The Myth of Media Violence (Blackwell, 2007)

The Myth of Violence seeks to extend the conversation about media violence beyond simple arguments of condemnation or support.  In questioning typical views of media violence, we’ll view the topic in a broader context––taking into account the social, economic, and political factors that encourage and thrive upon violent entertainment. Also addressed will be the uses that violent stories play in education, art, and historical accounts of violent occurrences in human history resulting from war, genocide, and natural catastrophe. In addition, the book examines the distinctly American style of much media violence. Historically the United States dominated global media production and was the source of most of the movies and television the world saw. The picture changed somewhat when multinational corporations began restructuring production and distribution in the 1980s and 1990s, but the influence of American-style TV and movie making has endured even in the face of burgeoning media industries in  India, China, Japan, and Europe.

Beginning with a look at history, this book chronicles concerns about violence media that have accompanied the development of new communication media from the printing press to the internet. The Myth of Media Violence then charts the ways that different stakeholders in the media violence debate––audiences, producers, and academics––often have viewed the topic in mutually exclusive, one-dimensional terms. This book discusses why, in the face of so many efforts to curb the proliferation of violent material, media violence continues to escalate in new and more potent forms. The Myth of Media Violence addresses the ways this ubiquitous culture of violence contributes to broader social anxieties over harm and catastrophe. The book then analyzes the forces that encourage these anxieties––exacerbated in the post-9/11 era––and how these forces mitigate against a progressive and democratic society. Finally, the book closes with a chapter about why media violence exists and how we can learn to deal with it.

The common-sense assumption that depictions of violence promote deviant behaviors predates the invention of film and television. Victorian-era street theater and penny-novels were thought to encourage misbehavior among the working poor, especially young men in urban areas. Indeed, some accounts of the media violence debate date to Aristotle. For this reason, any serious examination of media violence needs to begin by examining historical continuities in the public concern over violent expression, while also noting the unique ways that different media convey violence. Questions need to be asked about why, after decades of public debate, policy analysis, and academic scrutiny, the discourse on media violence remains riven with inconsistency. While certain groups of researchers (primarily in the social sciences) continue to assert that violence in media is bad, firm conclusions about why it is bad have failed to materialize. In part, this results from difficulties in consistently defining “media violence.”

Welcome to Cyberschool: Education at the Crossroads in the Information Age (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001)

In the United States education has a special place in the national imagination. Years ago, schooling was viewed as a critical tool of democracy, functioning as both a social equalizer and  a route to the American Dream. In more recent decades, education has enjoyed a less of exalted image, as the great social equalizer has been cast as the source of social, economic, and even moral decay in the United States. Schools have been characterized as bloated public bureaucracies populated by incompetent teachers allowing  standardized test score averages to drop below those of our international competitors. Competition and individual achievement are stressed over community values and the common good.

In the “tough love” climate of the times, school policies lost whatever liberal bent they had, as funding from Washington was systematically reduced. With less federal money, local school districts were obliged to depend increasingly more on local property tax revenues––which vary wildly from region to region. This exacerbated the differences between impoverished and wealthy schools,as gaps widened between white and non-white schools, and between those that  were technology rich and technology poor. Naming this condition one of “savage inequalities,” Jonathan Kozol asserted that progressive redistributive efforts had been “turned back a hundred years.”

Soon more profound changes occurred.  As offspring of the baby boom generation began to enter the classroom in the 1990s, debates over education shifted from assignments of blame to prescriptions for improvement. With government deficits turning into occasional surpluses, a renewed sense of urgency returned to educational policy discussions.  Suddenly everyone had ideas about how to fix schools by testing teachers, firing administrators, tinkering with admissions, offering vouchers, or promoting school choice. Joining the cacophony of voices were religious leaders, politicians, radio talk-show hosts, academics––in short, just about everyone except parents and students.  If the debates yielded anything, they demonstrated how multidimensional a problem effective educational reform turned out to be

Further complicating these discussions was an overriding belief that “technology” could help somehow. With the meteoric growth of high tech companies and their contribution to the nation’s economic recovery, technology became the solution to every problem. . Significantly, these early proponents of technologically-mediated education saw themselves as progressive reformers, not unlike the current promoters of computerized learning.

Reading Digital Culture (Blackwell, 2001)

To say that we inhabit a digital world is an understatement. In recent years information technology has transformed many fundamental parts of life: how we work and play, how we communicate and consume, how we create knowledge and learn, even how we understand politics and participate in public life. It is nearly impossible to make it though a day without encountering a computer, a digitally mediated image, or a news report about the current technological “revolution.” Most of us carry encoded magnetic strips of digits that tether us to our identity and enable us to function through digital means.  From the supermarket to the stock exchange, virtually all commerce is now mediated by computers. In al of these manifold ways, our reliance on digital data storage, computation, and telecommunication has made us profoundly dependent on digital technology whether we realize it or not. Indeed, ubiquity and invisibility have become defining characteristics of the  paradoxical information age.

This book addresses the way people think about this paradoxical age, the facts and fantasies of which have produced what might be termed a “digital culture.”  It tells the familiar story of a widely held popular viewpoint countered by various less-than-sanguine alternative perspectives. Celebrating the new computer era is a massive discourse in both mainstream media and academic literature in which the figure of

utopia looms large.  Evoking traditions of technological determinism and free-market boosterism, the denizens of information technology have promoted digital culture as the culmination of the Enlightenment project and the economic panacea of the post-industrial world. This overwhelming positive view of the information age is supported on one level by the very computer and software industries that have created the  largest,  wealthiest, and most powerful corporate infrastructure in human history, and on another level by the enormous “information economy” of content producers, merchandisers, communication provides, and other ancillary services of the digital industrial complex. All of this is equated with a narrative of humankind’s ever advancing march of progress, as information technology is touted as the ultimate vehicle of mastery and transcendence. Indeed, to some this technology is seen as the key to overcoming the limits of material existence––the means by which we become “posthuman.”

This utopian enthusiasm has been met by a less ubiquitous, but frequently vociferous,  measure of resistance from a myriad assortment of skeptics, neo-Luddites, and conspiracy theorists—ranging from pacifists and ecologists who despair the ruinous effects of war machines and greedy businesspeople, to the countless peoples and nations who stand on the wrong side of the “digital divide.” As Bill Gates and Steve Case proclaim the global ubiquity of the internet, it is important to remember that the majority of non-western nations and a whopping 97 percent of the world’s population remain unconnected to the net for lack of  knowledge, access, or money. [ii] In this regard its worth remembering the advice of Frederic Jameson, who warned two decades ago of dangers of equating “progress” with “utopia.” The desire for a future that is both different and better is often more a symptom of our dissatisfaction with the present than a genuine improvement in our lives. Enveloped as we are by the ideologies and social structures that surround us, the imagination of anything like a true utopia may well be impossible.

Cultural Democracy: Politics, Media, New Technology (SUNY Press, 1997)

We live in an era of democratic contradiction. As the Cold War recedes into history and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy spreads around the globe, the domestic state of democracy within the United States continues to erode. Rather than a nation where citizens feel empowered in their common governance, the US has become a land of where the vast majority of citizens hate their leaders yet never vote. Massive anti-incumbency sentiments and resentment toward representative government parallel the rise of grassroots militia movements and media demagogues. Clearly something has gone wrong with democracy in the US–or more precisely with the way democracy is understood and exercised.

Nowhere are these difficulties more pronounced than in battles over cultural issues. Debates about canonical values, revisionist curricula, artistic censorship, and freedom of expression have moved from the margins of public debate to its center. Increasingly, people across the political spectrum recognize the strategic role of the arts and humanities in shaping human identities and influencing politics. At a historical moment lacking in superpower conflicts, ideological debate has become internalized as it did in the 1950s.  Once again battles that were waged with guns and bullets are now fought with ideas and symbols. And once again access to the debate is a crucial issue, as attempts are made to exclude voices that would contest the status quo.

This book is premised on the regrettable fact that the US has nothing even approaching an egalitarian realm of public communication and civic ritual. Although identity politics and the so-called “culture wars” have done much to expand the national conversation about pluralism and values, these issues have also induced heightened levels of divisiveness and antagonism.  As television and computers have made more information available to people than ever before, the electorate finds itself increasingly uninformed and confused.  And while democracy is a word that politicians and media personalities bandy about with great alacrity, its usefulness has become all but exhausted by divergent interests it has come to serve.

Radical Democracy: Identity, Citizenship, and the State (Routledge, 1997)

Pick up any newspaper and it’s clear that the United States is facing a democratic crisis. Conventional definitions of citizenship and national identity have been thrown into question by ruptures in the global political landscape, changing post-industrial economic relations,  shifting racial demographics, and new attitudes toward sexuality and religion.  In a post-cold war era lacking in superpower conflicts, old fears of foreign insurgency have been supplanted by anxieties about trade deficits, declining educational standards, and a loss of common purpose. As social inequities continue to increase, citizens are losing faith in the government and the master narratives supporting it.

Few could have predicted the speed with which Europe would be reconfigured by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Yet rather than easing international tensions, these events have triggered new forms of national chauvinism and regional antagonism. Complicating matters further is the so-called post-Fordist restructuring of global capitalism. As the world evolves into a transnational marketplace and the production of goods and services has become more fluid and decentralized,  the distance between rich and poor nations has continued to widen. Meanwhile, within the U.S. a once dominant white majority is quickly being diminished by communities of color.  Factor in the growing influence of feminism, challenges to the traditional nuclear family,  and more recent activism supporting the rights of lesbians and gay men, and it becomes clear that a massive movement—indeed, a majority movement—is rising to confront the reigning order.

Not surprisingly, these shifts have produced considerable public tension,  along with a disturbing tendency to reach for quick and easy ways to settle disputes. Witness recent social unrest in cities from Los Angles to Atlanta, the broad-based hostility toward legislative and judicial figures, and the remarkable popularity of such reactionary personas as the self-proclaimed “doctor of democracy” Rush Limbaugh.  Claiming to appeal to populist sentiments this new breed of would-be demagogues has emerged to promote a xenophobic politics of fear and hatred propped up by an ever more puritanical set of cultural standards.

The Crisis of Meaning in Culture and Education (Minnesota, 1995)

The United States is facing a democratic crisis. Conventional definitions of citizenship and national identity have been thrown into question by ruptures in the global political landscape, changing post-industrial economic relations,  shifting racial demographics, and new attitudes toward sexuality and religion.  In a post-cold war era lacking in superpower conflicts, old fears of foreign insurgency have been supplanted by anxieties about trade deficits, declining educational standards, and a loss of common purpose. As social inequities continue to increase, citizens are losing faith in the government and the master narratives supporting it.

Few could have predicted the speed with which Europe would be reconfigured by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Yet rather than easing international tensions, these events have triggered new forms of national chauvinism and regional antagonism. Complicating matters further is the so-called post-Fordist restructuring of global capitalism. As the world evolves into a transnational marketplace and the production of goods and services has become more fluid and decentralized,  the distance between rich and poor nations has continued to widen. Meanwhile, within the U.S. a once dominant white majority is quickly being diminished by communities of color.  Factor in the growing influence of feminism, challenges to the traditional nuclear family,  and more recent activism supporting the rights of lesbians and gay men, and it becomes clear that a massive movement—indeed, a majority movement—is rising to confront the reigning order.

Not surprisingly, these shifts have produced considerable public tension,  along with a disturbing tendency to reach for quick and easy ways to settle disputes. Witness recent social unrest in cities from Los Angles to Atlanta, the broad-based hostility toward legislative and judicial figures, and the remarkable popularity of such fringe personas as Rush Limbaugh and Ross Perot.  Claiming to appeal to populist sentiments this new breed of would-be demagogues has emerged to push for stricter laws, harder tests, and an ever more puritanical set of cultural standards.

More disturbingly, this means finding people to blame for the nation’s problems. In foreign policy, this translates into the construction of an endless chain of foreign conflicts into which the U.S. must intervene in its new role as global peace keeper. In each instance the U.S. military portrays itself as the force of reason in a world overrun by savage tribes and mad dictators. Even as the efficacy of old legal conventions and bureaucratic structures is thrown further into doubt, new justifications are advanced for consolidated power and political control on a global scale.  For a growing number of conservative ideologues, these new international dynamics call for a simple and familiar strategy: the return of colonialism.

 

Cultural Pedagogy: Art, Education, Politics (Bergin & Garvey, 1995)

Despite their many affinities education and culture are usually considered separate issues, with the former functioning as the delivery mechanism for the latter.  The reasons for this derive from divisions set in place by academic disciplines, routines of professional certification, and a fair amount of good old-fashioned intellectual bias. Regrettably, this separation of artists, writers, and critics from school teachers, technical instructors, and college professors is part of a broader scheme of social fragmentation that compartmentalizes public life. Set in place by the bureaucratic impulses of

modernity and the economic drives of the corporate state, the resulting divisions frustrate dialogue and the formation of positive alliances. This difficulty in finding common ground has been a persistent impediment to the advancement of progressive politics. Recent critical theory has further exacerbated the problem by introducing  broad based suspicions of totalizing paradigms.

 

This chapter discusses some of the reasons that cultural practice and teaching have been held apart and proposes the benefits of considering them together.   It seeks to establish  a broadened definition of cultural “writing” that encompasses all efforts to produce, transmit, and organize subjectivity.  It also resuscitates the term “cultural worker” from the lexicon of the 1960s to unite those on the Left involved in the making and sending of texts.  This terminology would intentionally frustrate the identification of culture with “art” to extend its definition in sociological and political terms.  Although produced in differing circumstances and regimes of legitimization, the generalized substance we call culture is something that all of us fashion in the course of our daily lives as we communicate, consume, and build the world around us. We make it as it makes us.