Pop Culture & Scapegoating

There was a time when music was bad! From the early blues inspired by African tunes and the desire to escape poverty, slavery and oppression, the  “deal with the devil” legend of Robert Johnson to the swinging hips of Elvis, the drug induced progressive Rock of the early 70’s, the anarchy of Punk, the violence of the Mods and Rockers, the bizarreness of Glam rock, Metal, the darkness of  Goth, Acid House, Street Rap, Grunge, Emo,  – there has always been a generation rebelling and revelling in music which their previous generation largely condemned.  Whether its too sexy, too depressing, inspiring suicide or violence or witchcraft, there is always some media spin on why the latest teen music fad is dangerous to the spirit and damaging to the mentality of those who listen.

Same with film – in the 20’s talkies would destroy our brains, in the 50’s B-movies inspire terror, in the 70’s slasher flicks inspire violence.  Various horrendous acts by the young or instable (and usually male) listener or watcher have been attributed to music or film over the last 80-100 years.  Its an easy scapegoat, a cop-out for parental or societal responsibility, a way of not dealing with the emotional and social instability of (some)  young or impressionable people.

Don’t think literature has been left out of the mould  – Book banning for the “protection of the sensibilities of the people” are not uncommon, though thankfully not so much in the UK.  Novels which challenge political or social perceptions, which address issues of faith, or mental health – if they are not banned, they are discussed, debated and slated – from the Da Vinci Code to the Satanic Verses, to Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels.

It’s a detachment from reality, and regarded by some as dangerous.  But isn’t that temporary detachment from reality the whole purpose of entertainment – to take us out of ourselves for a wee while, to experience joy in the creative process – whether a Bach concerto or a Green Day gig, Shakespeare at the Globe or in the West End,  or the latest fast action Cinema release? To enter into a story other than our own, to experience vicariously the adventures of others?  Whether it’s (the awful) Jedward on X Factor, Sharpe, Bilbo Baggins, Darth Vader or some other character every time we tune ourselves into a form of entertainment media – music, novel, reality TV, film, stageshow, play or drama – we enter vicariously into another world.  The story, the traincrash of reality shows like big brother & reality talent shows,  or the emotion of our choice of  music draws us in and gives us just a glimpse of something beyond our regular day-to-day experience – sometimes good, sometimes not so good, sometimes just what we needed to put a smile on our faces.

Now it’s the time for computer games to bear the force of the blame – they inspire violence, corruption, encourage isolation and incessant pizza eating!

Titles like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Hitman have been blamed for much, kids will emulate them and run around killing each other!    World of Warcraft is seen as an addiction, Multi Media Online Role-play Games (MMORPG’s or MMO’s) as a destruction of communication and community.

Don’t get me wrong – there are incidents on both sides of the ocean which have been linked to various media.  Part of the reasoning of the Columbine High School shooting was the fact that the perpetrators played games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D – fantasy horror first-person shooter games.  The murder of Jamie Bulger and its attribution (in part) to the movie “Child’s Play 3”, and the Hungerford Massacre, which was likened by the press to “Rambo: First Blood”.  The incidents are horrendous and vicious, and it is only right that justice was sought for the victims.  But does blame lie at the feet of popular media?

Some links, as in Hungerford, are erroneous at best, others extremely tenuous.

To claim that a video game (graphic or otherwise) is to blame for the actions of an individual is to shift responsibility.  Parental responsibility first and foremost in the actions of minors.  Social responsibility in the form of  school welfare officers/social support teachers for minors.  Medical/psychiatric responsibility in the case of mental instability – why did these people slip through the gaps?

Most antisocial behaviour is some form of cry for help – whether to find relief from boredom, an escape from poverty, as a response to some form of prejudice, a release of the emotional confusions of what we lightly call “teen angst”.  Societal issues, which we ignore at our peril, and find something convenient to act as a scapegoat instead.  It’s the music, the movie, the game that caused it.  No it wasn’t.  As a culture and a society we need to grow up and take responsibility.

Before you buy into the next claim of  “the game made him do it”, consider a few things:

Consider your own youth, the need to express yourself in music, literature or film the older generation didn’t understand or appreciate.

Consider how many atrocious acts are caused by those for whom there is no blame for the game, the movie, the music choice.  Prisons are full of them. So are governments

Consider how many people are running around placing blocks in place if they hear Russian Folk Music (Korobeiniki, Tetris) running around in plumbers overalls collecting magic mushrooms (Super Mario Brothers – ok there may be a few…) dressing up as blue hedgehogs and running over buildings collecting golden rings (Sonic the Hedgehog).  For if video games cause us to act in weird or antisocial ways, it must be applied to all video games, not just the ones we disapprove of.  “they’re not real” I hear you cry! Neither is GTA, Hitman or Wolfenstein

Consider the rating of the game – they are rated, just like movies and music, for age specific content.  If a 10 year old is having nightmares after playing an 18+ game, where is the responsibility?  If a child who has not yet fully grasped the difference between reality and fantasy is being allowed to play a game for which he or she is too young, who’s fault is that –  the game, the gaming industry or the parent?

Also consider the positives of gaming – stress relief, improvements in hand/eye co-ordination, reading ability, comprehension, puzzle solving, teamwork, organisation and management.  In terms of MMO’s, far from being a community destroyer, they encourage and build community, develop communication, even the learning of other languages within  the global sphere.  Maybe it’s our perception of community which needs to change in a globalyl connected world?  Computer games are also used as a recruitment tool for the US Armed Forces (America’s Army), and for educational purposes in schools.

Gaming is entertainment.  It is meant to be fun, to be enjoyed for a little while, and then we re-enter the world of reality – as leaving a cinema or theatre or concert hall.   Not all games have pleasant themes, in the same way that literature, cinema, animation, and music all deal with the unpleasant as well as the cheerful.  It is one more medium in the expression of the range of  human emotion and creativity.  How we use the medium, how we understand it and deal with its epression  is for us to decide, as is how we censor it or enjoy it.  It is still a new medium,  is a new art form and just like any other, it has the potential to educate, entertain, provide release, shock you, make you laugh, even make you cry. Unfortunately, for some  it has become simply the latest scapegoat, a release from responsibility.


2 thoughts on “Pop Culture & Scapegoating

  1. […] here for what I said back in november about this very subject Categories: Uncategorized […]

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