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What is the effect of long-term media violence on our national character? Do we want four-year-olds watching slasher films? Who should decide?While almost everyone has a strong opinion about the profusion of violence-in film, TV, video games, and on line-paralysis sets in when it comes to action. The issue is seen as a hopeless standoff between free speech and preserving public morality. In Mayhem, Sissela Bok reframes the issue. She shows us that we have created a false dilemma and that we need not feel so helpless.Mayhem lays out the arguments and weighs the evidence on each side: the desensitization, fear, and addiction that concern psychologists, pediatricians, and religious groups on the one hand, and, on the other, the threat of censorship invoked by journalists, civil libertarians, and the entertainment industry. The book gives a vivid historical overview of the debate: from Rome, to nineteenth-century attempts to ban all theater, to censorship of the Internet in Singapore and China, and contrasting views of figures as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Bill Moyers, and Judge Bork.As in Lying and Secrets, she puts this thorny question in clarifying perspective, and shows how our ways of dealing with it not only express, but can shape our character and lives. Finally, she takes up specific and imaginative ways to resolve the dilemma, from private measures for individuals and families to large-scale collective efforts.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780738201450
ISBN-10: 0738201456
Format: Paperback
(210mm x 137mm x 14mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Basic Books
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 15-Mar-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions


US Kirkus Review » Like her eloquent moral explorations Lying (1978) and Secrets(1983), Bok's latest ethical treatise addresses the dangers of media violence and the temptations of censorship. Although debates over media violence are almost as pervasive as violence in the media itself, Bok's objective and erudite argument does not fall into superficial extremes - either banning everything down to The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or championing Natural Born Killers as free speech. Bok (Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies) first examines the historical functions of violent spectacles, epitomized by the Roman circuses, which were first put on by noble families in honor of their dead. The classical models of Aristotle's idea of catharsis, Plato's banishment of poetry from his Republic, and St. Augustine's description of the "stabbing of the soul" by viewing bloodshed likewise inform Mayhem's modern analysis. Media violence, in entertainment or news, Bok shows in study after study, is no less a factor in America's top ranking in homicides than tobacco smoke is in lung cancer. The American Psychiatric Association's conclusion in 1993 that media violence can promote not only fear and desensitization, but also aggression and appetite does not, however, lead Bok to side with John Grisham's proposition of a product liability lawsuit over Natural Born Killers or Robert Bork's uncompromising advocacy of institutionalized censorship. Disregarding Singapore's stringent but hopeless censoring of the Internet (paralleled with 18th-century Geneva's ban on theater), Bok looks toward Canada's national initiative at minimizing media violence, in which the V-chip was used in addition to media literacy education, ratings systems, and quality programming for children. Perhaps the only thing missing from Bok's wide-ranging and objective book is a specific analysis of violence's distinct roles in our entertainment culture, instead of statistically associating Martin Scorsese with Mortal Kombat. A deep disquisition on a distressingly fraught issue. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Sissela Bok

Sissela Bok, Ph.D., who has taught philosophy at Brandeis University and ethics and decision making at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, is the author of Lying, Secrets, and A Strategy for Peace

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