Amoeblog

Pacifying the Inner Man-Child: New Study on Violent Film Effects

Posted by Charles Reece, January 14, 2008 11:40am | Post a Comment
In the short run, if you take away violent movies, you’re going to increase violent crime.   -- Gordon Dahl

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Entering into the contentious world of media effects, economists Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna have found, contrary to the typical social psychological paradigm, that violent crime rates actually dropped during the periods when popular violent movies were released.  Like the majority of economists, they apply the assumption of rational choice theory to movie viewing where the violent-movie audience chooses it over other possibilities, such as going to a bar and getting drunk, slamming their long-necks into someone else's face and/or mauling his girlfriend.  The researchers note that it's not only during the opening weekend that the crime rate drops, but there's no compensatory rise in the following weeks.  In other words, a true reduction of crime occurs (within the short-term sense).

Having had to wade through a bunch of articles on violent media effects in my social psychology classes back in school and as a fairly non-aggressive guy raised on Bronson and Eastwood flicks (thanks, Dad, God rest your soul), I'm pretty skeptical of what's passed for the established consensus of social psychology.  The majority of it tends to rest on fairly artificial procedures where children (as the subjects typically are) watch stuff like Road Runner cartoons or the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and then act out what they saw in playtime situations.  Just as kids who pretend to cook Play-Doh aren't by that act alone likely to have a propensity for being great chefs, these subjects don't seem any more likely to be really violent adults.  And, in fact, the longitudinal studies of long-term effects of violent media are the least consistent  (statistically reliable) aspect of the media-effects paradigm.  I shot a lot of Indians and massacred even more aliens as a child, but I'm about as far from being sympathetic to our imperialist past as one can get, nor would my first inclination upon being visited by beings from another planet be "get the nukes." 

Anyway, Dahl is quick to state that his and DellaVigna's findings don't contradict the consensus, but comment on a facet not dealt with by the psychologists.  As the Times article notes, Dahl is a Mormon, which despite that sect's own violent history, seems to be a way of softening the reception of what many might consider a contradiction to commonsense.  He doesn't let his own kids see violent movies, "professing discomfort with SCHINDLER'S LIST."   How could it be that anyone might find social benefits to violent films without being a blood-thirsty overly intellecual academic?

What I find most fascinating about this result is that it suggests a link between aesthetic views and the choices people make.  The demographic most likely to commit violent acts is young men (I suspect with an unhealthy amount of machismo and little intellectual predilection), which also forms the core audience of much of the popular junk at the local multiplex.  It's not likely violent adults were the ones  raised on the violently sexual transgressive literature of a Bataille or a De Sade (those would be the effete intellectuals with a taste for the naughty).   That would require the effort of not only reading, but finding art not heavily promoted by media conglomerates in this country. Nor is it likely that violent films like I STAND ALONE or AUDITION would have the same distractive effect of TRANSPORTER, since they have subtitles and too much talking between the violent acts.   As Dahl notes, the findings aren't even about movie violence per se, but about any type of film or social activity that captures the attention of the violent young male.  It could be an Adam Sandler comedy, which shares the same target audience as the popular violent films the researchers looked at.  In other words, dumb mass culture keeps the dumb from doing other dumb things which might harm the less dumb.  Break the cycle and raise your  kids with good art, I say.  Stupidity is its own raison d'etre.



   

Art! What Is It Good For? More on The Lives of Others Vis a Vis Clockwork Orange

Posted by Charles Reece, January 10, 2008 09:44pm | Post a Comment
Regarding what I wrote about the the transformative power of music in THE LIVES OF OTHERS being a lie, a pal of mine, K, suggested the possible counter-example of the Nazi being moved by piano music in Polanski's THE PIANIST.  I still haven't seen that film due to its starring Adrian Brody, but I suppose if a digitized giant ape can get me to put aside my aversion for 2 and half hours, the name 'Polanski' ought to, as well, even if it's later Polanski.   So maybe I'll get around to that film at some later date. 

A film that does approach what I was talking about from a truer perspective than Donnersmarck's is Kubrick's CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  The film was based on Burgess's novel, which was a rejection of the panglossian futurism of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism, most notably his sci-fi novel, WALDEN TWO, where the happiness of individuals is derived from the outside-in, every aspect of culture being a stimulus which, if functioning properly, keeps the whole community flowing along in prosperity, promoting the desired actions/"responses" -- the providence of which is defined by the organizers.  Things like art have value insofar as they help shape the "proper" behavior, value being defined top-down.  If that strikes you as totalitarian, that's because it is.  And Kubrick's film is an all-out satirical attack against the reifying tendency of the bureaucratically minded whereby value obtains as a place within the system, never for the thing itself.

Contrary to the story Donnersmarck tells of the incommensurability of violence and art, the love of both happily co-exist in CLOCKWORK ORANGE's protagonist Alex.  As it was with Lenin, he loves smashing heads, but unlike with Lenin, he does so to the accompaniment of Beethoven.  It's not until Alex undergoes reconditioning at the Ludovico lab that Beethoven becomes associated with nonviolence.  Getting a dose of some noxious serum while being forced to watch acts of violence and hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony results in just the sort of transformative effect Donnersmarck associates with art.  Donnersmarck might argue that his Stasi Captain gives up his ideology in favor of the intrinsic qualities of the piano piece he hears while spying through headphones, whereas the effects of the Ninth on Alex are due to its extrinsic associations with negative stimuli (via Pavlovian, not Skinnerian, conditioning, but the point remains the same).  This potential distinction, however, rests on the shaky notion that such music has ideological content internal to its nature as art-object, rather than associated with it as a social object.

I'm reminded here of a story Ligeti tells of composing his Musica Ricercata No. 2 where every stroke of the piano was intended as a stab into the heart of the communist regime in Hungary.  Stabbing is a good visceral description of the sound, but is there really anything intrinsic to the music about who's doing the stabbing and who's getting stabbed?  If it weren't for the aesthetically conservative Hungarian apparatchiks defining the piece as decadent, it could've (a la Reagan's attempted appropriation of Born in the USA)  inspired quashing anti-communist resistance.  Furthermore, the violence Ligeti associates with his piece suggests that art can most definitely be linked to ideology with violent intent -- albeit, in his case, a morally defensible position -- and even serve to justify it.  The social effects have more to do with the ideological lens through which the music is refracted than any inherent ideology of the music itself.

Thus, it's as a conditioned stimulus that music comes to support or oppose one ideology over another.  By having a committed Stasi captain give up his ideology after hearing a committed communist playwright play a piano piece that has no anti-communist ideological stance associated with it, Donnersmarck does little more than create a narratively convenient lie.  The danger of this lie is that it shares with the prominent management regimes the view that art is inherently ideological, another object whose value is determined by the function it assigns to humans operating within the social order.  As the bureaucrats in CLOCKWORK ORANGE suggest, who cares what happens to the Ninth so long as Alex is no longer committing acts of violence?  What's forgotten here is the aesthetic value of art where any human interacts with art on its own terms, rather than those mandated from the top down.  Thus, the problem with the LIVES OF OTHERS isn't that a communist or Nazi or any other totalitarian functionary might have exquisite taste in art (many do), but its unwitting perpetuation of the value of art as utility, even when its instrumentalist function is what most of us would call socially beneficial.  It's the horror of losing the aesthetic value of art -- which can only come about through a free interaction with art that hasn't been precategorized -- that is central to the terror Alex feels when he makes the leap out the window, no longer able to stand having his love of the Ninth so violated as a byproduct of ideological reconditioning.  The celebratory ending to Kubrick's film isn't the result of some thuggish desensitization to violence, but is one of an individualist aestheticism managing to slip through the cracks of an overdetermined utopia, even if it's under the sign of brutality.

son of hysteron proteron: part two

Posted by Whitmore, December 14, 2007 07:17pm | Post a Comment


Many, many questions … mostly about the space-time continuum. I imagine it doesn’t actually run in a straight line, but in a vertical spiral, spinning in several directions simultaneously and at undulating speeds, analogous to a surging elliptical orbit, gyrating and wobbling like a mountain of dradles as they lose momentum. Think of ‘time’ as one of those old turntables that change a stack of records by dropping the next platter, except this turntable twists unpredictably forward and backwards, erratically spiraling and switching speeds, coughs up the record done, spits out a new one. Better yet, think of ‘time’ as a turntablist who is sandwiched between two turntables stacked on top of each other spindle to spindle, and the DJ is simultaneously scratching, looping, cross fading, juggling beats, rubbing, bugging, juggling the thing of a thing of a thing, cutting and pasting, grinding and humping, downbeat sweeps, creeps, bumping and slamming, twiddle, diddle, tweak, zig zag, squirrel, scribble scrabble, kif lift, willy nilly, dada, nada, dodo, zoot horn rollo, zither zather zuzz, hepcat swinging over a Euclidian three ring circus gumbo, without a net, without a tent, without an answer, up shit creek, without a gift on xmas day hallelujah.… then the record changer drops another disc on the other turntable and the tone arm continues all over again.  

This is also how one might explain paranormal phenomenon. If the ‘time’ spiral spin’s in conflicting and inconsistent directions, on occasion this spiral inter-splices momentarily into a singular part of the coil. In that collision, we could experience a virtual and distinctive time door, opening briefly, accounting for ghostly apparitions, UFO sightings, déjà vu and even disappearing socks.

Of course when I look this stuff up on the internet I usually find sites for vertical lift door repair. By the way, if you’re a space-time continuum expert from the future, (I don’t know why I would believe anyone else), I’d really like to hear your observations. (Besides, I’d really like to know if the Dodgers ever win the World Series again or how many more Bush’s become President, etc. etc…)

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Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928 - 2007

Posted by Whitmore, December 10, 2007 10:55am | Post a Comment


Karlheinz Stockhausen
has died at the age of 79 at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany. Regarded as one of the greatest musical visionaries of the 20th-century, he earned a great deal of respect and admiration from a cult following for his original and influential compositions, as well as for his authorship of new musical systems. But he’ll mostly be remembered as being one of the pivotal voices in the development of electronic music following World War Two. Though esteemed by many, he also earned a great amount of scorn from those who found his work to be “monotonous” or “unnecessary, useless and uninteresting”. He didn’t help his cause with his own awe-inspiring megalomania and eccentricities.

But ultimately he was a man who influenced practically everyone from the Beatles (he’s pictured on the Sgt. Pepper album cover,) to the Kraut rock sounds of Can (Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt studied with him), to the psychedelic sounds of early Pink Floyd, to the unconventional rock worlds of Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Coil and Björk to the world of jazz and beyond with the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton Herbie Hancock, Evan Parker, and to the newer breed of avant garde composers like Cornelius Cardew and Hugh Davies. Stockhausen is also generally regarded as one of the originators of techno, given his experimentation with electronics which included tape, oscillators and Ondes Martenot back in the fifties and his use of beats in the 1970’s.

More recently, he made news for his reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center. Not  known outside the world of modern-music he became instantly infamous for calling the attack “the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos.” Needless to say, his comments drew outrage. He later apologized, saying that his allegorical remarks had been misunderstood and taken out of context. And just to get the story right, here is his statement.

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son of hysteron proteron: part one

Posted by Whitmore, December 7, 2007 04:17pm | Post a Comment

hysteron proteron - n. inversion of natural order or sense, especially of words; fallacy of proving or explaining a proposition with one presupposing or dependent on it.

It’s been a couple of months since I photographed any of our arty 7 inch boxes, so here are some more examples of post outsider art-damaged modern adverts faux iconography from Amoeba Hollywood 45 Room brain trust.

Hysteron Proteron literally means “the latter before”, and the purpose is to call attention to the more important idea by placing it first. You might say it’s the rhetorical equivalent to "the last shall be first and the first, last". (Sort of reminds me of my old Catholic School Catechism lessons, which no matter how hard I try to obliterate, remains intact in my skull, an example once again of the inverse natural order of things. But the rewards last a lifetime … I mean eternal! The vague and twisted challenges of a post Irish Catholic childhood are the dented theological reflections or simple colorful profanities, available at a drop of a hat … and are never more than just a couple of pints away.) 

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