By Rose A. Dyson, Black Rose Books: Montreal, 2021
The first of several themes of this book is that media violence encourages real violence. Dyson cites government commissions, research findings from various professional disciplines, and surveys in media releases from competing interests, showing that the overwhelming weight of evidence points toward harmful effects of media violence.
In the foreword, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (ret.), co-author of Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression and the Psychology of Killing (2016), praises this second edition of Mind Abuse and agrees heavy, steady diets of media violence erode rational thought and civil behaviour. Grossman and Dyson express these dangers and find similar solutions.
Dyson and Grossman see links between youthful killing rampages in the United States and Canada and first-person shooter video games. Grossman notes that, to overcome reluctance to killing on the battlefield, psychological conditioning was introduced into military training, based on B.F. Skinner’s stimulus-response-reward techniques. In the military, interactive shooter video games have proven effective for this. This is done in controlled circumstances. The video game industry, however, markets these addictive games to young, vulnerable people with disastrous results. When the behaviour of the perpetrators of school shootings and other killing rampages are examined, it frequently follows the patterns demonstrated in these video games. Examples include Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Fortnite and World of Warcraft.
A second theme shows that politicians and corporations question research findings showing harmful effects. Both Dyson and Grossman lament that successful lobbying by corporations and government subsidies overshadow clear warnings about the dangers of violent entertainment from health professionals and teachers. The public is led to believe that the research findings on harmful effects are inconclusive.
Politicians consistently ignore the evidence that violence in the media has a negative impact. They have succumbed to the propaganda about censorship and freedom of expression.
Dyson notes that, “Peace research theorist Anatol Rapoport, author of The Origins of Violence, argues that the notion that corporations have rights of freedom of expression, as citizens do, should have no force.”
This edition of Mind Abuse covers the harmful effects of media violence as entertainment in the last twenty years. The problem has grown with new technical innovations. Relentless marketing victimizes young people, while social media, video game developers, and the entertainment industry profit.
A third theme of the book is the threat media poses to democracy. Dyson maintains that toxic media have led to the crumbling of democratic institutions. Misinformation and disinformation driven by algorithms in social media distract citizens from their democratic responsibilities. Most people now spend between three to seven hours a day tethered to smart phones, leaving little time for cultural learning that involves critical thinking. She notes that we are “encouraged to feel good rather than to think critically.”
Interaction limited to internet silos of the like-minded discourages critical thinking. Dyson notes that digital devices have taken over from adults in the home, classrooms, and places of worship for teaching the young. “Today, commercialized popular culture through social media is competing with educators who are attempting to facilitate a deeper understanding of global trends.”
Dyson would revive the late George Gerbner’s Cultural Environmental Movement for a democratic cultural policy. She identifies the information, misinformation and disinformation that erode respect for human dignity. She examines the distractions by corporations, educators, social media, mainstream media, advertisers, and politicians from values compatible with a greener future.
Reviewed by Anne Venton, Secretary, Canadian Peace Research Association, Communications Chair, Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment.