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Call me a Prude? But I Feel Enraged, Perplexed and Powerless.

By Michelle Higgins - 8th July 2011

I recently took my children to a film at a mainstream cinema complex. And while the content of the film made us laugh and even warmed the heart a little, the walk through the lobby left me feeling enraged, perplexed and powerless.

Call me a prude, but I don’t think that my children need to be assaulted by R-rated imagery, including equipment, on their way to a G-rated film. That imagery was not of a s*xual nature, and if it had been it would never have been allowed within the sight line of a group of children under the age of twelve, or even eighteen. Instead, the imagery was uncensored unadulterated violence.

My small boys were transfixed by these spectacularly violent arcade games that lined one wall of the lobby. And I was left to wonder why we find this acceptable. These were not cartoon like figures but instead all-too-real graphics of men at war, the alternative to the ‘joy stick’ to control the action was a convincing looking assault rifle.

While debate rages about the s#xualisation of girls at ever diminishing ages, an equivalent concern about the overwhelmingly violent nature of popular culture aimed at boys does not seem to be on the agenda. However, in my mind these trends are but two sides of the one coin, the substance holding this coin together being a deeply sexist and regressive ideology that does not serve either gender well.

The concern over the ‘s#xualisation’ of young girls is for me more about the subtle and not so subtle messages women are fed in our culture about where their self worth should lie. Over the long term, it's not really about little girls wearing bras and hot pants but rather that the culture is feeding them a powerful message that their worth is linked more strongly to their physical attractiveness over any other quality.  This message is not really any different to the one that mainstream culture feeds women for the rest of their lives.

Similarly, my concern with the prevalence of violent imagery aimed at boys lies not in a fear that our sons will become real life killers. Instead, it is in the values that are being promoted and the way that exposure to these images and narratives might influence the way they understand, view and respond to the world around them.  

I cannot see how exposing children to media that celebrates and rewards combat over cooperation, reactive and defensive approaches over thoughtful and constructive thinking, and dominance over empathy, can be considered a positive for the individual child, let alone for families and the community at large.

If excessive exposure to violent media, particularly interactive gaming, does in fact ‘wire’ the brain in particular ways, then this should be of great concern. While current research is inconclusive and does not show a direct correlation between exposure to violent media and acts of violence, there is some evidence that it wires participants' reactions in a particular way to real life scenarios. Put simply, the child who has experienced intense exposure may be more likely to interpret the actions of others through a defensive or combative lens. For example, a bump in the hallway at school is read as a deliberate attack rather than a simple accident. It is not hard to see how this way of perceiving the world and your place in it, is highly problematic for the wellbeing of a child and the broader community.

For the majority of kids, exposure to the worst that the media has to offer is balanced out by positive real life experiences, role models and relationships. And the argument is often made that it is the responsibility of parents to protect their children from harmful material.

This individualistic approach ignores the most vulnerable children in our community, the kids whose parents and guardians are for a whole host of reasons not able or willing to exercise appropriate controls over what those in their care consume. Surely our approach should be one that looks at minimising harm to all children rather than shrugging our shoulders and walking away from the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in our communities.

My own visceral reaction to that arcade game in a cinema lobby probably reflects a deeper conflict that has troubled me throughout my parenting journey, as I struggle with the task of best regulating my children’s access to media in general, and violent content in particular.

It feels like an uphill battle, and one that has not been made any easier by overwhelming corporate interests.  These interests have successfully undermined dissent by framing the debate over the impact of violent media, particularly gaming, in terms of free speech and individual responsibility rather than a broader consideration of the public good.

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