The Birth of A Nation, D. W. Griffith's 1915 cinematic piece of trash. It came right as the second Klu Klux Klan was experiencing a nationwide revival. The film can't be blamed for racial violence in the 1910s, but it certainly contributed to the rise of the KKK in that era and to an atmosphere that set the background for events like the Red Summer of 1919.
On the very day I published this:
Lex Anteinternet: Disaffection and Violence: I've written here repeatedly about the cause of American incidents of mass violence, noting in each that actually we live in the most...
The Tribune had an article with this headline:
No, there's still no link between video games and violence
One of the strongest tendencies in American society is to believe that license, of any type, can't possibly be the source of excess, of any type.
It is, and it's demonstratively so, keeping in mind that the impact of things is collective for the most part, and very rarely individual.
Sure, it's absolutely the case that individual video games are not likely to inspire most of the viewers to act out violently. But most of the viewers will be impacted, and some will be impacted enormously. We've already conducted an experiment on this for a 70 year period and we know the answer.
The test set was pornography.
We've dealt with this ad nauseum (or I'm sure that's how our limited audience probably feels in part) but that is in fact the test we've conducted and we know the results.
In 1953, as readers here know (and probably with they weren't reading about again) Playboy Magazine came out with its first edition. By 1963 it was firmly established as the okay, unless you were in your early teens, American men's magazine, quite an accomplishment for a publication of a type that heretofore was sold in brown paper bags in the dingy part of towns. By 1973 it was a major American publication, taken seriously and interviewing Presidential candidates. By 1983 it was in trouble, but not because men had grown tired of naked over endowed women, but because it had been copied and its followers had taken its photographed prostitution further down the road. Penthouse and Hustler were cutting into it, as they were more "graphic". Now the magazine is in a great deal of trouble financially and its copiers are no longer in print at all, having moved to the Internet, but that too is significant. The Internet is a sea of pornography.
The way we'd probably like to remember Marilyn Monroe, if we could. We really can't, however, as she built her career on her figure in a more revealing way than still rather obvious here (with a nice Yaschaflex camera by the way). From this earlier thread here. Playboy's co-opting of her body, sold several years earlier to a calendar photographer when she was unknown and desperate, nearly ruined her career, which was saved only by Life magazine determining to beat Playboy to the punch and publishing it first. Life's parry saved her from an immediate ruined career, but the overall publicity launched Playboy. In the end, of course, she'd be only one of the lives effectively ruined by Playboy, although her own selling of her image in less graphic form, combined with an early tragic history, played a larger measure in that.
But during that time period its frankly the case that pornography crossed over into the mainstream. In the 1950s, a film like Some Like It Hot was regarded as salacious. It features Marilyn Monroe, Playboy's first centerfold, but it doesn't feature any nudity at all. Spring forward and you can nearly be guaranteed that any major movie featuring a young woman, no matter how gigantic her star status, and there's a really decent chance that the film will show her nude simply to do it.
We know this had a big impact on a lot of thing, some of them being the most basic of all. The spread of pornography helped fuel social change that helped increase the divorce rate and helped lead to the massive increase of "single mothers". It resulted in the phenomenon of pornography addiction which, ironically, has in turn lead, according to respected sociologists, in a decrease in sex itself and a decrease in satisfactory male/female relationship.
It also lead to violence.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s this was hotly debated, but it really isn't much now. It's clear that early exposure on the part of some to Playboy and its fellow travelers lead to a permanently debased view of women to those victims. Some just went on to lesser lives, but it's also clear that what it did to some is to fuel an increase for more and more "graphic" pornography and, in turn, to violent pornography to eventually acting out violently. At least one serial killer has related this in his own case. And its certainly well established that an addiction to pornography on the part of some leads them to other acts, the least of which might be hiring prostitutes to preform what they've been viewing in other media.
So our point about video games?
Arguments about video games have and are taking the exact same trajectory. Early on Playboy argued that it was just good clean smutty fun. It turned out not to be, to the enormous determent of women, causing massive sociological and even medical problems we haven't worked out way out yet.
Men and women au natural, but not in the way that Hugh Hefner and his fellow travelers would have it.
Actually, not so much. . . at least in the case of men.
Men are more violent than women. There's no doubt about it. Modern social engineers may like to pretend that there's no psychological or biological difference, but there most definitely is. Violence is frankly built into men, undoubtedly in a evolutionary biology sense, in a way that its not built into women. Most men won't act inappropriately violent, of course, but that men seek recourse to violence in any setting in which violence can arise cannot be realistically doubted. There's a deep seated, and as noted, basic biological reason for this. Indeed, those who have studied it note that men have a different violence curve, if you will, being more likely to get suddenly made and violent, than women do, who generally rise slow in anger and who have anger very slowly retreat. Indeed, men are often very baffled by the retained anger of the women they're close to, not experiencing it in the same way as women do at all.
It's no accident that the sort of crimes that have been focused on here recently such as in the thread above are committed by males. I know of only one instance recently of the contrary.* Women can and do commit violent acts, to be sure, but they tend to be of a different character. A self defense argument, for that reason, for a woman in defense of the charge of First Degree Homicide is a lot more likely to be regarded as credible than it is for a man. We see those form time to time in the form of the "I just couldn't take it anymore. . . .". Doesn't work that well if a guy says it (and frankly it doesn't work very well as a defense for a woman either, and isn't a legally cognizable defense in and of itself anywhere).
A culture of justified violence, or a subculture of one, does have an impact on a society or some of its members. That's why some governments, movements, or political parties, embrace it.
By the late 1920s and 1930s the propaganda associated with the KKK had been so successful that it was able to use its violent imagery openly for other purposes. Oddly enough, the KKK was a strong proponent of Prohibition. Why this is the case isn't clear to me, but an element of it may have been that beer was strongly associated with Catholic Irish, whom the KKK detested.
Indeed, that's why even now, in spite of the absolute horror it represents, the stirring imagines of some hideously evil causes are still visually attractive. And if they are now, they were even more so when they were first released.
Common German portrayal of member of the SS. The SS was a branch of the Nazi Party itself, like the SA, and while the means by which it acquired members varied, an element of it was trying to appeal to young men with very manly looking portrayals. Indeed, the Nazis were very deeply into visual portrayals of all types, including uniforms, and were very effective at it. They were much less effective in terms of written propaganda, which was often disregarded, and quite ineffective in terms of music, with the Germans retaining a fondness for music that the Nazis didn't really approve of.
And indeed, this is the very nature of visual propaganda, to stir emotions. If that can't be done legitimately, it can be done visually.
French poster of Che Guevera from the 1968 uprisings. Guevera was a detestable butcher who deserves to be remembered in that fashion, but even now this iconic depiction is the way he's commonly remembered.
North Vietnamese poster of the Vietnam War depicting an actual female combatant heroically circa 1972. In reality by the end of the war the NVA was down to teenage troops and even had to take recaptured deserters back into service. Only a tolerance for the utter destruction of any human life, including that of the North Vietnamese, allowed North Vietnam to prevail in the war.
The moving pictures ability to inspire and be used as propaganda has long been known. Nazi cinematic propaganda was so effective that it won an Academy Award for cinematography prior to World War Two for the film Triumph Of The Will. That a body that has never been sympathetic to fascists of any stripe, and which frankly prior to World War Two contained a number of barely closeted Communists, and which indeed was so left leaning that even highly Catholic film maker John Ford could release a pretty lefty The Grapes Of Wrath, really says something.
Which takes us to "Slam" Marshall.
I've dealt with S.L.A. Marshall before here. He was the bulling U.S. Army historian who came up with the complete crock that soldiers in combat don't shoot their weapons (in reality, they shoot too much). While Marshall's thesis was a dud, and he should be another recipient of the Defense Boobie Prize for Strategic Doltery award, it was widely accepted and the military, among other things, has invested in video game technology for years and years now.
The purpose of those games is combat environment desensitization and familiarization. That's the purpose of a lot of military training. To get you used to the really bad stuff. It's why soldiers of every army spend a lot of time practicing war, in part. Combat is distracting and the Army, every army, wants its soldiers to be able to do their jobs. In the case of the U.S. military, video games have been part of that for quite some time.
So do video games have a link with violence?
Will video games make everyone who plays them violent?
Will they impact every player in some fashion?
The same is true, we'd note, of what we've otherwise noted here, and we can and should expand on that. Viewing pornography doesn't turn everyone who views it into a rapist. But it's part of the pathway for a lot of rapist (the correlation is in fact quite high). Watching episodes of Friends won't lead everyone to think that they need to shack up with a girlfriend, but it will have that bar lowering impact on some, maybe most, who view it.**
Add to that, the impact of movies.
In the current era the rating system has been reduced to what is basically a joke. In an era in which "basic cable" includes all the violent and pornographic fare that a person could possibly imagine, ratings effectively do nothing whatsoever.
As an example, the other day I was flipping through the movie lists on television, which I'll occasionally do to see if there's something I'm inclined to watch on. There usually isn't, which sends me off to a book or perhaps this machine (which is another topic). However, in this instance I saw a brief snippet for Red Sparrow, which in reading it portrayed the film as a late Cold War spy thriller. I like some films of this genera, so I hit it.
It isn't what I was expecting. It certainly wasn't The Third Man and its not The Americans either. It's basically a violent pornographic movie featuring Jennifer Lawrence, famous for The Hunger Games, which I haven't seen. Ostensibly with a theme somewhat related to that of The Americans, but involving Soviet agents trained to seduce their targets as it turns out, it's really just violence and sex and, for its young probably mostly male viewers, a chance to see Jennifer Lawrence naked.*** The accents are, by the way, horrifically bad.**** Anyhow, after about five minutes of this and it being plain that it isn't a spy thriller, but a porno flick, I turned it off and moved on.*****
But that's the point. When the motion picture rating system came in during the 1960s, I'm pretty sure that this film would have been rated X. And the blue content of the film doesn't serve a point, like the violence in the highly violent 1969 film The Wild Bunch does. That '69 Peckinpah film sought to strip away the good bad guy image of Western criminals that was so common in prior films and American culture, and shock the audience by showing us that we (again, probably mostly men) are attracted to the violence of those men because they are violent, not for some higher redeeming reason. Now, with films like John Wick and the like, we don't make that pretension much, at least not in what we might regard as lower films.
As part of that, and as noted above, cinematic portrayals of American troops have reached the near Marvel hero movie of the week level.
Portrayals, particularly American ones, of soldiers have usually portrayed them heroically, with some films made in the 1960s being a notable exception. Any portrayal of war tends to glamorize it no matter what, and no matter what the intent, however. Indeed, one Vietnam War era reporter noted in response to a question that it was impossible not to glamorize war, no matter how horrific it is.
Make no mistake about it, being in a war is not glamorous. It's horrific. People who experience war are about as negative about that experience as it is possible for a human being to be, and in ways that are completely impossible to explain. Even being in the military, for a lot of people, is far from glamorous even if nothing actually occurs during their service. But irrespective of that, it's impossible, for some deeply elemental reason, not to have portrayals of war come across as glamorizing it.
Even real attempts to avoid this generally fail. Platoon, for example, is hardly a pro war film, but lots of young viewers watch it with fascination and it remains the most popular of the Vietnam War films. How many movie viewers (again, almost certainly mostly male) have watched the 1st Cavalry helicopter assault scene of Apocalypse Now again and again. Apocalypse Now may be an anti war film, and a critique of the Vietnam War, but its Robert Duvall's shallow minded Col. Kilgore who is reduced to a meme with "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" and "Charlie don't surf" being the catch lines that people (men, again) like to repeat. And telling again, if you prefer Full Metal Jacket, the scenes that are likely to be remembered are R. Lee Emery's portrayal of a drill sergeant, which is very effectively and accurately done, and the line most recalled is likely to be the Vietnamese prostitutes "Me so horny. . . " line.^
Indeed, in regard to anti war movies, in my view, only two are really effective in that genera, that being one I've really criticized here from time to time, The Deer Hunter. Whatever its faults, The Deer Hunter is a very effective anti war film if you can stand to sit through the entire thing, with its concluding scene being hugely tragic. Perhaps Paths Of Glory might be another, the most unromanticized portrayal of World War One I've seen. Not even All Quiet On The Western Front can compare.
Lesser movies in recent years have really taken the American soldier as hero depiction the next miles. The Baby Boom generations depictions of their fathers, having recovered from depicting them as dolts in the 60s, definitely took a turn in this directly with Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, both of which are excellent and realistic and which certainly don't seek to glamorize war. Those movies are first rate, but after that there are a lot of war films, particularly very recent ones, which are simply action pictures, think Fast and Furious, in military garb. Twelve Strong and Lone Survivor, the last of which isn't bad, are examples of this. The soldiers perform physical feats and combat feats which are frankly impossible, and they adhere to the strict American movie rule that all American soldiers are crack shots and all our opponents are horrible shots.
The point isn't that any one of these films causes violence. Most people, and again these movies are watched a lot more by men than women, could sit through anyone of them and not be impacted. But they do have impact, in concert what we've noticed above, for the marginalized.
And that's where any one item isn't the cause of anything, maybe, but the sum total of them are. Sure, playing World of Improbable Heroism II all day won't turn most people into violent loners. An entire day sat in front of photographs of nameless young prostitutes (which is almost certainly what most are) uploaded to the net won't turn a person into a rapist. A steady diet on the television of violent super American military heroics or Jennifer Lawrence stripping in the name of Soviet glory won't make a person into a debased lone wolf either. . . well it probably actually will, but maybe not one who acts on it.
But put this all together, and then put it in front of young men who have nothing. . . no friends, no work, no girlfriends, no meaningful existence, no skills of any value. . . and sooner or later, you're going to get some very bad results.^^
Could society act on this? Of course it could.
But will American society act on it?
Probably not. Doing so would be hard. It would require deep thinking. It might likely mean restoring old standards, in full or in part, that we abandoned in the 1960s and all the responsibilities that went with them. And it might mean banning, limiting or curtailing things that most Americans make frequent access too, rather than just a few, such as violent and sex based entertainment and depictions. It would mean asking a lot of hard questions about "progress", the nature of men and women, the illusion of perpetual growth and the illusion of limitless benefits of technology.
Yes, it would require a lot of deep thinking about really deep topics.
And deep thinking isn't what we're into. We're into simple solutions and blaming the machine. And, frankly, at the end of the day, no matter what Americans say about "Me Too" this or that, or instilling values that uplift people, we'd generally rather see Jennifer Lawrence naked and violent and are willing to pay the price for that, as long as we personally aren't the ones paying.
Even though we are.
*It might be worth noting here that one woman who is commonly depicted as a cool killer likely really wasn't, that being Bonnie Parker. Parker is a sad case and she obviously tolerated murder, but there's no real reason to believe that she ever committed one.
The only woman that I personally know, and only barely at that, who committed a homicide was a young woman that I vaguely knew who was repeatedly molested in the worst fashion by her father. She ultimately committed what clearly amount to First Degree Murder but was never prosecuted. That's worth noting here, however, as its demonstrative of the anger curve noted above.
**Indeed just recently I heard, on NPR, an interview with a young man who was distressed that his adult life doesn't match that depicted in How I Met Your Mother. I didn't watch that television drama, but what he noted, and what is obvious from even the short snippets of it I've seen, is that it depicts 20 somethings hanging out with a tight group of friend in bars.
There's really some truth to that, quite frankly. Young people still do hang out at bars and much of young life remains as traditional as ever in regard to socialization. Indeed, the bigger change has really been for older people, particularly middle age and older professional people, for whom casual socialization has massively declined. But at the same time, something that has also altered is the economic demographics of that and how that works.
Dropped out of the picture pretty completely are those who aren't either students or those who aren't relatively well employed. For those without a post high school education or who aren't fairly well employed, economic means for everything are pretty limited and people are quite isolated. An additional aspect of that is that the economics of earlier eras simply forced people out of the house and into work, whether they lived in their parents homes or not, and as there wasn't all that much to do that wasn't labor related at home, home conditions also lent themselves to getting out of the house and into some sort of society. It might be noted that even terrorist in the pre television days were rarely pure loners but were part of some sort of society.
***"Honey pot" type espionage traps by the Soviets were a real thing, to be sure, but the technique aspect of that is almost certainly less sophisticated and less debased than portrayed (to the extent I saw it) in Red Sparrow or, for that matter in The Americans. The Americans is very well done, but frankly in my view it pushed that aspect of the plot line a lot further than was justified. At any rate, according to something I recent read, the recent Maria Butina episode may have involved this angle, apparently reluctantly on Butina's part.
****As in worse that Bullwinkle cartoon bad.
*****The degree to which things have really descended, cinematically, is well demonstrated by this film. The 1960s film Barbarella nearly destroyed Jane Fonda's ability to be taken seriously as an actress and while Brigette Bardot was only ever partially taken seriously in the first place, her more revealing films of the period reduced her quickly to a character. Lawrence's career, in contrast, will continue on without a blip in spite of having now appeared in this film.
^Note that in Full Metal Jacket, irrespective of its status as an anti war film, none of the important characters get killed, the American military wins, the Communist lose, and the tiny Vietnamese prostitutes are available at all times. This is remarkable in regard to a war which we lost and the Communist won. Only in The Deer Hunter do we lose, the Communist win, and the Vietnamese, including the prostitutes, are treated tragically with real human functions.
^^As noted above, this thread isn't on gun control at all, and I've barely touched on firearms here whatsoever. That's because the factors noted above are the underlying cause of what we've been exhibiting here.
But here's where this links back in, in a weird sort of way. The same sort of exaggerated glorification of the military and combat that's occurred in the last two decades has also occurred in regard to combat firearms.
Technologically, as we've noted here in depth before, firearms have changed very little for a very long time. The basic technology that pertains to semi automatic firearms has existed it more or less present form for nearly a century. The AR type weapon that seems to figure so prominently in the discussion in the media has existed since the early 1960s. The AK type weapons that's also mentioned has existed since 1947.
We dealt with the rise of the status of the AR in a prior detailed thread. The reason we note it again here is that the odd status that this old weapon has acquired in the popular imagination, including the imagination of the disaffected class we're speaking of here, contributes to part of the overall odd zeitgeist.