Culture industry kills kids

Elton Wong

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission released a report on the “pervasive and aggressive marketing” of violent entertainment to children. To research for this report, the FTC was given access to the internal documents of movie, video game and even music companies. All of these industries have self-regulatory systems in place. There are movie ratings, video game ratings and parental advisory labels, all set up by the respective industries to inform consumers. However, as the FTC report stated, companies in all of these fields market its most violent material to kids, who are not theoretically supposed to consume those materials. For instance, those television programs ranked as the “most popular” with the under-17 age group, such as “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “South Park” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were all found likely to carry advertisements for violent movies and video games. Politicians from all sides have been quick to comment on this report. The Gore-Lieberman ticket, for example, has promised to push for more legislation to crack down on entertainment companies who do not comply with FTC recommendations. Gov. Bush said much the same thing, although he questioned Gore’s credibility on the issue, saying that Gore had not previously taken a strong stand on violence in the media. The recent focus on violence in the media was basically sparked by the Columbine High School killings. Immediately after the shootings, conservative commentators were quick to decry “goth culture” and bands like Marilyn Manson for influencing the two students to violence. It actually turned out that the kids did not in any way identify themselves with “goth” culture nor did they listen to Marilyn Manson. Nevertheless, the news media quickly came to focus on violent video games, movies and music. The FTC report is a direct result of this. For a while, it seemed that any kid who played the computer game “Doom” and listened to heavy metal music was on the verge of becoming a killer. Is there a link between violence in the media and violent behavior? Not really. This fact was even pointed out by Robert Pitofsky, the head of the FTC. In a press interview, Pitofsky stated “we reviewed the literature and found that scholars and observers generally agree that exposure to violent materials alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act. . . exposure to violent materials probably is not even the most important factor.” It is true that the media can have ill effects on people, but violence is not a very good example of this phenomenon. There is much stronger case study: the media’s role in encouraging eating disorders. Anorexia (estimated to affect 1 percent of all American women between the ages of 10 and 20) and bulimia are unquestionably and directly linked to images of women set forth by the media. These conditions are often fatal. Unlike the supposed link between violent media and violent behavior, the connection between eating disorders and the media portrayal of women’s bodies are well-documented. On the island of Fiji, for example, rates of eating disorders skyrocketed not too long ago, as soon as the island started receiving TV. The development of eating disorders around the world always coincides with the rise of mass media. In most violent movies and even most video games, violence is presented in a basically moral context: the bad guys use violence first, and the good guys use violence only as a last resort, only as self-defense. In fashion magazines, TV and the movies, the “moral” concerning women’s bodies is one hundred times more dangerous: being exceedingly thin is the only acceptable option if you want to be sexually desirable. Add to this the immense pressure placed on females to be desirable in this way and it’s not hard to believe how many deaths are caused by anorexia and bulimia every year. Fashion magazines are the worst. Every time I see the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine (motto: fun, fearless, female) followed by one hundred pages of clothing, makeup, and diet tips along with advice on how to attract men, I want to vomit. Violently. This is the culture industry at its worst. Deaths from anorexia and bulimia are every bit as real and deserving of concern as the Columbine killings. The former deaths are even more preventable. There was plenty of violence in the world before mass media, but no eating disorders. In spite of this, I personally guarantee that no politician will decry the portrayal of women’s bodies in the media anytime soon. If they do, I guarantee that they would never dream of passing legislation to change the situation. I suppose that anti-corporate crusader Ralph Nader might, but he’s pretty much insignificant, statistically speaking anyway. Mass media – movies, TV, music -is by definition pervasive. Because culture is now the same thing as the media, culture is now global. It is also homogenous. Most importantly, it is no longer created by society. It is designed, manufactured, marketed and sold by corporations. People consume their culture they way they consume everything else. This is a basic fact of modern life. It would be nice though, if people did not have to die as a consequence of the way this works.