jargon). There are both notes and an index.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Sissela Bok's "Mayhem" takes on the issue of violence in various media and the effects of that violence on the population. The issue is one that seems to be dominated by those for whom reason is not a priority, and Bok's considered and apparently well-researched book is a welcome voice of sanity. (This is not to say that she is the first to deal with the issue honestly and reasonably; naturally, others have done so. Bok, however, does seem to enjoy more exposure than many of the others, whose work has often been relegated to academic fora.)
Bok takes some time to get to what is really the fundamental point of her book and the point from which her theses spring--that violence in the media does have an effect on the population. It would be more accurate to state that she concludes that media depictions of violence have several effects. It is probably a sad commentary on the state of public debate that Bok must take extra care to state the modest nature of the conclusion. Media depictions of violence are not the only factors that lead to these negative consequences, she points out with stress, nor are we all influenced in the same ways. These points, which should be obvious even to those who would challenge Bok's theses and assumptions, seem to take force from Bok's arguments and diminish the power of the book. In other words, the need to deal with disingenuous counterarguments harms the overall result.
Ultimately, it may be that Bok is a little too careful, though she does suggest that censorship on some level might not be such a bad thing. Her arguments may be too restrained out of an effort to avoid the excesses that seem to dominate the popular debate.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John R. Sumser on June 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was extremely disappointed in this book, possibly because I expect a great deal from Sissela Bok. There is nothing in this book which could not be found in past issues of popular magazines.
Bok is amazingly uncritical and seems to have little familiarity with fifty years of research on this topic. She casually dismisses the idea that there is no common definition of violence, for example, without explaining that that argument is not generally about violence in real life (although many have argued that punching inflated bobo dolls is an odd example of violence), but that there is little consensus about what constitutes violence in the media, especially on television. When I teach courses in the media, I routinely ask students to identify specific instances of violence in television programming and the range of perceptions is incredible.
There is a lot on nonsense written on both sides of this argument. Unfortunately, Bok does nothing to clarify the issues or the data. I was hoping to be able to assign this book in my courses, but I won't bother.
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