LETTER : You can blame violence on the box, Mr Bragg

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The Independent Online
From Mr J. M. Wober

Sir: Melvyn Bragg implies that a book by David Gauntlett consists of "detailed research" on the (possible) effects of television ("You can't blame it on the box", 4 August). The work does not, however, contain any new information but consists of quite familiar sociological criticisms of various original studies that have mostly been carried out by psychologists.

Mr Bragg suggests that those who believe the evidence indicates that watching violence with enjoyment may encourage acceptance or even performance of aggression are fanatics. Yet I believe there is a small, complex and interactive process of this kind; and I do not feel I am a fanatic. I may feel frantic if the exonerators are given too much encouragement.

Mr Gauntlett's book, I believe, misjudges many studies and omits others that are important. Studies that do not report any effect are wrongly described as negating the possibility of effects. Effects-sceptics, such as Mr Bragg, obviously welcome such a book, but their ideas of innocence are an illusion.

One curious notion is that "we have heard it all before, so let's not worry now" (the Bible, penny dreadfuls, early cinema, etc, were each blamed as corrupting); we may relax about today's forms of popular culture. A parallel to this is that someone made a fuss about arrows, later about arquebuses, then machine guns, so any alarm now about nuclear weapons would be unwarranted. Is it?

Another flaw in outlook is that television content that disparages blacks, gays or women (remember Alf Garnett, Benny Hill?) should be removed because of its feared effects, but that which shows violence as acceptable excitement is excused. Not by me.

The true interpretation is, surely, that screen violence has a small effect, on some people, in interaction with other influences. We can, however, reasonably readily reduce the amount of screen violence, and it is probably socially healthy to do so.

Yours sincerely,

J. M. Wober

Principal Lecturer

Department of Media Production

Poole, Dorset

4 August