BOB GARFIELD: Violence depicted in the media exacerbates violence in the streets, and children should be kept away from it. This parental article of faith has been borne out in various studies and accepted more or less as doctrine in Congress and elsewhere. But is it actually so? Gerard Jones says, well -- no. He's a former screenwriter and comic book author and author now of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence. Jones believes some media violence can play an important positive role in children's emotional development. He joins us now. Gerard, welcome to OTM.
GERARD JONES: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD:When my teenaged girls, when they were maybe 10 and 7 years old, they at that time were on a very restricted television diet and as an experiment one day I showed them a cartoon that had been highly recommended by my brother. The cartoon was Ren and Stimpy which was a very violent, sardonic, grotesque -- very bad taste. Well, my kids, my little girls, my pink ruffled little girls [LAUGHTER] saw this cartoon and instantaneously -- I mean instantaneously -- went crazy and laughed and hooted and started upsetting furniture, and it was such a striking, direct effect of a small amount of violent television -- you know, I, I became on the basis of that anecdotal moment alone a, a true believer in the relationship between televised violence and the real thing. Is this an anomaly or do you think there's something going on there?
GERARD JONES:No, there's something going on. I think that's actually one of the really good functions of, of kind of aggressive wacky entertainment is it, it gets kids laughing and throws off some of their constraint. It gets 'em doing crazy things in that really playful, controlled way. Cause one thing when you look at kids who actually behave violently, in a serious way, in a destructive way -- these are not kids who are being humorously, playfully violent. You know, look at James McGee's profiles of the, the ram--the youthful rampage shooters and none of these kids were class clowns; none of them used humor; none of them liked, liked to have fun. You know this, this is a very kind of a grim, obsessive, serious aggression.
BOB GARFIELD:But is there a fundamental difference between playing cowboys and indians and, and what kids might play having witnessed gory, graphic pathological violence in a film or on a video game.
GERARD JONES:The play is not that different, and I think that's one of the points to remember. Now one thing I -- I'm a believer in kind of the old classic age appropriateness lines, because little kids can be troubled by something too intense or too realistic; they're, they're still working on that separation of the real and unreal.
BOB GARFIELD:Now what about though the-- the societal nightmare that seemed to actually come to fruition in the '80s when particularly in the inner city with gang violence and drug violence -- we read so many times that kids were arrested for horrendous crimes without expressing remorse presumably because they scarcely understood that there were real life and death stakes -- that it was all just kind of a-- a perverse game with real blood.
GERARD JONES:That holds up when you look at certain kinds of, of delusional, suicidal, homicidal kids --the kinds who do the sort of the rage killing. I mean there is a place there where we need to be concerned, because some of these kids do attach strongly to the media. It has not really held up when you're looking at kids in -- from bad households and in violent neighborhoods who are engaged in utilitarian crimes or this really sort of tough guy gang crime. It really seems to be a familial and a societal nexus -- not a media nexus. I think we have to remember-- one of the discontinuities that people see that I think puzzles a lot of parents -- they read the research and they hear the headlines and they think, okay, violent media equals violent behavior -- and yet one, they see that video gamers tend to be the really sweet, geeky kids. There's no place on earth safer than a video game convention, you know, these are, these are the kids who are often afraid to speak out loud. And then at the same time, despite these occasional eruptions of, say, urban drug-driven crime, youth crime has actually been going down in this country quite steadily for over 20 years, even as the gaming and the more violent movies came in. So it doesn't really hold in real life.
BOB GARFIELD:All right, so what research did you do to draw these conclusions? There certainly have been a number of highly-publicized studies which do connect violence in the media and violence in the society.
GERARD JONES:Most of it's coming from other countries which I think is unfortunate, and I think there has to be a kind of a movement toward asking more questions in American media research, because all the research begins from the point of view of: what is the harm done by media? I've spoken to a lot of psychologists who couldn't even get studies launched on the possible beneficial effects of some make-believe violence in the media. But there is material coming from Canada, from England, from Australia, from Continental Europe where people are looking more into things like, you know, kindergartners watching Power Rangers and finding that they seem to be a little more encouraged and a little more relaxed afterwards and kids playing with toy guns and finding that they're more relaxed afterwards. So the, the evidence is out there and it's beginning -- but we have to overcome this desire to find the negative only.
BOB GARFIELD: Gerard Jones, thanks very much.
GERARD JONES: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Gerard Jones is author of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence.