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On the other hand, parents are not the only ones who should feel responsible for the caliber of popular entertainment. At some point, the media industry must look inward and decide what kind of role it can or will take in the society. Because the media will be concerned primarily with the bottom line, we must, however, forgive any industry that chooses consciously to air and market violent media. When that media is aimed directly at children, though, a line has been crossed. The entertainment industry can and should be self-regulated regarding the promotion of violent video games, films, and television shows. Based on the fact that media violence potentially contributes to the public health issues that Bok addresses in Mayhem: increased fearfulness in the society; increased appetite for more media violence; desensitization to violence; and increased levels of aggression, the media industry and parents alike need to shoulder some of the burden of cultural change.
One of the ways the media industry can regulate itself is through ratings systems. These ratings systems are already in place, as Bok points out. Ratings systems permit the media industry to market their wares to adults who can of their own accord watch what they will. Yet the ratings systems also allow parents to exercise their right to select what forms of entertainment their children are exposed to. With ratings systems for television, film, and video games, even web sites, both parents and the entertainment industries share in some of the responsibility for media violence.
The American education system also needs to investigate its role in media violence. Bok's chapter on media literacy indicates that when children are included in the discussion they demonstrate a mature level of understanding about how media violence affects them and their peers. Based on the observations and theories of educational professionals and psychologists, media literacy can have a huge impact on the ways children can consciously choose what to watch or play; perhaps children do not have to be the deadened consumers we imagine them to be. With media literacy programs, children are permitted to share in the responsibility that their parents and the entertainment industry also share. Through media literacy, young people can "learn not to submit passively to whatever comes along, but instead to examine offerings critically while recognizing the financial stakes of programmers and sponsors," (141). Bok notes that children who participate in media literacy rates become more self-reliant, confident, and mature. Through programs encouraging media literacy, children can learn to discern what types of entertainment might be harmful; what types of entertainment might be unnecessary; and perhaps most importantly, may also learn to distinguish between fictitious and actual violence.
What Mayhem suggests is that a passive society is an impotent one. Americans need to consciously forge their culture through their creative, political, and educational outlets. When Americans take responsibility for media violence: by participating in open discussions; by preventing unnecessary governmental intervention while at the same time conscientiously pressuring the media industry to alter their approach towards distributing violent material; by encouraging or even demanding more parental responsibility regarding their children's media viewing; and by promoting practical, systematic media literacy programs in public schools: when Americans are willing to accomplish and act on these things then perhaps we can slowly begin to see changes occur in the nature of American media. The media is a legitimate business justly bent on making money. However, the media industry will without a doubt respond to the consumer. The solutions that Bok offers in Mayhem will not cure the ills of society; nor will they eliminate all forms of media violence. After all, media violence is fine in small doses and no one would want to live in a world in which unnatural restrictions on our instinctual desires were in place.
If media violence does lead to desensitization, our children might learn to avoid responding to people in need of help. If media violence causes a culture of fear, we risk losing the very freedoms we are struggling to protect in the name of the First Amendment. If media violence leads to increased levels of aggression, we have no excuse when we watch more and more children drawn to shooting guns and beating up their schoolmates. If media violence leads to an increased appetite for more and more severe forms of violence, we will have no recourse but to accept what is being broadcasted over our airwaves. As Sissela Bok shows in her book Mayhem, media violence is an important, if not controversial issue. Most Americans are genuinely concerned about media violence and want to do something about it, short of all-out governmental censorship. However, when most people run into the ideological and practical snags that prevent consensus and compromise, citizens shrink from offering input and suggesting means to change. Bok's book is instrumental in elucidating the core concerns and both sides of the argument; through awareness, education, and responsibility, we can indeed change the character of our society. Perhaps within a few generations we will witness positive transformations based on the changes…[continue]
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