Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Violence and the News (from Emily)

I know, I know. This is a very old debate, and you are sick of hearing about it. Some say news organizations should be able to show anything, while others say there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed, and chances are you've already made up your mind on this issue. Nothing I say will change it. That's good, because I don't intend to persuade you about anything. What I do intend to do is bring your attention to a recent violent news leak scandal.

Wikileaks, a website dedicated to leaking news the government wants suppressed, has released video footage of US soldiers in combat/ killing/ murdering/ apprehending/ whatever term fits your interpretation of the scene. I hope you'll watch the below clip of Colbert's interview with the man who edited and authorized the video, (which shows no part of the violent video, in case you're as sensitive to violence as Erica and I are), because the issues they get into impact gender issues too. I know the Colbert Report isn't exactly the most reliable news source, but I think this clip is one of the very rare instances where Colbert drops his fictional persona on the show for more than a few seconds.

What does footage of war violence have to do with gender? As bell hooks said when she visited Utah recently, what we see impacts our behavior. If this weren't true, why would style vary so much between regions and over time? Why would companies spend so much money on visual advertisements? Multiple studies have found correlations between individuals viewing behavior and then modeling that behavior, and studies have also found that men who view videos that depict violence against women (such as rape porn) become desensitized to violence against women. Presumably because that violence doesn't seem quite so bad in comparison. So, does it do any good when we represent violence?

This issue has been on my mind ever since I saw torture simulated on stage in a production of As You Like It at Brigham Young University. In addition to portraying gun violence, fist fights, and characters kicking each other in the face and stomach, the performance portrayed a man being water boarded and another couple men being electrocuted. I later heard a rumor that the university president intervened when he heard that the play was racy and required a few characters to wear more clothing. I only heard this through the grapevine, but it's not hard for me to believe that a BYU administrator would squash any hint of sexuality in a play but ignore the torture. The logic seems to be that we should see violence in order to avoid becoming violent. But does seeing violence prevent people from becoming violent? Does it cause people to intervene on behalf of the victims of violence? Does it cause citizens and politicians alike to hesitate before declaring war?

And if it does do all those things, does it do those things more than it desensitizes us to future viewings of violence? I don't know the answer to that question, but I wish I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment