Mayhem (Magill Book Reviews)
Sissela Bok opens a controversial can of worms in MAYHEM: VIOLENCE AS PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT, which explores the effect of the increasing barrage of violence both in fiction and in real life. Not only do films, television dramas, and video games evidence an escalating level of graphic violence, but daily doses of war and other human brutality are readily available on the evening news. As the time spent on these activities increases, particularly by children, there is growing concern about a causal link between such content and actual behavior. Bok paints a balanced picture, citing possible benefits from dramatized violence: the sublimation of human aggression and the confrontation of fears in an environment safe and separated from real life. In graphic fiction people can experience troubling emotions without the negative consequences.
While it is important to be concerned about the connections between violence and action, American democracy resists censorship. Bok’s account of contemporary governmental attempts to censor the media raises the righteous reader’s hackles. She recommends vigorous discussion in the private sector to discover where appropriate lines should be drawn.
Among Bok’s strengths are her graphic examples: the violence of ancient Roman games and censorship in Geneva during the Enlightenment. Critical commentary by thinkers from those periods serves as a corrective to the view that these issues belong solely to modern...
(The entire section is 356 words.)
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Mayhem (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Sissela Bok, a Harvard University-educated philosopher whose work is quoted frequently in academic literature, opens a controversial can of worms in her latest work. Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment explores the effect on American society of the increasing barrage of violence both in fiction and in real life. Not only do motion pictures, television dramas, and video games evidence an escalating level of graphic violence, but daily doses of war and other human brutality are also available at the click of a switch on the evening news. As the proportion of time spent watching television and playing video games increases, particularly for children, there is growing concern that there may be a causal link between the content absorbed and the behavior that ensues.
Do people act out what they see in the media? If they are constantly exposed to images of violence and mayhem, will not these images become fleshed out in life? Or, alternately, do real violence and its fictional clone constitute merely an accident of society’s experience, having no real impact on people’s lives? Perhaps rather than producing a negative or neutral effect, dramatized depravity serves as an effective safety valve for unresolved aggressive tendencies. Is the beast in the belly put to rest by externalizing and sublimating the human need for violence in entertainment? These are the questions that Bok explores.
As a background for discussion, Bok underscores...
(The entire section is 1779 words.)